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Last year, when I checked out 3D Dot Game Heroes, I admitted my leniency regarding game copycats. Where some saw a sly attempt to cash in on the Zelda brand, I only saw a new adventure game in the same mold. The game's tone, both parody and homage, further erased any chance of disdain.
I'm having a tougher time excusing Kyotokei, a WiiWare game that came out last week. My five minute experience with Ikaruga is enough to tell me that Kyotokei is clearly a copycat game, stealing the novel color-coded bullet hell stylings of the cult classic shmup. And unlike 3D Dot Game Heroes, I'm not getting a tributary or tongue-in-cheek vibe from Kyotokei. Instead, the game seems to mimic the Touhou Project style, which replaces the classic shmup players and enemies (spaceships and mechs and whatnot) with cute little girls for whatever reason. I guess that's not a big deal: Hello Kitty Chess is still chess, right?
Mechanical and aesthetic burglaries aside, the game looks like it might be fun. And Wii could certainly use some decent software in a time where an above-par movie-licensed game is in the running for Game of the Year. I decided to throw $5 at Kyotokei and see if I could get my money's worth out of this downloadable doppelganger.
I played for an hour. Check out this video of the first stage. Try not to blink.
- As far as I can tell, it handles like an exact Ikaruga knockoff. The vertical shmup sensation's black-and-white dynamic is faithfully translated into this sidescroller, with one button to swap colors, another to shoot endless fury, and a third for the enemy-seeking lasers that are fueled by absorbing enemy shots that match your current color. Your score also increases faster when destroying enemies with their opposite color and by destroying chains of same-colored enemies.
- While the game replicates Ikaruga's basic functions well, Kyotokei doesn't quite have Ikaruga's relentless creativity and variety. Ikaruga constantly introduced new formations and enemies and hazards to your bullet nightmare. In Kyotokei, enemy formations are a bit more predictable, often repeating a pattern a few times before switching things up a bit (you can see this in the video above: my first time playing, and I killed plenty of enemies before they even made it onto the screen). But not every shmup needs to be as lean and wily as Ikaruga, I guess. And Kyotokei's challenge and variety do shift into a higher gear later on.
- Bullet hell doesn't need to be pretty: your eyes are too busy scanning the colorful dot chaos to appreciate any visual details. And it's a good thing, too, because Kyotokei isn't much of a looker. Bullet hell shooters are a popular niche among amateur game designers due to their heavily scripted nature and reliance on simple visual cues. Even among amateur games, however, Kyotokei's graphics wouldn't turn many heads.
- The game has a 2-player mode. Most shmups do, as they should.
- While downloading Kyotokei from the Wii Shop Channel, my TV died. Seriously. The screen flickered, the power cord crackled, and my monitor began to smell of smoke. I'm a little surprised they didn't find this fatal flaw while bug testing the game.
- I probably should have taken the hint when my faithful nineteen inch HDTV of six years died trying to warn me of Kyotokei's evil. I played anyway. And now, I haven't dared to sleep in days. These...things are responsible.
I don't know what they are or why they're on the title screen for this game. But I see them so clearly when I close my eyes...that row of Snickers bars atop his head...her vacant, noseless face...their unnatural postures, like hanged men with one-piece skeletons...I think I just stumbled on the video game version of the murderous videotape from The Ring.
Minutes to Action: 0
Would I keep playing? Sure. Shmups usually aren't very long, and I'd like to see the whole game through. That's assuming I can finish it: I believe there are only five stages in the game, but it took me an hour of retrying to get as far as the third level. And maybe this cursed game, which haunts my dreams and destroys my television, will spare my life if I finish it...