Title: Espgaluda II
Release Date: September 9, 2021
Reviewed On: Switch
Publisher: Live Wire
Espgaluda II has long been a polarizing affair in the rich shmup library of developer CAVE. To fans’ delight, it lands on Nintendo Switch along with its non-sensical subtitle of Be Ascension The Third Bright Stone of Birth. This particular port comes from developer Live Wire, who also handheld the excellent Switch version of Mushihimesama we saw earlier this year. Sadly, this release doesn’t exactly represent the best of CAVE, nor does it actually capture the arcade classic fully.
Espgaluda II saw its first home console release on the Japanese Xbox 360, and it was one of the few region-free releases, making it a favorite among importers. The game later saw a port to mobile devices worldwide before finally making its way to Switch. However, where the Switch version of Mushimesama was a finely tuned release, Espgaluda II feels quite limited in what it can achieve.
Within moments, it becomes clear that this doesn’t feel like an optimized release, especially in handheld mode. What’s worse, the porting effort feels rushed, which is evident even from the lazy menu presentation. So lazy that parts of the text incorrectly refer to the game as Mushimesama.
Espgaluda II has seen better conversions, and sadly the game doesn’t look its best on Switch with its grainy sprites and even occasional jitter and slowdown. The entire experience feels a little lagged, especially if you happen to have played the Xbox 360 version. This isn’t the best treatment of a classic shmup, and while it can be functional at times, genre purists and lifelong CAVE fans will likely notice many flaws.
Even if the game had been better ported, Espgaluda II as a shooter isn’t considered a standout shmup. In fact, this is easily CAVE’s most polarizing effort, as, over the years, some have sworn by it while others continue to disown it. It all comes down to how much you enjoy complexity in shmup play mechanics, which can be difficult to implement given the fast-paced and demanding bullet-hell gameplay. If you relish the idea of mastering a complex scoring system, then this might be a rewarding shmup for you. Still, if you’re after sound play mechanics and logical level progression, then you’re much better off sticking with something else.
Thankfully, there are tutorials and even a training mode to help you come to grips with the scoring system and the various play styles. At the core, players are actually able to switch between two play styles at any time, represented as male and female versions of the same character. With this visual change comes a change in the bullet style and how enemies react to your offense. Switching between play styles is pretty cool, but the execution doesn’t feel all too logical, so it’s worthwhile going through the tutorials first. There’s also a handy guard barrier, but the intricacies are far more complex than simply shielding from enemy bullets.
The Switch release comes with several variants of Espgaluda II, the original arcade version, a modified arcade version, arrange mode, and the Black Label version, which was part of the Xbox 360 release. There are also two separate novice modes here, for the arcade and Black Label versions, respectively. It’s certainly great to have all the variants of the title all in one place, and the addition of novice modes complements the tutorial and training modes.
While the game has plenty of artistic punch with its fantasy sci-fi setting and a rocking soundtrack, featuring perhaps some of the best music in any CAVE release, the experience as a whole feels flat. The difficulty progression and enemy patterns don’t quite have an organic methodic flow. While some of the boss battles are cool, they all come down to managing their patterns with a mastery of the game’s complex mechanics.
These mechanics involve slowing down enemy bullets but then responding to their changing color and pattern and then being prepared for additional bullet waves. It’s interesting for sure and perhaps a cool thing to master for bragging rights, but these systems are far too convoluted.
Even if you were to come to grips with everything, the various moving parts never come together cohesively, and you’re likely going to forget them if you were to step away from the game for a while. The best games in the shmup genre are ones you can come back to at any time, and everything just clicks. Unfortunately, the gameplay of Espgaluda II never quite becomes second nature, even after extended play sessions.
Espgaluda II is an acquired taste within a genre that was already an acquired taste, to begin with. It doesn’t take long to see why the love for the game is so divided. Its complicated play and scoring systems take some getting used to, but the Switch port is far from ideal despite being feature-packed. This is merely something to hold you over until Live Wire ports DoDonPachi Resurrection.
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