Developer: Team Ladybug, WSS playground
Release Date: February 2, 2023
Reviewed On: Switch
It seems like there is no shortage of video game releases this year. However, between releases, I often find myself with some downtime to play a game that might have missed my radar. The Team Ladybug shmup Drainus has made its way to Switch and came at a time when I could sink a few hours mastering a new bullet-hell experience. Thankfully, this is a title that doesn’t overstay its welcome, but in the case of Drainus, that turns out to be a bad thing.
You wouldn’t expect it from a shmup, but Drainu has a decent narrative to tell across its short six-stage runtime. Players assume the role of Irina, a slave of the Kharlal Empire who encounters a frog from the future as she attempts to save her sick father. Yea, this story gets pretty weird, but at the moment, it strangely makes sense, and you just kind of go with it. This is likely due to how most of the lore and general characters are fleshed out in dialogue from records that can be found hidden in the stages.
In the opening moments, Irina steals the titular ship Drainus, which the game cleverly weaves into the tutorial stage. From then on, she’s on the run and fights against the Kharlal Empire while following the prophecy provided by the time-traveling frog. Dialogue scenes are quick, and you’re usually back in action before you know it. However, if you listen to the hidden records, the characters actually see some personality which adds to the replayability.
Drainus is a shoot ’em up, though, so that’s what you likely want to hear about. The vertical layout has players racing across space as they run from the enemy. You’ll notice early on that there are often a lot of bullets on screen at any given time and little ways to dodge them completely. Thankfully, there’s a unique feature called Reflector, which allows players to absorb enemy attacks. All attacks can be absorbed for a limited time aside from projectiles outlined in red. This feature resembles the developer’s previous game, Record of Lodoss War, where you can absorb colored projectiles.
The shield recharges quickly, but you must be conscious of how much you have left, given that HP is very limited. Depending on how many powerups you have, you could die in one hit or lose a powerup until they are depleted. Earning powerups are provided from certain downed enemies, so you don’t have to worry too much, but it’s always best to act cautiously.
Another surprising feature is that there are some RPG elements for doing well during stages. For example, while gunning down enemies and absorbing attacks, you’ll gain tanks that can be used to purchase enhancements for your ship, such as shields and new bullet patterns. This allows you to customize your arsenal and projectile level up. Strangely, the feature exists in the Start menu, so you’ll have to exit the action, upgrade, and then get back in the action without a countdown, so you may take damage. However, following each level, they’ll prompt you to enhance your ship.
Depending on the level, a specific loadout may work better. For example, I would say that reflective lasers work better in narrow sections, while other combinations would be better against bosses. I think the narrow passages are a bit unfair at times, but the more you play them, the easier it is to manage. Still, the game offers an accessibility feature where the floors and ceilings won’t harm you.
On the presentation side, Drainus has some great enemies to take down in every stage. Further, bosses have several different stages that are each challenging. However, I believe they did too well on these designs because the background stands out as bland. As for performance on the Switch version, I couldn’t notice any dips in framerate during my time with the game, but holding down the shot bottom while sliding my finger to the shield and special attack was uncomfortable, but you’re able to change the default control scheme to utilize the shoulders buttons.
Sadly, after the six stages, there’s little reason to return to the game if you’re casually playing through the game. Others can replay stages to look for hidden records or try a higher difficulty, but there’s no online support for leaderboards or extra modes. Hopefully, a remix mode roles out at some point because I would love to play this game more.
Drainus is the perfect price point and the perfect game to play if you have 20 minutes to kill. While you can get through the six stages in less than an hour, it will likely be the most fun few hours you’ve had playing a shmup in a very long time. The unique systems and various customizable options make me wish more was offered in the package, but as it stands, this is a must-play shmup.
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