Title: Maiden & Spell
Release Date: April 8, 2021
Reviewed On: Switch
Genre: Bullet-Hell Fighter
Maiden & Spell is a curious mash-up between the fighting and bullet hell genre. Despite containing attributes of the two most execution-intensive types of games, Maiden & Spell’s simplistic gameplay makes sure its players are not overwhelmed.
The primary single-player content is a story mode, where you go through a boss rush with the character of your choosing. Gameplay elements in this mode more reflect its danmaku dodging counterpart, with more bombastic spells to dodge than are available in PvP matches.
A short story mode is standard for fighting games, but Maiden & Spell improves on it by having an enjoyable, brief plot that hints at the lore of its world. The quippy, humorous dialogue fits the aesthetics perfectly and characterizes the maidens despite its brevity.
While the basis of its fights are danmaku battles, Maiden & Spell is still primarily a fighting game. Having a PvP element provides a twist on the genre that requires more than pure evasive instinct to succeed.
Each character has four base attacks: aimed, spread, offensive special, and defensive special. These are more options than usual in bullet hell games, which is quite necessary since the opponent is free to move around.
Clever usage of your attacks is needed to control your opponent’s spacing. Unlike the bullet hell-like story mode, both you and your opponent have a specific amount of times you can get hit before losing a “card,” which is equivalent to a round. This makes Maiden & Spell’s PvP system seem less like fighting a boss and more of a proper battle between two people.
Maiden & Spell has more elements of a fighting game than a bullet hell on a foundational level. Each character’s kit of attacks, while small, provide a cohesive fighting style that is identifiable as an iconic fighting game archetype.
For example, Dreadwyrm Heir and Stormbeast swiftly flit across the battlefield, placing them into an aggressive archetype, while Lich of Flowers and Depth’s Secret focus on walling up the opponent in drawn-out matches. It is strange to suggest that there are projectile zoners even within a bullet hell-based fighting game. Still, the familiar vibe of these classic archetypes is strongly present in their movesets, demonstrating Maiden & Spell’s understanding of both genres.
The battles are not as simplistic as the character’s meager movesets would suggest. The airborne battles of Maiden & Spell provide a new dimension of movement, meaning that a character’s attacks will have to be used both offensively and as a means of controlling the opponent’s available movement area.
Aimed and spread attacks are simple enough, but offensive and defensive specials are the bastions of a player’s skill regarding understanding spacing and fighting game fundamentals. Defensive specials grant temporary invincibility, but in certain positions, even these protective maneuvers can be used to take a card, such as Dreadwyrm Heir’s Novi Fire. These special moves have a cooldown time, which adds another layer of complexity when considering when to go for the kill.
Maiden & Spell’s training mode is notably robust, a great boon for any fighting game. Located in the corners of the screen is a data interface that gives you all the details you could ever want about your attacks.
While cooldown and invincibility are standard fare, other meters such as how attacks slow down your movement speed and how long you are locked into a movement direction give supreme knowledge of every aspect you can imagine. While movesets are very simple, there are tons of facets to each character for fighting game labbers to discover.
Other standard modes for fighting games include a tutorial and a challenge mode, dubbed “True Magnus.” The tutorial is short but thankfully addresses how aimed and spread attacks work and how to dodge them, which would be frustrating otherwise.
Any direct hit results in taking a round, so there is no lengthy combo learning process to shove into a tutorial, either. True Magnus is a collection of singular, fiercely difficult bullet patterns. This appeals to the bullet-hell aspects of Maiden & Spell, and while brief, it is a pleasant single-player romp to grind through.
Unlockables include pieces in the art and music rooms. More pieces are unlocked through the story mode’s multiple playthroughs as the main single-player content is enjoyable enough between the unique dialogue and attacks to warrant a new playthrough. And the story mode doubles as a sample platter to how each character plays, which will prepare you for fighting other players.
The endgame of Maiden & Spell, like most fighting games, is competition. There is only so much single-player content to rely on before the game is completed, so fighting games rely heavily on their online multiplayer experience.
The online pairing requires either setting up a lobby or joining one. This is useful for playing with friends and in tournaments, but it can be a little tedious to just play with anyone without random player pairing.
You can create an open lobby, but it doesn’t quite offer the same experience as random pairing that makes playing fighting games online addicting. Having rollback netcode also bumps up its online viability.
Maiden & Spell manages to take the heart-hammering genres of Bullet Hell and fighting games and put it into a cutesy, smart parcel. The minimalist movesets of each maiden can be learned swiftly yet have the nuance that fighting game enthusiasts will enjoy mastering.
The single-player content is orthodox, but the combination of sly banter between the characters and the unlockable art and music keeps it fresh. The online lobby experience is satisfactory, but the lack of a true random player pairing system holds it back a little. Nonetheless, the true feature of Maiden & Spell, its multiplayer gameplay, shines through as a knowledgeable example of what fighting game players like, shipped in a unique bullet hell platform.
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