Danmaku Unlimited

The titleI’ll be honest and say that it’s been a while since I’ve really followed the doujin scene, for various reasons. I’ve stopped following most of the gaming message boards I used to hear about them on, and the indiegames.com feed focuses much more heavily on western projects these days. While I still feel the danmaku itch occasionally, I usually scratch it by means of Cave’s back-catalog. Still, when I first heard about the two Danmaku Unlimited games, I was happy to see something fresh.

Donmaku Unlimited and its sequel Danmaku Unlimited 2 are a pair of doujin-style shmups for the iDevices. Although they’re a bit on the easy side compared to many of their contemporaries, they’ve got decent graphics combined with solid mechanics and controls into a very nice overall package.

To get the front-matter out of the way: visually, both games are solid if unremarkable; they’ve opted for the generic planes-and-spaceships sci-fi motif rather than the moeblobs that have plagued danmaku shmups for the last decade or so. The audio in the first is mediocre, but the second introduces a soundtrack worth digging out headphones for. Both games control using the familiar drag-anywhere-to-move-your-fighter method used by Cave’s iOS ports and Taito’s Space Invaders: Infinity Gene; it’s missing the ‘dead zone’ at the bottom of the screen that the Cave ports include, but it’s otherwise solid. It is a bit more generous than Infinity Gene, however; you won’t have to worry as much about enemies ambushing you from the bottom of the screen, and onscreen buttons are kept to a minimum. The second eliminates onscreen buttons entirely, using up or down swipes with a second finger in their place. It’s a little awkward at first, but feels very natural once you get the hang of it. DoDonPachi’s influence on both games is clear: both feature ships wielding both a wide, ‘bullet’ spread and a narrow, more powerful beam weapon.

The meat of most danmaku games comes to their scoring systems; the DU games use a combination grazing and combo system. At the top-left of the screen is a multiplier- this starts at 1x and builds up by increments of .1 as you graze enemy bullets. Grazing many in succession yields a combo; large combos both yield bonus points and build up the multiplier more quickly. Your multiplier is reset to 1x if you die or bomb, and decays rapidly if it’s over 100.0x or you take too long to defeat a boss. Also in play is a system similar to the Hyper mode of the latter DoDonPachi games- destroying enemies and grazing bullets builds up a ‘trance’ bar which, when filled, can be triggered to increase your offensive power and the value of point items dropped by enemies for a limited time. Finally, there’s a Shikigami no Shiro-esque system in play as well, whereby destroying enemies when you’re near bullets or other enemies yields a multiplier up to 16x. I haven’t determined if this is additive or multiplicative with the multiplier yielded by grazing; potentially, it could provide huge stacked bonuses.

Danmaku Unlimited 2 tweaks most of these systems. The game features two modes: Classic and Burst. Classic is similar to the original, save that your multiplier is now connected to collecting certain itmes rather than building up graze combos. Burst Mode changes things up a bit- your standard secondary laser is replaced by giant beam with the ability to destroy enemy bullets and change them into multiplier-boosting items. This beam is charged by collecting a third new type of item from destroying nearby enemies. I’m quite fond of the change- instead of offering screen-clearing bombs that you’re penalized for using, Burst Mode gives you a secondary ability which you’re rewarded for learning to use effectively… It’s something that I’d like to see in more shmups.

Although I’m not going to complain about this too much in my capacity as an unremarkable shmupper with the deteriorating reflexes of a man in his early 30s, both Danmaku Unlimited games seem fairly easy by comparison to many of their competitors. Although you start with a limited number of lives and continues, you’re given more as you play through the game on a fairly generous basis, and both allow you to take several hits before you die as well. The touchscreen controls give you far more control over your speed and direction than more traditional D-pad-style controls; once you’ve acclimated to them, you’ll have far better control than you would from a keyboard. Looking through the global high-score list, it looks like there’s a maximum score that many players of the original Danmaku Unlimited have hit. The second is better, but it’s also pretty clear that ‘serious’ players are thin on the ground, even if only because I was able to land in the top 25.

All in all, though, I’m pretty happy with the Danmaku Unlimited games. They’re both solid, high-quality doujin-level efforts with solid mechanics and a control scheme that makes me wonder why more PC shmup developers haven’t embraced the mouse. I’d strongly recommend that fans of the genre give the two a try- free demos of both games are available on iTunes.

- HC

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