By: Justin Hobley
Mushihimesama is a vertical style bullet hell shoot ’em up (shmup) developed by Cave and released in 2004 for arcade play. Over the years, additional releases and ports have been performed, including a PlayStation 2 release in 2005, an iOS port in 2011, and a spot on Xbox 360 in 2012. In November 2015, our storied bug princess finally made her triumphant move to PC, landing on Steam’s content distribution network.
The overall layout to the controls for Mushihimesama lends itself well to playing with either a keyboard or with an Xbox 360 controller. Part of the user interface in Mushihimesama is dedicated to showing you both the keyboard and controller versions for buttons to complete actions right from the start, making sure to provide a friendly interface that is language independent.
During gameplay, I found the movement of my character on screen to be a bit jumpy when playing with a controller. As there are two movement speeds, dictated by how you’re firing, the jerkiness I experienced was rather unwelcome when I’d chosen to slow myself down for finer movement.
I should mention that I have seen the original version of Mushihimesama in the past. Putting that release side by side with this version, you can truly see the gorgeous work that was done to make everything stand out for the release on Steam. Graphics are very smooth and pleasing to look at, with great detail on the enemies that you’ll encounter throughout.
Even as you spend time traversing the brutal, hostile landscape to reach the end of the game, the effort to make everything shine is truly noticeable. The borders that frame the play area are pleasant and do not overly distract from the chaotic spray of bullets. The color choice for the bullets in relation to other elements is also very fitting and designed for high visibility with complementary colors to help enforce what is dangerous on screen in relation to the very distinct item pickups.
Music is very fitting for the overall play and stands well on its own outside of Mushihimesama. Much of what is heard is a high energy electronic style, with a slightly darker tone for boss battles. The Steam release also offers an optional Original Soundtrack, available by itself or as part of the Matsuri pack. Sound effects are also easy on the ears, which makes for a delightful side to an acoustic feast in bullet hell.
Mushihimesama’s story begins with a young princess named Reco and a large golden rhinoceros beetle named Kiniro in a verdant, lush world that is overrun with bugs called Koju. The life force of these Koju is poisonous to humans, who are forced to live in small settlements away from these creatures, and must sacrifice a 15-year-old every 200 years in order to survive.
On the day Reco turned 15, the village is contaminated by the life force of these bugs, causing everyone around her to fall sick. This prompts her to leave the village and meet with the god of the Koju to ask that her village be spared.
Thus begins the descent into something that is truly deserving of the title of bullet hell. The first stage starts with Reco astride the back of Kiniro after a selection of game type: Novice, Normal, Arrange, or 1.5 mode, as well as weapon selection: S-Shot for a straightforward firing pattern and high movement speed, M-Shot for a medium width shot and average speed, and W-Shot for a wide spread firing pattern that slows your movement down to sustain the scattergun-like spray.
No matter which game type is selected, there are five stages to complete, taking you from the forest to the desert and beyond, with bugs appearing in an attempt to stop Reco’s journey to meet the Koju god, spitting purple bullets in mesmerizing patterns.
Mushihimesama is fairly short, at around 30 minutes for a full play through in most modes, but it’s readily repeatable as the goal of trying not to die frequently is there and hard to obtain.
One of the more important things to take with you into this journey is that your hit box is nowhere near as large as the sprite of Reco and Kiniro! This is something to use to your advantage as you progress deeper into Mushihimesama, where the entire screen can and will be covered in bullets that aren’t yours.
Finally, as you play through the game, expect slowdowns due to the sheer volume of bullets on the screen as you get into later stages. Given the age of the game, the slowdowns are to faithfully emulate the original hardware and the potential advantages that are needed when the screen is comprised of naught but bullets and a tiny Reco.
Mushihimesama is an unforgiving mistress, designed to not hold your hand and roughly flog the quarters out of your pockets if played in an arcade. The Steam release carries on that essence of difficulty a decade later, and it would make a worthy addition to your gaming library.