Neko Navy is a charming shmup in which players choose one of three cats and shoot their way through seven levels.
Publisher: Fruitbat Factory
Release Date: June 14th, 2017
Neko Navy is a charming shmup in which players choose one of three cats and shoot their way through seven levels, each representing a different day of the week. On their journey, they will visit a forest, a hospital, a slaughterhouse, and several other locations. Each level features its own unique enemies, including boxes that fall from the sky and caterpillars, as well as its own unique boss. Local and online leaderboards are available, with high scores reserved for those who take the most risks.
- Charming art style – the game world is brought to life by a charming, cartoony art style.
- Seven levels – shoot your way through seven levels, each with its own unique enemies and setting.
- Local and online leaderboards – compete for high scores against players on the same computer or around the world.
By Matt Chelen
I’ve always rather liked shmups, despite the fact that I’ve never been particularly good at them, and have played quite a number of them over the years. One credit clears have eluded me in practically every shmup I’ve played, but that hasn’t stopped me from trying anyways. Neko Navy stood out to me almost immediately due to its charming, colorful art style and the fact that you play as one of three cats who shoot various projectiles at enemies. However, that same charm hides a deceptively difficult game underneath.
Neko Navy hits hard from the very beginning. When you first start playing the game, you have but one credit that you can use in each session. Unlike many shmups that were first released in arcades, you cannot simply add more credits to keep playing. Instead, you must unlock each additional credit by reaching certain hidden milestones. Because of the way this works, the game almost implores you to begin by playing on Easy. You could play on a harder difficulty—it’s not like the extra credits are absolutely necessary—but unlocking credits by playing exclusively on harder difficulties may prove frustrating, especially during boss fights that you haven’t learned yet.
Because you only start out with one credit, you would think that the game’s Training mode would allow you to play any level from the beginning, or at least levels that you’ve visited, in order to improve. However, in order to unlock a level in Training mode, you must first complete the level, making it increasingly difficult to make it through later levels early on. I can assure you that, unless you have a particular aptitude for shmups, you will be playing through the first two or three levels more times than you can count on your journey to reach even the fifth or sixth level, much less the final level.
Fortunately, the difficulty curve ramps up slowly, easing you into the more difficult levels in lieu of the ability to add more credits by simply pressing a button. The first level doesn’t particularly require precise movements, offering plenty of space to maneuver around oncoming projectiles. Its boss has an extremely simple attack pattern that only changes if you destroy one of its arms, destroying some of its guns in the process. Later levels, and their bosses, slowly increase in difficulty. By the fifth level, the screen will nearly constantly be covered in a hail of projectiles.
The difficulty is complemented by some rather interesting enemy designs that often make you rethink the way that you would otherwise approach various situations. One type of enemy is a box that drops from the sky in groups, piling up and blocking your path. Another is a caterpillar that drops from the top of the screen on a web; during its descent, it fires a large number of projectiles horizontally, whereas it fires a smaller number of projectiles directly towards the player once it has completed its descent. Yet another type of enemy is an orb of some kind that spawns in the vertical center of the screen and pulls two walls towards it, one from the top and one from the bottom; if you don’t kill it quickly enough, these walls will effectively block your path. When combined with other types of enemy, these enemies provide formidable challenges that require you to properly prioritize.
Oddly enough, the game eschews one major traditional shmup mechanic: you don’t slow down while shooting. Due to the fact that you don’t have to sacrifice mobility for offensive power, it can feel at times as if there is simply no reason to stop shooting. However, it seems as if the developers realized this and created a mechanic resembling grazing mechanics in several other shmups that takes advantage of the lack of a movement penalty. If you destroy an enemy while you are within a certain distance of it, you will get a “Brave” bonus and be awarded more points for destroying it. It’s not quite a replacement for the nuance that movement penalties while shooting creates, but it does create a system of rewards for those that are particularly adept at dodging projectiles.
Most of your points, however, will come from what I am going to call “neko coins.” Neko coins are cat-shaped objects that enemies drop on death. Once they have dropped, they will slowly move towards the left side of the screen before moving back towards the right side of the screen significantly more quickly and flying off-screen. Each one that you manage to pick up is worth 5000 points and you will usually have 1000 or more by the end of each level, granted you’ve made an effort to collect them. I’ve always been fond of systems like this because they reward taking additional extra risks by granting a significant amount of points.
It should also be noted that you don’t lose power ups on death. There’s only one type of power up in Neko Navy, which is obtained from a specific type of enemy that appears at set locations in each level. You have to destroy that enemy in order to get the power up, but not even using a credit will cause you to lose it once you have it. They will continue to stack until you’ve lost your last life on your last credit. Having played a number of shmups over the years, all of which remove power ups on death and some of which then send those power ups flying across the screen for you to pick up again, this is an odd system and I’m not entirely fond of it. It is likely that this choice was made to offset the fact that there are so few power ups to be found, but it gives a sense that there is no real penalty for dying other than simply losing another life on your current credit.
Neko Navy is also surprisingly well-polished. The parallax scrolling effects in the background look quite nice, with a slight blur indicating that the objects in question are definitively in the background. UI elements slide off-screen when your character approaches them, so as not to block your view. The game temporarily enters slow motion when bosses are introduced, but still allows you to shoot at them. There are a number of little features that enhance the entire experience.
Neko Navy is a competent, charming indie shmup that is deceptively challenging. The difficulty curve is well-balanced, featuring a number of unique enemy designs that often make you think on your feet. What’s more, the game is polished to a shine. The lack of a cooperative mode is a bit of a disappointment and there are a few systems, such as the credit system, that are particularly odd, but neither of these criticisms change the fact that the game is well worth playing.