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elvis
13th November 2008, 04:24 PM
Name: Ketsui Death Label

Manufacturer: Cave / Arika

Publisher: Arika

System: Nintendo DS

Release Date: October 2008

Links:
http://www.arika.co.jp/product/ketsui_hp/index.html
http://www.play-asia.com/SOap-23-83-2oas-71-9g-49-en-15-ketsui-84-j-70-2rh8.html

YouTube:
YouTube - Ketsui - Death Label [Hard C]

Review:

Ketsui was initially a very popular arcade shoot 'em up by Cave, famous for other arcade shooters including DoDonPachi (http://www.aussiearcade.com/showthread.php?t=4533), Death Smiles (http://www.aussiearcade.com/showthread.php?t=9918), Mushihime Sama, Guwange, and others. Made up of ex-Toaplan developers, the company has a great history of arcade shooter experience.

Arika ported a few of Cave's games to home console (DoDonPachi DaiOuJou and ESP Galuda to Playstation 2). Ketsui was also destined for PS2, but the console couldn't handle the speed of some of the levels (one in particular, which taxed the hardware rather harshly).

Rather than waste the license and give up, the Arika developers decided to make a cut back version of Ketsiu for Nintendo DS. Enter "Ketsui Death Label".

This game is a "boss rush" style game, where you spend most of your time fighting a string of end-of-level bosses from the Ketsui game (usually 5 of them, depending on which difficulty level you choose). You choose from 2 ships with ever-so-slightly different specs (one is a little faster, and seemingly weaker, but not enough to make a huge difference). There are 8 difficulty levels in total to beat, with three of these open at the start (the two easiest - Novice and Easy, and the absolute hardest, Doom). All of the others you need to unlock through different methods.

Depending on how you beat each level (ie: do it without using a bomb, under a time limit, or without losing lives), you unlock various special information portions which teach you some of the secrets of the game, and of course extra difficulty levels.

The game starts out very easy. My wife managed to beat "Novice" mode on her first try, despite not being a shooter fan at all. It's a nice, casual introduction to a genre that can get very hard very quickly, and it does just that.

As an option (which defaults to ON), you can have "autobomber" set. In Ketsui Death Label, bombs do very little damage to enemies (particularly the final boss "Doom", who puts shields up during the bombing and takes no damage at all!). Bombs are instead designed to clean the screen of bullets (generally saving you from certain doom). You of course are penalised for using them (fewer score bonuses, etc), but it beats dying. Autobomber is a feature whereby if you get hit during the game, the system will autobomb instead of killing you, but in return you lose ALL of your bomb stock (as opposed to just one bomb, if you did it manually).

The bosses and levels are nicely varied, and bullet patterns change dramatically between difficulty levels. As mentioned, most of the game is "boss rush", with one level being over the sea where you need to attack boats. A few "popcorn" enemies (one hit and they die with a "pop" - typical of Cave early levels on other games) are there, but it's no comparison to standard Cave arcade games. The final "Doom" level is damned hard, and will put even the most skilled Cave shmupper to the test. The music is a nice mix from a variety of Cave games. I recognised DoDonPachi DiaOuJou music on one of the levels, which was a nice addition.

You start out fully powered up, with 4 "options" (little ships that follow you and lock-on to enemies). Your A button shoots a wide shot rapid fire bullet, and your B button shoots a forward stream laser as your options lock on to weak points on the enemy. The wide shot is really there for the "popcorn" enemies, of which there is only really one level. I guess it's more of a left-over from the arcade version than anything, because when you fight bosses you'll generally use the more direct laser attack (with the exception of the "boats" level, which has a few popcorns to shoot). As you shoot enemies, large icons with a number (1-6) will fall out of them. You collect these for points, which tally in your other screen. In standard Cave form, with the laser shot held down your ship moves slower. This isn't as bad as it sounds - there are times when there are a tonne of bullets on screen, and you require very finite movements to edge between them. The slower movement actually makes this easier (as does the game's slow down, which is actually added in artificially by the programmers for just that purpose!).

The game offers two screen contrast modes: DS and DS Lite. This was some clever thinking from Arika, as the fast bullet patterns can get difficult to see on a bright background, even on the clearer DS Lite.

At first I thought playing on a small handheld screen would be painful, but I was surprised at how responsive the controls were, and also how clean everything was. The screen is a little cramped for space, but that only adds to the challenge (in a good way). Playing on a 4:3 screen is also interesting, given that it's a vertical scroller.

What I really like about this is that while it's Ketsui inspired, it's clear the developers weren't out to make a full blown Ketsui port. The game is fast and simple, and offers play times of around 10 minutes per level. Given that it is a hand-held, I think it is perfect for the device. You don't want epic battles on a unit that's made for quick gaming. You want to power up, blast some stuff, and power down again. The game provides that easily, and with instantly selectable difficulty.

A few people have said that this is nothing more than a "demo" game, and were disappointed with it. With that said, I think the appreciation of the shmup as a genre is a little lost on the current generation, and there is a lack of understanding of an era when games were quick, and it was all about high-score.

Ketsui Death Label is a great game, and well worth it if you're a DS owner and a shmup lover. It's also a testament to the power of the DS and what it can achieve despite being the lowest specced console on the modern market. I can only hope that other developers see this as inspiration for the shooter genre which is sorely missing from modern handhelds.

Foot
13th November 2008, 08:17 PM
Nice review, Thanks.

I will add this one to the list of to try games :)