Platform: 3DS (eShop)
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Some would say that we've lost faith in our politicians these days. In an age where strife and scraping by has become the norm for many of us, it's easy to feel out of touch with those in power, who arguably need to perform a grand gesture to win back some of the trust lost in recent years.
So perhaps Cameron, Clegg, Obama and Romney should follow Shoko Ozora's example. Upon being elected, the new president of Japan's first duty is to protect her citizens... by strapping into an enormous Liberator mech and taking to the skies, raining neon destruction down upon ravening robotic hordes and acting as a beacon of hope to the electorate as she flashes overhead, guns blazing. News networks cover her accomplishments live with interviews and press releases, with her advisors scurrying to spin her victories as quickly as possible. This is the bleeding edge of politics... Suda51 style.
Goichi Suda's debut 3DS game is the first of three downloadable eShop titles from Level-5, an exciting initiative that plans to bring new and exciting experiences to Nintendo's handheld. As a tight and responsive 3D mech shooter, Liberation Maiden is already a cut above practically everything else on the virtual shopfront, but can it stack up to the best games on PSN and XBLA?
After being introduced to the novel political premise in a gorgeous anime cutscene, you'll scream over the skies of New Japan in the implacable Liberator battlesuit, bringing battle to an invading army of robotic walkers, tanks and battleships. Shoko's two weapons, a homing missile launcher and a powerful laser cannon, can be aimed and fired with the stylus, which will be instantly familiar to fans of Kid Icarus Uprising, Panzer Dragoon or Sin & Punishment. However, unlike traditional rail shooters, you've got full control of your mech in 3D space, allowing you to roam throughout the surprisingly expansive maps and pick your targets. As the skies fill with missiles, you'll strafe, jink, evade and lock into a jet mode, using the circle pad to keep your enemies at bay before soundly obliterating them from above. The net effect is visceral, intense and empowering; a gameplay experience that's as fist-pumpingly enjoyable as it is mechanically responsive.
Be aware that it also looks much more polished than the magnified screenshots would suggest, especially in motion.
Liberation Maiden features a couple of interesting twists to the standard SHMUP formula, beyond the occasional on-screen rolling news reports and press releases chronicling your endeavours. Killing foes doesn't usually result in an explosion, rather, it purifies the surrounding area and causes luscious greenery to emerge from the blighted cityscapes. On a more technical note, recharging firepower is directly linked to your shield energy, meaning that knowing when to press the attack and when to hold back is paramount in tougher engagements. High scores are typically earned through chaining kills together, so skilled players will want to pick their targets carefully.
However, as mentioned, Liberation Maiden's major selling point is its expansive levels, around which you're encouraged to roam in order to purify as much of the city as possible within a generous time limit (typically thirty minutes). Though some of the areas are sparsely populated with enemies and targets, the ability to explore and venture off the beaten track for extra points is a welcome addition to the score attack framework.
Sooner or later, though, Shoko will need to deal with preset missions within the time limit, which usually revolve around locating and destroying Spikes. These colossal towers blight the landscape and provide mini-boss battles, protected by numerous defenders and gradually rising up to reveal a bristling selection of missile launchers and cannons. The fact that you can strafe around them while targeting can make for some hectic mini-boss engagements, which eventually leads to a climactic boss battle against a Greater Spike. Full control is removed during these end-of-level sections, but some interesting attack patterns and intuitive touchscreen support makes orbiting around them more interesting than you might expect.
Liberation Maiden is a seriously fun proposition, then, but it's far from perfect. The open levels, welcome as they are, mean that enemy waves lack the technical challenge and foresight you'd expect from a well-crafted score attack shooter, leading to a slightly messy randomised feel rather than a tightly controlled difficulty curve. Worse, it's fairly easy if you've even the slightest interest in the genre, since you're free to retreat and regenerate health and bosses rarely tax you to the full extent of your faculties.
The controls are also a double-edged sword. Responsive and intuitive, yes, but having to hold the 3DS in one hand while using the circle pad and left trigger can quickly become incredibly uncomfortable. Especially if you're rocking a heavier 3DS XL. There were times when I sorely wished for a second thumbstick, which Nintendo still lacks the foresight to provide.
And it's all over so quickly. The five stages can be completed in under a hour and a half, though skilled players will find themselves completing the campaign in much less than half that time. Only hardcore SHMUP fans will derive full value from the price, low as it is, with high score runs and a harder difficulty mode being the only way to increase longevity.
But quality is a kind of value, and for £7.19, it's difficult to punish Liberation Maiden's few flaws too harshly. It's great to see big-name developers supporting the 3DS eShop, so if you're craving some high-octane action with some slick visuals, Shoko is definitely a worthy candidate.
- Intense and responsive action
- Open levels to explore and purify
- Sweet 3D visuals, great soundtrack and gorgeous anime cutscenes
- Uncomfortable (if effective) controls
- Can feel messy and slightly too easy
- All over in the blink of an eye
The Short Version: Liberation Maiden is a visceral and empowering mech shooter, providing major thrills, slick visuals and freeform levels to explore. Though its disappointingly short length and few foibles can bring down the overall value of the package, President Shoko does more than enough to deserve your vote.