App Reviewed on: iPhone 4S
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They’re known by a variety of names: manic shooters, danmaku, or most commonly by the colorfully evocative sobriquet of “bullet hell.” No matter the moniker, this shoot-em-up sub-genre conjures to mind images of dense, impenetrable curtains of onscreen projectiles and the sort of obsessive, ultra-hardcore gamers who haven’t seen the sun for months. Personally, I’ll admit to always having been weirdly fascinated by bullet hell shooters, yet utterly terrified to try them at the same time. The skill threshold always looked to be a bit too high for me to be able to enjoy them without wanting to break things out of the assumed level of frustration I would endure.
Anyone who’s dealt with similar feelings should be warned, however, that DoDonPachi Blissful Death might be the thing that finally pulls them down the rabbit hole.
Blissful Death (DoDonPachi Daioujou in Japan) is the fourth entry in the DonPachi series. Originally released in arcades back in 2002, Blissful Death has since been ported to PlayStation 2 and Xbox 360 in Japan, before now landing on iOS. What CAVE has given us here is a version of the game that simultaneously caters to the hardcore, while easing newcomers into the fold with a variety of features.
Controls are super tight, ignoring virtual d-pads and instead guiding the ship with a single fingertip on the screen. Buttons control weapon switching/bomb activation; guns and lasers auto-fire by default, so no mashing is needed. Scoring revolves around continually destroying enemies to chain hit combos together. Tougher enemies that regular gunfire would be slow to destroy can have their chains preserved by switching to the laser, which slows the combo meter’s decay.
Players fondly remembering old-school shooters (but who still find jumping straight into the deep end intimidating) will be glad to know that the game offers four levels of difficulty, from mild Novice to the brutal Hell. This lets those unfamiliar with manic shooter mechanics (like smaller hitbox sizes of the player’s ship, compared to standard shooters) get accustomed to level layouts, while gradually increasing the number of projectiles that have to be dealt with.
There’s a fair amount of content packed into this release. Practice Mode allows players to jump straight to any level, and with two different ships and three different “Elemental Doll” enhancements, there are six total configurations to approach each level with. Full Open Feint and Game Center support give score chasers and achievement junkies their due as well.
I experienced none of the frustration I had anticipated while playing DoDonPachi Blissful Death. Indeed, a peaceful, zen-like calm often overtook me as I weaved in and out of the curtains of flaming death that the level-ending bosses would send my way. CAVE has put together one hell of a gateway drug here. Approach it with caution. And by that, I mean “throw yourself willingly into its arms.”