| paleface [sys=PS2; cat=Shooter_Vert; loc=JPN]
|Psyvariar 2 (see entry 427), developer Skonec's previous vertical shooter, has some colorful and memorable bullet patterns. But they've kicked them up a notch in their latest effort, Homura--and they've brought a few other clever twists along as well.
In Homura, you'll see bullet patterns that slow down, then speed up. You'll see overlapping patterns of multicolored bullets, so pretty that you almost forget you need to try to dodge them. And you'll even see bullets that fire other bullets to form evolving patterns.
To deal with these crazy bullets, they gave your flying humanoid character a sword, with which he can swat away incoming bullet clusters. He only gets one swat every 5 or 10 seconds, though, so use it wisely. The swatted bullets fly back at onscreen baddies, pumping up a scoring multiplier with successful hits. And for the ultimate in counterattack action, use the sword move while right next to a badguy: lighting fills the screen, freezing all the baddies in place, then your hero zips around the screen, slicing each enemy in two, and getting a pretty hefty score multiplier in the bargain. And, of course, you also get a limited quantity of screen-clearing bombs.
The sword thing works very well; it's kind of a mini-bomb, really, only one that you want to get used to using in rhythm to maximize scoring potential. It's a nice sense of empowerment to know that you've got this powerful defensive, reusable weapon in your arsenal.
Another interesting feature is the mid-level difficulty selection: move to the left side of the screen to take the easy route to the boss, or move to the right to take the harder, but more lucrative, path. Now, you could say that this option isn't much of an option at all, since the hardcore player will always opt for the harder one, but, eh, to each their own.
Reaching the boss is worth it, anyway, as they have multiple forms and a lot of tricks up their sleeves. I haven't been this interested in seeing what a shooter boss does in a while now.
As far as graphics go, the backgrounds can look a little plain, even ugly, at times, and some of the enemies look more like generic geometric shapes stuck together than scary monsters, but the various weapon and bullet effects are all pretty nice, and I haven't seen any slowdown yet, except when the stage-end boss explodes, and the slowdown there seems to be intentional.
Interesting graphic detail: if you look close, you'll see a pulsing red dot in the middle of your character. I think this denotes your hitbox. It's larger than the pinprick size of recent Cave shooters (see entry 851, "Mushihimesama," for instance), but still fairly compact.
This Taito-published port of the arcade shooter seems pretty solid. You can select between a multitude of screen modes, including both normal and flipped vertical, and scaling the screen size up to fill the screen. There's also a Gallery mode and some other junk that didn't seem all that interesting. The only particular thing that annoyed me so far as the port aspect goes, though, is that while you can turn on an "Autosave" feature, it doesn't autosave when you leave the Config screen; it only saves once you've played and finished a game session. Silly!
Oh, good music, though: very pretty orchestrated stuff. Homura is a quality production with some genuinely interesting and well developed game features. You could argue that, compared to other recent vert shooter releases, Homura is a little light on playable characters, weapons, and gameplay modes, but you know, they've nailed the main game pretty well, which is really the important part.