Columns RE:Port

RE:Port: Castle of Shikigami

RE:Port is a new series of columns in which I will discuss the quality of newly-released ports, giving thoughts on the game itself in the process. I am starting this series out with Degica’s new PC port of Castle of Shikigami.

Castle of Shikigami is a bullet hell shmup, created by Alfa System, that was originally released in arcades way back in 2001. The PlayStation 2 version of the game saw a Western release back in March 2003 under the name “Mobile Light Force 2,” a version that did not feature the game’s supernatural murder mystery plot, but its ports to other systems, much less a release that used its proper name, eluded us until today’s Steam release.

Castle of Shikigami is a fairly good shmup. It provides all of the challenge that you would expect from other bullet hell shmups, as well as a set of truly unique playable characters and interesting mechanics. Each character has its own bullet pattern, as well as its own ability that is used when you hold down the fire button. One character has a spirit of some sort that rushes forward from your character and automatically deals damage to enemies, while another has two swords that can be rotated around him in order to deal damage to nearby enemies.

Each of Castle of Shikigami’s five stages is separated into three parts. The first part features a typical shooting segment followed by a boss. The second part is simply a boss. The third part is another shooting segment followed by another boss. The first stage is fairly easy, but the game begins to get rather difficult by the beginning of the second stage.

Despite the fact that there are a total of fifteen bosses, each one manages to stand out in some way or another. One has a shield that you have to break before you can deal damage to it. Another flies below you where you can’t shoot it, firing bombs up at you; destroying these bombs causes them to break into a hail of bullets. My personal favorite cordons off which parts of the screen you can reach with some sort of electrical force field.

The core problem with Castle of Shikigami is that it seems to be rather fond of smaller projectiles, but it doesn’t show you your hitbox unless you are just about to be hit by one, at which point your hitbox will flash, warning you that you are about to be hit. Due to the fact that each character is a person, and thus the location of the relatively small hitbox can be difficult to determine at times, this can be quite frustrating.

Despite that, the game does feature a myriad of bosses with unique mechanics and a level of challenge so high that the final stage sees the screen become blanketed in bullets throughout nearly entire stage—and that’s just on Normal difficulty. Furthermore, given the game’s original release under a different name and the fact that, before now, only the PlayStation 2 version had made it to the West, it is a game that shmup fans will likely want to check out, as there is a high probability that they missed it the first time around.

Now, to discuss the port’s more intricate details.

Content

Those of you who have kept up with the history of Castle of Shikigami likely know that the game received a Japan-exclusive Xbox version called “Shikigami no Shiro Evolution.” This version contained all of the game’s original content, in addition to introducing two new characters and a new mode called “Evolution Mode.” The Steam version doesn’t seem to have any of that content. It also doesn’t have the Xbox’s version’s Practice mode, Gallery, or Replay mode, nor does it have the PlayStation 2 version’s Side Story mode. Instead, the Steam version seems to have only the content found in the original version. However, the secret character, Tagami from Alfa System’s earlier title Elemental Gearbolt, is unlocked from the beginning.

Performance

Castle of Shikigami’s Steam release ran at a smooth 60 frames per second throughout my playthrough. That being said, it is also capped at 60 frames per second with no option to change that. The little bit of slowdown that the original arcade version had does not appear to be emulated.

I can also say that the port is polished, having experienced no noticeable bugs, nor any crashes, during my time playing. I was able to play from start to finish—albeit with quite a few credits—without encountering any issues.

Interface

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of any port from a lower-resolution system to a system with a potentially higher resolution or wider aspect ratio, especially in the case of shmups, is the interface. What the port’s developers decide to do with the potentially empty space could greatly affect the game’s entire aesthetic.

Unfortunately, Castle of Shikigami’s Steam release does not have a great interface. The empty space around the vertically-scrolling playfield is filled with a boring blue pattern with haphazardly-placed, reddish-colored sidebars immediately surrounding the playfield. The reddish area on the left side features a portrait of the character you chose to play as this round.

The port features three different interface settings, but none of them change the fact that the interface does not look good. Classic mode displays your score, bombs, etc. in the playfield. New mode places your score, bombs, etc. in the left sidebar. Nothing mode simply removes any interface elements, leaving only the portrait in the left sidebar.

The main interface seems to have been recreated with simple blue buttons. They do the job, but they don’t look particularly nice. Furthermore, the buttons in the Options menu don’t appear to be aligned well.

While the interface does what it needs to and the “New” mode emulates Evolution’s interface to some degree, it also isn’t particularly appealing. Evolution’s interface isn’t particularly great either, but I do prefer it to that of the Steam release.

Graphics

It does not seem that any effort was made to improve the quality of Castle of Shikigami’s art assets for its Steam release. The result of this decision is an odd disparity between the ultimately blurry 2D sprites and the now crisp-looking 3D models. While some of the textures on the models are a bit blurry, they are still far better off than the game’s 2D sprites, which causes the foreground to appear far more dated than the background. That being said, while noticeable, the disparity is not particularly off-putting.

However, there are practically no graphics settings. The only option that the game gives you is that of whether you would like to play the game full-screen or windowed. If you play full-screen, it will automatically fit the game to your screen. If you play windowed, you can resize the window to any size, as the port has support for arbitrary resolutions. Regardless of how you decide to play, the main part of the screen will retain its aspect ratio, with any empty space being filled by the boring blue pattern mentioned above.

Other Settings

Castle of Shikigami’s Steam release offers very few settings beyond those already mentioned. You can change the volume of the background music and sound effects independently, as well as set custom keybinds. Oddly enough, you also set the level of difficulty in the Options menu, rather than selecting it when you start the game.

The game immediately detected my Xbox One Elite controller, albeit I had to manually set it to use the joystick, rather than the D-pad. I did not test any other controllers, but keyboard controls seem to work well.

Castle of Shikigami’s Steam release is a solid port that runs well. It doesn’t offer many modern amenities, nor does it offer content seen in some of the game’s previous releases, but it will allow you to experience the game again on PC. It’s not one of the best shmups on the market, but it is one that is worth picking up if you missed it the first time around, if only to experience some of its unique boss mechanics.

Matt Chelen

Matt has been playing games for as long as he can remember. He got into games journalism during college.

http://twocredits.co

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