A lot of gamers can attest to finding some degree of enjoyment in the side-scrolling shoot 'em up genre, regardless of their preference. The bullet hell subgenre, on the other hand, is more of an acquired taste to most, and only a particular group of shoot 'em up fans really digs this style of crazy shooter. Unfortunately, these types of games aren't very common here in North America. Off the top of my head, three titles that come to mind that properly exude the bullet hell vibe are Blast Works, Outland, and the Bit.Trip series to a degree. As far as straight bullet hell shooters go, it's a pretty dense basket. That's why it's so refreshing to see a game like Kyotokei land on WiiWare. Obviously inspired by the stellar GameCube title Ikaruga, Kyotokei takes the basic elements necessary in bullet hell shooters and offers an impressive yet brief experience worth playing through.
It's hard for me to grasp why a developer would want to give this type of game any sort of narrative. For me, bullet hell shooters are all about the insane gameplay, and a plot really doesn't do anything to add to the experience. In Kyotokei, you play as two siblings who are trying to save the land from the clutches of an evil witch. This isn't exactly a story for the ages, and the game never really makes the plot clear. The only way to know what the heck this game is about is by checking online or reading the digital manual. Now, I'm not complaining about the addition of a story, because it's not threatening or distracting in any capacity. It's pointless, but it's there if you want it.
In Kyotokei, you take to the skies on top of your reliable winged critter and blast anything that moves. That's not all there is to it, however. Anyone who's played a side-scrolling shoot 'em up is well aware that the enemies keep on coming, and they get tougher and tougher. Kyotokei starts off simple enough, allowing you to grasp the mechanics and intuitive controls, but the difficulty amps up and gets pretty crazy almost immediately. You must dodge erratic enemies and their projectiles, which manage to fill the screen before you know it. Doing so is pretty challenging, and I found myself struggling even on the game's lowest difficulty setting.
Of course, I didn't just mention Ikaruga for the sake of mentioning it. Kyotokei takes a ton of inspiration from that game. You have two types of shots, light and dark. When light is activated, you can absorb your enemies' light projectiles. Likewise, when your dark force is activated, you absorb dark projectiles. Absorbing enemy fire increases your homing attack meter. As you may have guessed, filling this meter allows you to unleash a flurry of homing shots against your opposition. The more you fill the meter, the more shots you release. Just be careful not to lose a life, because the moment you do, the meter gets emptied.
Every kill scores you some points, which should be a fair incentive for gamers who like clawing their way up the game's offline leaderboard. Personally, I don't play these types of games to get a high score; I just play them because they're tough as nails and fun as hell. Those of you who do dig the whole leaderboard thing however, will definitely want to take advantage of the combo system in Kyotokei. Killing four enemies of the same energy in a row will land you score multipliers, so be sure to exploit that mechanic to its fullest.
Switching between light and dark, gunning down baddies, and filling the screen with homing projectiles is awesome. As expected of these types of games, Kyotokei is increasingly difficult. There are only five levels, but because you're likely to spend your first few play sessions engaged in a feeling out process, don't expect to get through it very quickly. The game is tough on the Easy setting, so you can definitely expect a punishing challenge should you dare brave the Normal and Hard difficulties.
If multiple difficulties aren't enough to make you return to Kyotokei, then perhaps the game's two-player co-op is. Shooters are fun when you play them on your own, but if you find a buddy to enjoy the experience with you, you're in store for a hectic good time. It's usually fun having a second gun around to watch your back, and given the intense difficulty of Kyotokei, this is no exception.
Visually, this title doesn't offer anything particularly outstanding, but the colorful cartoon graphics do the trick. A little more enemy variety would have been welcome, as would some nicer backgrounds, but these are just minor gripes. The sound design is equally standard. Though the music certainly isn't bad, there are no memorable themes to be heard in Kyotokei. This isn't a problem, however, because neither the visuals nor the music are technically bad. They're just not that good.
Kyotokei is a fun, offbeat shooter that I would certainly recommend to shoot 'em up fans. The game caters to retro fans and gamers with an affinity for tough titles, and to those individuals I would say that this is an excellent purchase. The game is fairly short, but if you plan on getting through it, you can expect to spend a few sessions playing it. Then you can always return to try out the higher difficulties and co-op mode. For just 500 Wii Points ($5), you're getting a solid download worth playing. Don't let this rare WiiWare gem slip by unnoticed.