Cave is on a roll. With Deathsmiles, DoDonPachi, and Espgaluda II under its belt, the legendary developer had a helping hand in reigniting the shmup craze in the western hemisphere. I'll be glad when some new titles come our way - even Deathsmiles is three years old - but I can't complain quite yet. After all, Guwange is among my favorites, even if it is from 1999.
Guwange lacks the usual hallmarks of the genre; no spaceships, flying fighters, or scantily clad lolis (sorry Pedobear). Instead of an alien menace, three warriors must battle through legions of bullet-spewing yokai in feudal Japan. Since the characters are ground-based, running down streets and around buildings, Guwange bears a striking similarity to top-down run-and-gunners.
Dodging bullets and a perpetual streams of forward-facing attacks are standard fare, complete with collectibles to juice up the firepower, but that won't help you climb the leaderboards, let alone survive. Each of the warriors also commands an invincible Shikigami - summoned spirit - that provides a double dose of destruction. Shikigami can get to places that humans cannot, such as behind walls, as well as to the sides and back of characters, while any bullets it touches slow to a crawl. The difficult part, not to mention masochistically enjoyable, is trying to control your warrior and Shikigami simultaneously.
When your Shikigami moves, so does your character, although at a drastically reduced rate. The result is an intense dynamic between offense and defense rarely seen in shmups. You can send your Shikigami to the edge of the screen to destroy enemies, which leaves you open to attacks from the side. You might keep your Shikigami in close to slow down any incoming bullets, but then you risk letting bullets pile up into an undodgeable wall. Unlike some shmups that require perfect movements in precise orders, Guwange offers ample room for individual style.
The scoring system has been the topic of debate for over a decade. The core concept is fairly simple; shooting enemies increases your multiplier, thus increasing the value of the coins they drop. Kill an enemy with your Shikigami and that enemy's bullets are converted into coins as well. What really gets people riled up is that Guwange uses full-length score-chaining, so one teensy little scratch while facing down the final boss can ruin an otherwise perfect run. Some people love it, and some people have holes punched in their walls.
Guwange did not receive the overhaul that Deathsmiles did, granted one game is retail and one is downloadable. Regardless, Guwange doesn't fare well in the HD era. It has been ported largley as-is from the arcades, with a more challenging Blue mode, and a special 360 mode. The latter gives you dual-stick control of your character and your Shikigami. As much as I had hoped for such a feature, it ends up making Guwange far too easy.
While I won't complain about another Cave shmup landing on western consoles, I would have gladly waited longer and paid more for an improved version. Guwange is an excellent shmup with a genuinely unique mechanic that I eagerly recommend, so long as you're ready for a trip back to the '90s.