Guwange
by sunburstbasser



Guwange is a vertically scrolling shooter which does have a story involving blowing stuff up. If you read Japanese, you can get bits of it in the game.

Cave's shooters have always had good looking backgrounds, but it was all just wallpaper that you would fly over. For Guwange, all selectable characters are ground based and must navigate around barriers. The effect is a little bit like the SNES game Space Megaforce, as touching walls stops you but doesn't kill you. While the game is oriented vertically, at times the level will scroll in other directions to follow the layout of the level.

Guwange is set in Muromachi era Japan, and the best way to describe the game is "Japanese." The music has Western influences, but is played using traditional Japanese instruments. All of the text is Japanese, and the countdown screen even uses Japanese characters rather than Arabic numerals. Even the score is displayed in Japanese. If you intend to play for score, have a chart handy. English text is used in the credits along with Japanese.

Like other Cave games Guwange has separate attacks when the A button is tapped and held. Tapping fires a stream of shots, with each character having their own unique pattern. The meat of Guwange's gameplay is the Spirit attack, activated by holding A. Your character's bullets narrow to a thin stream, their movement slows drastically, and they can only move horizontally. The Spirit they project has free reign of the screen, deals damage when it touches enemies, slows enemy bullets, and is immune to damage. The Bomb is a blaster of sorts that nullifies bullets. Hold the B button after activating the Bomb and you can rotate it around you. Enemies come from all directions, making this technique very useful.

Three characters are available, each with their own Spirit and shot type. Cave actually has created small back stories for each character. They all have a reason for killing the god Guwange, and wading through bullet mazes is their style. Beating Guwange will free them from their possession by Shikigami and allow them to live out the rest of their lives.

SHISHIN


Shishin wears an oni mask and throws kunai that can curve in flight. Look up "badass" in a dictionary and this guy's picture should be there. Since Cave can't make happy games, Shishin's own daughter is part of the final boss and he fights to free her from Guwange.


HIIRAGI KOSAME


This young girl has an awesome opening scene in which she fires one arrow, it splits into several and they all impale a dude in the chest. Rambo has nothing on Kosame. She fights to avert her death from Shikigami possession. Her shots are wide type and I seem to have pretty good luck with her.


KAMONO GENSUKE


Gensuke was in training as a pharmacist before being possessed by his Shikigami. He now acts as a bounty hunter and by defeating Guwange can free himself of the demon. His shots have mild penetrating abilities and can go through some solid objects.


Guwange breaks from Cave's previous games by including a form of life bar. Each credit still gives three lives, but hitting a bullet doesn't automatically kill you. Instead, different bullets will take off chunks of the current life bar, touching enemies will drain it. When one life bar is empty, that life is lost. Guwange is by no means easy, but it was easier for me to get to the third stage on one credit far quicker than other Cave games. Food items can be obtained though I've not found one yet. Food increases the amount of life left.

When Guwange was released, all of Cave's shooters featured military enemies, giant robots, mechanical monsters, the usual shooter fare. ESP Ra.De. changed it up a little but for the most part that was still a single super human against an army. In Guwange, the setting prohibits tanks or airplanes so Cave came up with all kinds of enemies taken from Japanese mythology and lore. You'll face some expected enemies, like armies of samurai, cavalry, and fortified pagodas. You'll also get to see whales with one giant eye, huge heads in flower pots, ghosts, and the Red army. In this case, the Red army is made up of red demons.

All of the levels show the skill Cave's pixel artists possess. Despite being a flat background without tons of parallax scrolling the details make it easy to see stairs and walls and navigate around them. One level is covered in snow and I did get a little stuck in one spot. I was just a little too far to the side of the ramp, and caught it before getting screen crushed. Animations for both the player character and the enemies are extremely fluid, at times rivaling the different worms from Salamander 2 in grace and fluid movement.

Bullets are the same bright blue as Progear and the patterns are extremely dense. When bullets are slowed with the Spirit attack, they turn pink. A few other projectiles like fireballs pop up as well. Seeing bullets is never a problem, though with some bosses you may wish you couldn't see all the bullets. I was able to weave through some pretty tight patterns thanks to the high visibility.

Cave implemented a score system that, as I understand, combines the chaining of DoDonPachi with item collection. In the top left corner is a skull counter. Shooting enemies with either the shot or the Spirit attack will build it up, first gray, then yellow, then a flashing yellow. When pink bullets are caught in explosions they will turn into coins and it seems that the higher the counter, the higher the value. Some structures will also leave coins behind which behave the same way. If there are no enemies on screen but a bullet or two is left over, place the Spirit attack on it to hold the chain out. It is possible to chain from the start to the finish, though personally the highest number of gold coins I've collected is around 300.

The music is gorgeous. Traditional Japanese instruments make up the sounds. I heard what sounded like a Koto at one point, for instance. The composition itself is varied, with some songs having the 4-beat feel of Western rock music played on Japanese instruments. Other stages use fewer harmonies and focus on melodies and texture. I'm not sure I'd put it on an iPod, but during gameplay it sounds really good and sets the mood just right.



The first stage opens on a stone road beneath cherry blossom trees. The pixel work on the trees actually makes them look full of blossoms when in motion, a very pretty effect. The first stage of Cave shooters usually isn't too difficult, and in Guwange it makes for a good training stage to get the hang of using the Spirit attack. The level starts out scrolling vertically but when you reach a wall, it begins scrolling sideways. One large tower spits some simple bullet patterns, easy to dodge and a perfect candidate for the Spirit attack to collect gold coins.

The boss has 8 dancing girls to help him and they actually shriek when you kill them. Speaking of killing people, most of them explode in a gory mess. It's a bit unusual to see human blood in a shmup. Once you've killed off the dancers, the boss summons demon heads to aid him. They track your horizontal position and release a blast of blue bullets. Stay out of their way and they won't be a big problem. The boss himself fires big bullet blasts which are more dangerous than the demon heads. During boss fights, your Shikigami is out at all times but only damages when the A button is held. This means you can park it where you want and not worry about getting it into position for the Spirit attack. Park it on top of the boss and kill him off.



Stage 2 looks like a continuation of the first stage, for a while. Early on, a boat will move out from under a bridge and flood the screen with bullets and once the top half is destroyed the people in it will start attacking with their own curtain fire. This is a great opportunity to collect gold coins in large numbers. After climbing a short staircase, the level switches to horizontal scrolling as cyclops whale demons drop fireballs on you. Destroy the large one, and numerous small ones will pop up. Further ahead, the human opponents are joined by a staple of video games, the giant spider. In general, Stage 2 does present more challenge but shouldn't be too hard to get through.

The Stage 2 boss is a giant centipede or worm-like creature. It has several attacks, with the general style being big arcs of bullets. It can curl up and fire waves all over the screen, or it can extend itself out and lay arcs on top of each other to create tighter patterns. It will also extend itself along one side of the screen and extend a leg or tentacle out to fire at you. Eventually the boss will begin firing red fireballs on top of the blue patterns. The red ones don't act like the arcs from before and are more like a whole lot of straight bullets going everywhere.



Stage 3 really starts throwing more demons out, including women's heads in jars and ghosts. Humans come back in force, with wooden contraptions that are effectively tanks and some more foot soldiers with fans that throw two bullet arcs. I also see a lot of what look like walking jars, I'm not sure what those are. Cave is done playing by this point and the bullets get much denser. Unlike Cave's other vertical shooters where most bullets generally go from the top of the screen to the bottom, in Guwange enemies and bullets appear from all directions and Stage 3 more than earlier places enemies at top and bottom of the screen, sometimes in places that can only be reached using the Spirit attack. Bullet patterns will have more spirals and complex movements, be on your toes and try to cancel as many bullets as possible to make survival easier.



The Stage 3 boss is the most glorious combination of cute and hideous I've ever seen. The boss is a giant spider with the head and patterns of a house cat. He actually shows up shortly before the end of the level, where he can be seen nibbling on some hapless fellow before being chased off. He starts off with a couple different attacks. The straight bullets aren't too bad, the bullets that shoot bullets in spiral patterns are a bit worse. His next attack is a combination of a fairly elaborate spread combined with bullets that stop and aim themselves at your current position. After those attacks his paws start emitting curtain fire all over. These attacks will cycle until he reaches half health at which point you stop chasing him and he starts chasing you. The attacks get more vicious to mark the change. This round will start off will several very fast aimed flurries of bullets. Each single blast consists of a dozen or so bullets in a line that has some spread to it. They appear to be aimed, but not directly at you and instead in relation to your current position. He can potentially box you in between two streams while another comes right at you. A yellow ball will be emitted at this time that builds a line that can turn into gold coins or thin, Raizing-style bullets. Because they are hard to see they are deadlier than the big blue bullets. They don't appear to be aimed, they just reduce dodging room.



The fourth stage has more human enemies and machines to deal with, including flying wooden crates and carts with rotating turrets that fling blue death all over. The fan-wielding ninja returns and bats now fire several bullets each. Early on, a huge worm thrusts out of a building and the back half of what looks like a severed cow falls from it's mouth. It looks like the fly trap enemies in the second stage of Battle Toads, brought up to late 90s arcade level. It fires a cloud of bullets from it's mouth, but by using the Spirit attack the whole cloud can be slowed down and many of the bullets cancelled. Vehicles start getting more numerous, gun turrets sit atop pillars, and the cavalry return and fire from the sidelines.



The boss is a building with wheels. Along with the usual bullet spreads, this boss takes a cue from Donkey Kong and rolls barrels at you. Destroy a barrel, and it releases two suicide bullets. One is aimed at you, one is aimed next to you. Only the bottom third of the screen is available for dodging, so don't try to destroy all the barrels thinking you'll just go around the bullets because the boss takes up most of the screen. After a couple rounds with the barrels, the boss will start spitting lines of straight aimed bullets from multiple locations, I counted five. Don't let one line lead you into an adjacent one. At half health, the front of the building blows off to reveal a cyclops that could use a good dentist. From the corners of the building you will have to contend with swirls of red bullets, and from his eye he releases a group of bullets that stops and explodes in a giant circle. As he gets closer to death, bullets start flying all over the screen. While they follow straight or nearly straight paths the patterns will overlap and bullets will be shot by bullets already in flight. The good news is that with constant firing he won't last long in this phase.



I like to think of Stage 5 as what an infiltration mission would look like in a shmup. The level starts out on snow-covered roofs, rather than in the streets like the earlier levels. Right away, foot soldiers and wooden tanks begin firing aimed bullets and patterns all over. The fan ninjas come in larger numbers. The dancing girls that accompanied the first boss make a reappearance, although they die more easily here. To compensate, they fire bullets all over the screen and since they come as a full dance troupe rather than individually they can put many projectiles on screen at once. The final portion of the level is an assault on a building. An explosion will take out the guards in a bloody mess before entering the building. You will enter automatically.



Inside the building is one enemy. The boss moves very quickly and is more ninja-like than earlier bosses. His sprite is roughly the same size as your own, making the battle a little more personal somehow. He doesn't employ any turrets or guards or anything. His attacks are fast, and he will get very close to you before attacking to cut your chances of moving. He has bullet spreads and very fast aimed bullets that he switches between. When he jumps to the middle of the screen, he switches to unaimed swarms. He dies pretty quickly but rather than simply exploding like everyone else he walks to the back of the building, glows green, and hulks out. His sprite is replaced with a larger, meaner one and he gets new attacks. His first attack consists of rings of red bullets that orient themselves towards you to form a wedge-shaped pattern. He can also swing his arms to fire off a spread of bullets and lots of fast, straight lines of bullets. The straight lines will actually slow down and the red wedges will start up again before the bullets have left the screen. Eventually he starts jumping all over while unleashing bullet arcs. Even pro players use bombs on this segment.



Stage 6 is the final stage and all the enemies from earlier were invited for this party. The Battle Toads worm, the cyclops whale, all the human contraptions, foot soldiers, even the heads in pots make their return, most with even more bullets. Cave didn't run out of ideas, either. This level introduces red demon foot soldiers that will actively chase you while firing at you. The turn radius is pretty wide, so if you get behind one they'll take a while getting turned around. In one section the scrolling switches to diagonal. Horse carts come flying in huge numbers, and I'd call it a stampede if they actually had horses. The last section of the level is all entirely open, and makes it feel like an open war after all the cramped streets and stairs.



The final boss has multiple forms and is very long. The Shikigami possessing Shishin's daughter stands in the middle of an altar and shoves a person into it. All around the altar are decapitated bodies, presumably snacks. This is Guwange, the demon god, part 1. If you don't intend to play this far, I suggest finding a video as the bullet patterns are so intense they need to be seen. Spirals, aimed bullets, and arcs all interweave. Phase 1 doesn't last too terribly long before Guwange gets really mad.

Phase 2 reveals that the head is a very mean looking baby attached to an animal body, somewhat resembling a lion. The beast fires very thick clouds from it's mouth, arcs from the eyes, straight bullets from the back and lines of aimed bullets, sometimes all at once. As it gets close to death it sticks out it's neck and releases curtain fire all over.



Once that boss is destroyed, the game isn't over. You have to fight Shishin's daughter Mikoto, still under possession. She can use a Spirit attack too. Her Shikigami will fly all over the screen, forcing you to dodge bullets while trying to shoot a stationary target. If you have any bombs, use them here. When reduced to a fourth of her health, a huge fountain of blood erupts from her chest and she falls to the ground.

The final phase pits you against the Shikigami that controlled the demons. She has eight fireballs that spiral out and spit bullets. She is immune to bombs, though they will cancel bullets. The bullets are not aimed, and all fly in straight lines but due to the number of them and the fact that they are created from spiraling sources they create a bullet maze. Dodging requires very careful, almost pixel-perfect movements at times. Thankfully the boss doesn't have too much health.

At the end, your character's Shikigami dies and the credits roll. Each character gets their own ending sequence, none of them really a happy ending.

Guwange never got a port outside of Japan originally, although Cave has announced a world-wide release via Xbox Live Arcade. MAME plays it quite well, if you don't have an Xbox 360. This one is worth a shot even for people who don't like Cave. The creativity is worth playing the game just to see, and fans of pixel art will love that aspect.

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