Developer: CAVE Co., Ltd.
Price: $8.99
Version Reviewed: 1.0.0

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★★
Game Controls Rating: ★★★★★
Gameplay Rating: ★★★★★
Re-use / Replay Value Rating: ★★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★★

photo3The creators of Espgaluda II, a Japanese game software development company called Cave, created some of the most successful arcade scrolling shooters to ever grace the genre. Cave is responsible for bringing a new, frenetic genre of shooters, known as “manic shooters,” or “bullet hell” shooters, to the gaming masses, incorporating intense game play with massive amounts of enemy fire-filled screens, requiring players to dodge and weave their way through oncoming onslaughts of enemy fire using meticulous handling and control. While games like Espgaluda II have seen much success in Japan, we in the US have yet to fully embrace this take on the genre: until now.

Cave’s mission statement, “The Spirit of Cave,” is simple: “Entertaining people and make them happy.” Well, if Espgaluda II is any indication of Cave’s success, their employees must all travel by private, tricked-out helicopters and sleep on mounds of cash money.

photo47While Espgaluda II was a hit on the Xbox 360, it is Cave’s first port foray into the iDevice market and they’ve essentially cannon-balled their way into the app store’s pool, splashing us with an indelible, new game play experience while leaving little water for the rest of the genre. Espgaluda II is an extremely well-designed graphical masterpiece that shatters the bounds of its genre predecessors, setting a new standard for 2D vertical scrolling shooters for the iDevice. In creating their ported version of Espgaluda II, Cave has preserved the gorgeous graphics and game play of its arcade version while offering an additional mode, made specifically for the iPhone.

As previously mentioned, Espgaluda II is a 2D, vertical-scrolling arcade space shooter sequel ported from the Xbox 360 to the iPhone. Right from the jump, be forewarned: Unfortunately, due to its heavy/dense graphics and animations, it sucks battery life at a rapid pace and is currently only available for the iPhone 3GS. Fret not, however, as Cave has announced it plans to offer support for the iPod touch (32GB and 64GB) as soon as possible.

Espgaluda II features:

  • Beautiful graphics
  • 3 Levels of Difficulty, Control Settings and Display Options
  • 2 Game Modes: iPhone Mode, which features a scoring system optimized for the iPhone and Arcade Mode, an adaption of the arcade hit
  • Several customization options available
  • Bullet Storms just as Intense as the Arcade and Xbox 360 Versions
  • Controls specially adapted to/for the iPhone
  • Slide controls for comfortable play on your iPhone/iPod Touch. Quick dodges that were difficult even using joysticks can now be performed with just your thumb, allowing you to dash and weave your way through Bullet Hell
  • Open Feint integration and Achievements
  • As stated earlier, Espgaluda’s graphics are visually stunning, immersing players in rich, crisp, colorful, detailed environments. That said, game play animations are surprisingly smooth for such a graphics-heavy powerhouse. During my time playing the game, I experienced no lag, slowing or stuttering of any kind.
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    The game’s soundtrack features quality, upbeat techno-electronica that perfectly complements and blends with the game play and sharp, crisp sound effects, immersing players in a pristine environment of manic game play which will make them forget they’re playing on a smart phone.

    photo48Espgaluda II is a pick-up-and-play powerhouse, short on story and big on action. I wish I could explain it’s storyline, but it’s rather ambiguous and non-committal, which is fine by me, as I’m only here to unleash hell. Judging from the intro and epilogue screens (which appears after you beat the game), there’s a scuffle which causes your winged-weaponed character to take to the air and embark on a quest to destroy the Big Boss and his/her minions. Once finished, your character mumbles something about having the death of many children on his/her hands, blah blah blah and the other characters tell him to get his/her expletive together, as they need to build a new, peaceful world and that’s about it.

    As mentioned earlier, Espgaluda II features two modes of play: iPhone and Arcade. Basic game play within each is pretty much the same, but iPhone mode has an embellished touch-control scheme and character “Awakenings” are different between the two (explained further below). Each mode has three different difficulty settings: Novice, Normal and Hard.

    photo49Each difficulty setting has three control types players can choose from: Simplified, Normal and Expert. Simplified contains one control button (Awakening button, explained further below), Normal has two: Awakening and Guard Barrier and Expert has four: Awakening, Shot On/Off, Guard Barrier and Shot Change. Auto-fire is standard throughout the game, so players can concentrate on movement and strategy. Players can then choose which side of the iPhone screen they want their controls displayed on, left or right.

    Espgaluda II contains all the standard game play options found in most games, such as controlling sound effects, music volume, etc., but it also features the ability to have players select between one of three screen sizes: Small, Middle and Large, with Middle being the default.

    photo50The game features three different characters: Ageha, Asagi and Tateha, each with different skill attributes and six separate stages of play. Players can progress through the levels or choose whichever one they wish to start from. After selecting a stage, players are introduced to an eight-screen tutorial, explaining game play mechanics. After the tutorial screens, the carnage begins.

    The game’s control-scheme is simple and precise: Players use a finger (or thumb) to control their character’s movement and to press the appropriate button(s), depending on player control selection. Auto-fire is standard in all control types, eliminating the need for superfluous gestures while adding to the control scheme’s simplicity. The controls are very responsive, allowing players to accurately weave in and out of intense, dense onslaughts of enemy fire and incorporate perfectly into both modes of play. Be forewarned, however: Playing Espgaluda II is not unlike drinking several 40-ounce bottles of your favorite malt liquor on a random, weekday night: Sure, it’s smooth and satisfying and should garner the attention of any babes/dudes within close proximity, but inevitably you’ll disappear for hours, only to reemerge alone and hungry, with no recollection of what’s happened around you, sporting sore eyeballs and a severe headache.

    Prior to playing Espgaluda II for the first time, my expectations were conservative, to put it nicely. In my experience, iPhone 2D scrolling shooters provide relatively repetitive, mundane game play. When starting the game, I was instantly amazed by the colorful, pixelated graphics and smooth, fast frame-rate/animations flying about on the screen before me. Technically, Espgaluda II is, by far, the most impressive 2D scrolling shooter I’ve ever played; on a console or on an iPhone.

    As stated earlier, players use touch controls to traverse over the playing field, dispatching enemies, dodging enemy fire and collecting power-ups, Spirit Gems and coins. The function buttons along the left or right side of the iPhone (depending on the player’s preference) are used to activate their Guard Barrier, Awakening, Shot On/Off and/or Shot Change, depending on the user’s preference.

    Game play, in both Arcade and iPhone mode, centers around destroying enemies and dodging bullets, while collecting Spirit Gems, released by killed enemies. In turn, Spirit Gems power your Awakened Perception mode, which players initiate by pressing the “Awaken” button. Once activated, your character “awakens,” causing all movement onscreen to slow down to a crawl. In iPhone mode, while in Awakened Perception, characters are unable to move, but players can touch the screen to use the “Awakening Pulse” to damage enemies and remove bullets from their path or wherever they touch. Bullets fired by destroyed enemies will dissipate and transform into Spirit Gems. The more bullets a player cancels at once, the higher their score multiplier goes. If a player kills an enemy in Awakened Perception, it creates a small explosion, turning any enemy bullets caught in the explosion into gold. Conversely, if a player is struck by an enemy bullet while in Awakened Perception, their Guard Barrier will automatically engage, but it will deplete half of their meter. While in Awakened Perception, your Spirit Gems counter will continuously decline. Once depleted, the player returns to normal status. When switching out of Awakened Perception, enemy bullets transform into gold. A gold multiplier takes effect according to how long your character stays Awakened. If you do not disable Awakened Perception by the time your Spirit Gem counter reaches zero, you will automatically default back to normal state.

    In Arcade Mode, however, players can move while in Awakened Perception mode, but bullets do not change to gold when returning to normal. In addition, players can further enter Awakening Over mode. This mode occurs when you run out of gems in Awakened Perception, but you still have gold remaining. Bullets will turn red and enemies drop a higher amount of gold. The longer you stay in this mode, the faster bullets will begin to travel and the more your Awakening Over Level begins to rise. The higher your Awakening Over Level, the more gold enemies will drop in and the more gems enemies will drop in normal mode.

    Holding the Guard button will form a barrier around your character, making him/her invincible to enemy attacks. Guard Barrier can be used as long as your Guard Barrier Gauge is filled. Holding the Guard button for a couple of seconds then releasing it unleashes a Guard Barrier attack, causing massive damage to your enemy. The longer it’s held, the stronger the attack.

    Each level concludes with a boss battle (some levels have mid-boss battles). During these battles, boss characters unleash large amounts of bullets that players must dodge (or cancel using Awakened Perception). Strategically using Awakened Perception and Guard Barrier during these battles is crucial.

    In all, Espgaluda II is a beautiful, well-developed port for the iPhone and the best 2D vertical shooter I’ve ever played. It’s breathed new life into a stale, complacent genre and raised the bar for other 2D scrolling shooter developers (here’s hoping they follow suit). Beautiful, fantastic game play, varied game/scoring modes and OpenFeint integration/achievements result in virtually endless re-playability that should appeal to all game lovers. If you’re a fan of this genre, this game is a must-have. If you’re not, you’ll still enjoy playing this gorgeous game, regardless of its price.

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