iPhone/iPad App Review: Danmaku Unlimited 2

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In preparation for the release of its sequel, I spent some time playing the first Danmaku Unlimited game, one which I recall enjoying very much, but hadn’t opened in quite some time. Despite it not being updated for the iPhone 5 it’s still a great game, with precise controls and plenty of action, and  remains up there with the best bullet hell games on iOS. Danmaku Unlimited 2 was released earlier this month, so could it live up to the high standards set by its predecessor, and perhaps even challenge the ruler of all iOS bullet hell shooters, Cave’s Espgaluda 2?

Thankfully, any attempt to give Danmaku Unlimited 2 a plot has been resisted, and it’s just you in a fighter shooting down enemies. However, this being bullet hell, the odds are stacked even more against you than usual. Wave after wave of intricately designed bullet patterns must be navigated, and a particularly tough end-of-level boss awaits before you can take on the next stage.

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Like most iOS shooters, you control your ship by sliding a finger across the screen, but instead of leaving it at that or adding a button or two for the inevitable smart bombs, Danmaku 2 does something a little different. There are two special weapons ready to lay waste to the hordes. The Beam and Trance weapons are activated by swiping up or down the screen with your other finger, an unusual and as it turns out, preferable action to tapping a button. The reason? Bullet hell requires you to focus on finding a path through the bullets, and glancing away to locate the button often spells death, and you’ll usually want to use the special weapons when the going gets really tough. The swipe needs no such attention, and works really well.

Your standard gun is auto-fire, and you can select an easier mode where the Trance weapon is fired when it’s ready, rather than being activated with an upward swipe. Like the first Danmaku, weapons are charged by collecting gems left by destroyed enemy fighters, and “grazing” incoming fire. The closer you let the bullets pass you by, the more the Trance bar is filled, so it’s worth cutting it fine when you can. You’ll soon find that quite often, there’s no choice but to cut it fine anyway!

At first, Danmaku Unlimited wasn’t quite as great as I hoped. It wasn’t the graphics, which are excellent, and it wasn’t the music, which is simply fantastic. It was the gameplay. The bullets were coming, but not in the quantity I expected, as if the enemy weren’t all that bothered about my presence. I didn’t bother with Easy and tried the game on Normal difficulty for the early stages of review, once I switched to Hard, and the game came alive. This is where the action is and if you’re used to bullet hell games, you’ll want to start here. It’s frantic stuff, with more bullets, denser patterns, and increased accuracy from the enemy. There’s an Extreme mode for when you’re done with Hard, and it had me beaten very quickly. One for the hardcore only.

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To see how Danmaku Unlimited 2 compared to Espgaluda 2, I had a quick reminder game of Cave’s classic. It’s still brilliant, even though it hasn’t been optimized for the iPhone 5 (a crying shame, particularly as it was an expensive app), and it did highlight one area where Danmaku falls slightly behind. In Espgaluda, your primary weapon is upgradable, and it reaches insane levels later on in the game. With Danmaku, it stays the same throughout, and I did miss the excitement of upgrading as you make progress. That said, Danmaku Unlimited 2 is technically more advanced, graphically more impressive, and arguably even harder than Esgaluda 2. It’s very, very close to surpassing it, and that’s high praise indeed.

Danmaku Unlimited 2 is universal for the iPhone and the iPad, has extensive Game Center support with a range of achievements and a global leaderboard. It’s priced sensibly for this type of game at £2.99, which although more expensive than your average app, promises to contain more than enough gaming hours to represent acceptable value for money. Due to Espgaluda 2 being stuck in the past in terms of device compatibility, Danmaku Unlimited 2 finds itself as the definitive bullet hell shooter for the iPhone 5, and one of the very best examples of the genre overall.

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