Guwange (Arcade) review
"If you see that the company Atlus has something to do with a videogame, it’s a pretty safe bet that game will be a wee bit out of the ordinary. You might end up bribing monsters to slay the deities of your choice OR you could take control of a group of wise-cracking demons to rule the underworld. Or, instead of enlisting demons or playing the role of one, you might just decide to slaughter the lot of ‘em. "
If you see that the company Atlus has something to do with a videogame, it’s a pretty safe bet that game will be a wee bit out of the ordinary. You might end up bribing monsters to slay the deities of your choice OR you could take control of a group of wise-cracking demons to rule the underworld. Or, instead of enlisting demons or playing the role of one, you might just decide to slaughter the lot of ‘em.
That’s the goal of Guwange, a 1999 coin-op created by Atlus and Cave. It’s purely an action-packed shooter, but you won’t be in a plane, spaceship or any other flying device for this game. Instead, you’ll be controlling one of three hero-type people and setting out on foot through realms both familiar and mysterious. Set in feudal Japan (and only released in modern Japan), this game apparently has a bit of a demon problem -- namely that virtually every nook and cranny of the game’s world is infested with the little buggers.
Start play with the demon-hunter of your choice and it won’t take long to realize this is one intense game. You’ll have a life meter, which is good because the manic intensity of this game ensures you’ll have more than your fair share of encounters with enemy projectiles. Everything in this game is capable of emitting a steady onslaught of bullets, missiles and other forms of attack -- meaning the screen will be chock full o’ brightly-colored attacks at nearly all times.
To counter this, you have a fairly potent attack of your own, some really powerful bombs and a guardian spirit. As far as gameplay goes, the guardian spirit is the main thing that makes Guwange a worthwhile title to spend some time with. By holding down your shooting button, this invulnerable spirit will appear and offer its services. While your attack will be lessened and your movement will be at the pace of the average garden snail, this spirit still has its fair share of benefits to offer. You can situate it where its attacks will do you the most good, which is quite necessary in many parts of the game, as enemies will come at you from all angles. Your spirit also can slow down enemy bullets, making it a sort of shield. So, while you do sacrifice some of your character’s power and movement by calling up the spirit, you gain enough benefits to overshadow those negatives. You won’t necessarily want the spirit to be in play the entire time you’re playing, but when the bullets are flying too fast for you to have a prayer of survival and the demons have you completely cornered, your l’il buddy can be a real lifesaver.
Supplementing this intense and innovative gameplay is a wonderfully-designed world that truly gives you the feel of being in a Japan of ages past, fighting humans, man-made contraptions and creatively-designed demonic forces. As can be expected in a shooter, Guwange starts out relatively tame, with you simply walking through a village massacring a bunch of folk until you enter a certain dwelling and slaughter the boss. It doesn’t take too much skill or luck to do this short level in one life, leading players to think they’ll have a pretty easy time of things with this game.
The second level initially does nothing to dispel that feeling. Starting out as nothing more than an extension of the first level, one may wonder exactly what is so special about this game. And then things start to get weird. Approaching a canal in the center of this second village, instead of seeing archers on boats ready to send a swarm of arrows at you, a more menacing sight awaits. A grotesque and gigantic eel-like beast protrudes from the water with the intent of ending your mission. Survive this foul beast and a number of smaller water creatures try their luck. Then, a slew of monstrous spider-demons besiege you. If you still haven’t figured out that things are definitely getting out of control in this little corner of Japan, the second boss is revealed to be a gigantic centipede with many brutal attacks -- a beast with the stamina and brute force to repeatedly send your hero to his grave.
From there, Guwange simply gets more manic in its gameplay and more demented in its atmosphere. You’ll constantly be under attack from hundreds of bullets being fired from every imaginable angle. You’ll barely outlast such demonic creations such as a bizarre crossbreed of a cat and spider, an enormous mobile tank that is a bit more “alive” than it initially seems and a disturbing fetus-like abomination. While the levels are short, they are so intense and full of both action and creativity that you’ll be able to feel adrenaline rush into your body.
And then, just like that, it’s over.
With a mere six stages, most of which are very short, it couldn’t have taken me longer than 30 minutes to bully my way through Guwange -- easily making this game the shortest of its kind that I’ve played. It just doesn’t seem right to me. This is a game with action so intense that you must be vigilant at all times. This is a game with an innovative battle system where intelligent use of your guardian spirit can determine whether you look like a suave pro or fumble-fingered amateur while plugging away at each level. And yet, because it’s a very short game where the only side effect of death seems to be that your bombs are regenerated (no lost progress due to a “checkpoint” system), any unskilled clod can beat it easily as long as they have a handful of quarters and a half hour to spare. After finishing off the final boss and watching the short ending (unintelligible to my “English-only” brain), I didn’t feel the sense of accomplishment that comes from conquering a brutal, emotionally-draining game like R-Type -- I just felt confused as I waited to see if I was being pranked by the designers, who would then assault me with another batch of stages. They didn’t.
And that’s a shame. Guwange is a great game with wonderfully manic gameplay, great graphics and a good number of bizarre demonic beasts out for your blood. But with only a handful of short stages standing between you and the resolution of your quest, the ride’s simply over too soon. Add in the fact that it takes until the middle of the second stage for the game to really begin pick up steam and you’re left with a fun playing experience that just doesn’t have the staying power to be truly exceptional.
Don’t get me wrong. Guwange is a fantastic experience while it’s happening -- I just wish the experience would last a bit longer. It’s still a shooter that I can easily recommend to fans of the genre. The level of creativity exhibited in the monster designs combined with an innovative guardian spirit system is something that should be experienced at least once by shooter fans, who will love mastering the battle system. More casual fans, though, may simply work their way through once, shrug their shoulders at how quick and easy it was and never give Guwange another moment of their time.
Community review by overdrive (September 24, 2004)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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