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Mamorukun Curse! Review: A curse you can live with

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Title: Mamorukun Curse!
Price: $19.99
System(s): PS3
Release Date: July 16, 2013
Publisher (Developer): UFO Interactive (G.rev)
ESRB Rating: “Everyone 10+” for Fantasy Violence, Suggestive Themes, Mild Language, and Use of Tobacco

As a longtime fan of the oft ignored shoot ‘em up genre, I was quite excited to see something new for me to sink my bullet-thirsty teeth into. Apart from this year’s brilliant indie title Rhythm Destruction, there hasn’t really been a decent shmup in recent memory that has dared to push the envelope of this so easily botched style of gaming. Mamorukun Curse! falls into the shmup subgenre known as a cute ‘em up, which features colorful graphics, lighthearted stories, and whimsical characters, all while adhering to the difficult nature of its primary genre.

Published by UFO Interactive and brought to us by developer G.rev—who is probably best known for co-developing classic titles such as Ikaruga and Gradius V alongside Treasure—Mamorukun Curse! is both as charming and challenging as classic Natsume title Pocky and Rocky. However, there’s a fine line between difficult and frustrating; a line which Mamorukun Curse! shakily walks.

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Welcome to the Netherworld

Mamorukun Curse!’s story revolves around Mamoru, a young boy who is hit by a truck and transported to the Netherworld. There, he meets a group of other recently deceased people, all of whom are asked by a strange fox-like girl named Fululu to help save the netherworld from the looming threat of the “dark world”. Once the netherworld is saved, Mamoru and his new found friends will be able to return to normal life as if their deaths had never happened.

The story in Mamorukun Curse! is presented in one of the three modes of gameplay; the aptly named, “Story Mode”. Story Mode follows the characters as they are constantly teleported to different parts of the netherworld. Each part must be “purged” before the gate to the dark world will open. Depending on which actions the player takes during the course of gameplay will determine how much of the story is actually shown, as certain moments, such as explanations of how each character died, are only viewable if you beat a certain level with a certain character.

The characters themselves are pretty unique in terms of style and design, and each gets an equal amount of character development throughout the story; even though it’s not that much overall. However, if you happen to be a fan of JRPGs or anime, the characters will feel more or less archetypal and even cliché; you have your naïve kid with a heart of gold, a quiet girl with a dark past, an aloof cigarette-smoking loner who’s just along for the ride, etc. Taken for what it is, however, Mamorukun Curse!’s narrative boils down to a lighthearted tale that’s more akin to a children’s cartoon than an epic quest, and is quite charming when viewed as such.

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Flawed Beauty

As previously mentioned, Mamorukun Curse! plays a lot like Pocky and Rocky in that you are on foot and can move about the level freely; this allows you to take things as slow or as fast as you like which has the added effect of catering to both those who like to strategize a bit and take it slow, and those who enjoy rushing in guns a blazin’. However, what really sets Mamorukun Curse! apart from the pack is its special “curse” mechanic that is sort of like a bomb found in a traditional shmup. A quick press of the curse button sends a circle of light out that destroys all bullets on screen. The small circle will either connect with an enemy, cursing them, or land on the ground allowing anything that walks into it to be cursed; including yourself, which has the added benefit of allowing you to briefly dole out extra damage, though your standard shot will be downgraded afterward and you will have to wait a brief period of time before you can use the curse bullet again.

Cursed enemies gain a similar buff/debuff: when an enemy is cursed they fire extra bullets that also travel much faster than their normal shots, but they also take far less damage to kill and defeating a cursed enemy awards more points than they otherwise would. You can also hold the curse button down to charge up a large blast that usually kills all enemies in its path, cursing those it doesn’t; this method does not required a cool down time, though it does take time to charge up. However, this isn’t too problematic because you will still be able to use your regular attack while charging.

Mamorukun Curse! has two methods of control; one is dual stick mode, which allows you to move and aim independently Smash TV style; the other has you moving and aiming using the same stick or d-pad and causes your aim to be locked at a certain angle during fire. To change the direction of your shot you must cease firing and move in the direction in which you wish to lock your next barrage of bullets. Both control methods work quite well and each puts a separate spin on the gameplay. However, I personally prefer dual stick mode as it seems the easier method to use.

There are three gameplay modes in Mamorukun Curse!: Netherworld Adventures, Arcade Mode, and the aforementioned Story Mode. Netherworld Adventures is simply a series of challenges that add or remove rules to alter the difficulty and style of play in the levels. These challenges can range from a boss rush, to a grind through many different levels on a set number of lives. Arcade Mode is exactly what it sounds like: the original arcade version of the game. Both Arcade Mode and Netherworld Adventure have practice modes that allow you to tweak a myriad of settings which allow you to narrow your focus, learn at your own pace, and sharpen the skills you’ll need for the harder levels.

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Since Mamorukun Curse! was originally an arcade title, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that it there are only a handful of levels, and a difficulty curve that rises exponentially. And here in lies the game’s biggest flaw. While the levels themselves are quite beautiful and well designed, they are reused over and over again; you’re basically just playing the same six or so levels on different difficulties, with slightly different level layouts/item placements, and under slightly different conditions. Netherworld Adventures is by far the biggest offender in terms of repetition, making only the most miniscule changes from one challenge to the next, such as simply tacking on an extra level at the end of a string of levels you just completed in the previous challenge; this makes Netherworld Adventures a complete waste of time to all but the most hardcore of shmupers and completionists. No amount of polish, level editing, or item placement can make up for a lack of content and Mamorukun Curse!  unfortunately demonstrates this basic solecism of game design quite well.

Netherworld Adventures isn’t the only portion of Mamorukun Curse! to take this unfortunate misstep, as Story Mode gaily skips down the same repetitive rode: albeit in a possibly more frustrating manner. As previously touched upon, you must complete each level with special conditions in order to reach the final level and ultimately beat the game. Each level has two conditions that must be met: the first one is that you must defeat a level’s boss using a specific character and the second is you must defeat all of the special gold enemies in that level. If these two conditions are not met the game will still continue on to the next level. However, rather than entering the final area after completing level five, you will instead be taken to a sixth level which upon completion will cause the game to start over from the beginning; though any ending conditions you may have completed along your previous playthrough will carry over. What’s most frustrating about this design choice is the fact that the game never bothers to give you any of this information; I was on my third playthrough before I finally figured out just what was going on, and another two to actually complete all these conditions and beat the game.

The saving grace for Mamorukun Curse! is the overall style and the unique gameplay mechanics previously mentioned: before they get old due to repetition that is. On display are some wonderfully colorful graphics which give the game a cutesy anime style sure to revive some of the color your TV has lost from all those brown military shooters. The story is presented through the use of cutscenes that feature text with Japanese voice-overs accompanied by portraits of the character who is currently speaking; a style of cutscene I’ve always been fond of. The music is quite good, and has a nice pop-rock beat to it that is constructed from synthesized instruments, causing the music to sound like a mash-up of classic Kirby and Sonic The Hedgehog; very nice, very catchy, and surprisingly never gets old: even if the levels do.

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Cursed but Fun

When it comes right down to it Mamorukun Curse! is another one of those flawed-but-fun games to while away the afternoon with; though once finished, it will probably be a while before you return to it, if you return at all. The gameplay is solid and presents an amusing challenge, but there just isn’t enough content to keep the game fresh for very long and you’ll soon tire of grinding through the same levels time and time again with only minor differences. However, if you’re a fan of the shmup genre you could do a heck of a lot worse than Mamorukun Curse!; just don’t be expecting the next Gradius V or Ikaruga.

Site [Mamorukun Curse!]

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