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Developer: CAVE CO.,LTD
Price: $13.99
Version: 1.0.0
App Reviewed on: iPhone 4

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★½
User Interface Rating: ★★★★½
Gameplay Rating: ★★★★½
Re-use / Replay Value Rating: ★★★★☆

Overall Rating: ★★★★½

Those boys and girls at CAVE sure are clever. Maybe too clever.

The release of Bug Princess 2: Black Label, far sooner than any of us here expected, is being joyously received by the ever-burgeoning CAVE fanbase. Initially released in Japanese arcades as a rare alternate version of Mushihime-sama Futari/Bug Princess 2 back in 2007, five years later it is now available to have and hold in international hands – quite literally, thanks to CAVE’s popularity on iOS.

On first glance it’s not that much of a spin on the recently released Bug Princess 2, and so much of what Rob said in his review of that game still applies here. But first glances with CAVE games are never the full story. The subtle differences between the original ‘vanilla’ label and Black Label, once fully appreciated, do make the latter the definitive version to own.

What’s most clever about Black Label is how it’s both easier to newcomers and yet more challenging to hardcore fans looking to get top scores. Play is generally easier in its main Original mode thanks to how Black Label combines Bug Princess 2‘s normal and abnormal shooting modes into one mandatory but much more powerful shot system. There may be more bullets on top of varied, faster, harder patterns to dissect, but if survival is the main priority then the greater firepower more than nullifies.

Hardcore fans, though, will have to play a risk-reward strategy to get the high scores. Across the modes points are awarded for shooting closer to enemies, or by enduring greater and greater difficulties with increased multipliers. And it can get crazy fast when you start pushing all the way, with the difference stark in comparison to Bug Princess 2. On top of that, God Mode now replaces Ultra Mode, with different scoring rules and the addition of a new true final boss. There are other minor changes lurking around Black Label, but what somewhat justifies the rise in price (even if it seems a smidge sharp) is that change in the dynamic of risk-reward play. And it is clever.

What’s rather less clever, or very clever when you bear in mind the enthusiasm of CAVE’s fanbase, is the charge of a further $7 to unlock the Boss Rush mode (which is as exactly as it sounds). It’s not even the price that’s the biggest issue – although I think it is quite high for an already dear game – but the nature of the ‘reward’ for players who own Bug Princess and Bug Princess 2. Those lucky souls will get to play Boss Rush mode for free… once a day. A little bit too obvious a strategy for me, that, and altogether far too clever.

It’s a shame to have to highlight that, because really the headline here should be how CAVE have given fans across the world another way to enjoy one of the best shmups available on iOS. Black Label may be dearer than Bug Princess 2, but it is the version to own of this beautiful, devastatingly addictive shmup.

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