There’s no denying that on Xbox One, games from the East rarely come to the West, or at least in comparison to the frequency seen on other platforms. This week, on the other hand, we’re seeing the arrival of Shikhondo – Soul Eater, a game from Korean-based developer DeerFarm. Now, at first glance, I was head over heels to see its announcement, and then, I played it. No, this isn’t going to fare too well, but we’ll get to that shortly. Shikhondo – Soul Eater is a bullet hell shoot ’em up, one that aims to stand out from the crowd, but somewhat fails to do so.
I’ll start by saying that Soul Eater can oftentimes feel like a fitting title, though, for all the wrong reasons. It can be a soul sucking experience that just doesn’t evolve enough to keep inline with its overall pace, making for a game that feels empty and half-baked. Players take on the role of either the Grim Reaper (not what you think) or The Girl (yes, that’s her in-game name) as you fight against hordes of demonic enemies to ultimately come out on top. Much to be expected, you’ll fly around the game outputting damage and avoiding incoming fire.
Players are positioned at the lower screen, shooting vertically towards the upper screen. The game’s main mode consists of only five levels in total, taking somewhere in the region of ninety minutes to complete. When you’re done here, however, there are other modes to jump into, but I argue that you’ll just be doing the same thing under slightly varying rule-sets. It’s a shame, really, because if anything, Shikhondo performs quite well. The game’s combat is relatively fast-paced. Enemies will constantly pepper you with a dizzying amount of attacks, but in-turn, your chosen character is more than capable at returning fire.
It takes a bit of time to get into the flow of the game, but once there, you’ll be praying, spraying and dodging like there’s no tomorrow. Shikhondo allows you to channel slower movement so that you’re not darting from corner to corner, which comes in especially useful when you’re expected to maneuver through some compact scenarios. Each of the game’s two characters offer slightly different attacks and powers. The Grim Reaper is – in my opinion – the best character to start with, simply due to her attacks literally covering the screen.
The Girl, on the flip-side, offers a more focused output through the use of her slow homing missiles. As alluded to above, hitting RT for either character will help to concentrate your attacks in bulk. Not only handy for tight situations, but very useful during the boss sequences that appear once you’ve overcome a mammoth-sized pool of enemies. I wont lie, the game felt very frantic at first due to how much it throws at you in one go, but this is alleviated to some degree due to each character not taking full-body damage.
Instead, damage is only registered when you’re hit at the blue-orb area that’s situated near your character’s hip. If this blue orb takes a hit, you’ll lose one of your four lives per-continue. If you need to use a continue, you’ll be given four lives again and full stock in exchange for a score reset penalty. Score enthusiasts, be careful with this one, be careful. One interesting mechanic is that throughout the course of the game, players can obtain a power that will convert all ammo into souls and once you hit the target amount, you can unleash a devastating super move. Simple stuff, but passable and effective nonetheless.
The varying modes on offer don’t really do much as far as gameplay diversity is concerned. This is one of those titles that feels the same in the first hour of play as it does in your last, making for a “seen it once, seen it all” sort of experience. There’s just not a lot of depth to lean on within. Arcade mode, for instance, is the same as the main mode but challenges you to chase after those high-score bragging rights. Local co-op, on the other hand, requires that you drag a friend through an hour (or so) of madness to once again, nail a high score.
Then there’s boss rush, in which the game cuts out all of the standard grunts and has you simply gunning boss after boss after boss – all five of them, back to back. Hardcore mode attempts to change things up a little bit by giving you just one life alongside a much, much faster soul charger. That leads us to customize, the only mode that truly stands out as unique. Here, players are afforded the ability to alter how the game plays out. For example, you’re given two choices in each section to alter; how you earn souls and use your power, and what happens when you lose a life.
I know, I know, it’s hardly a game changer but at least its a mode that doesn’t merely feel like a sliced section of the main mode. Now, if the story actually offered a plot post-premise and some more depth, Shikhondo could have been something much more than what it is. What we have here is a rinse-and-repeat bullet hell that plays well, but lacks personality and grip – two vital pillars for any given shoot ’em up. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun for the first hour or so, but then after that, repetition swiftly sinks in and relays little else but a brain-numbing frenzy.
What I will credit the game for is its visuals. Shikhondo looks good. It’s filled with rich mythological artwork, well detailed enemies and bosses, heaps of color and a decent dubstep soundtrack to tie its visual splendor to something very well theme-suited. I cant quite commend its price tag due to the lack of content variety. I think £11.99/$13.99 is far too steep for what’s in the proverbial box. If you’re a die-hard fan of the genre, this will be somewhat easier to overlook, though for everyone else, I highly advise waiting for a price cut or a sale.
Shikhondo – Soul Eater’s drawback sits not with its steep cost nor its lack of content diversity, but with its lack of gameplay variation. The game’s main mode takes little over ninety minutes to complete, whereas its additional modes are served merely as segments taken from that offering. This game may look great, sound good and perform well, but its lack of basic evolution massively hinders enjoyment.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.