By Ronald Gordon
I have avoided them. Throughout my gaming history, there’s one category of games that I personally eschew: those games where my screen gets littered with bright, exploding lights that I have to dodge, and enemies that I have to kill. I’m referring to Bullet Hell games, a special sub-genre of shoot ‘em up games in which the whole point is to dodge everything, kill everything, and try not to go insane.
Shikhondo: Soul Eater is a Bullet Hell shoot ‘em up developed and published by DeerFarm. In the game, there are two different characters you can play as, either The Grim Reaper or a young woman known as The Girl. Throughout the game, you will fight a series of Yokai, or monsters and demons derived from Japanese folklore, and an array of bosses, all different and very hard to fight. The Yokai have managed to steal souls in order to gain power, so you have to defeat them to get those souls back.
Like many Bullet Hell games, the controls of Shikhondo: Soul Eater are simple and straight to the point. You can move and dodge the attacks coming from enemies, fire your attacks in a spread, or concentrate your attacks so that they can be more straight and narrow. You can activate a special move called Soul Collect that makes your attacks faster and stronger. However, if you were hoping for something different to happen when you change characters, you’d be disappointed, because the only thing that changes is the type of bullets you fire and the way your character looks.
I personally enjoyed the art style of the game, as it has a very creative design. Even the small enemies you kill are special and have their own specific details, such as an enemy that appears to be a haunted mask moving its eyes and opening its mouth as it attacks or other enemies wincing when attacked or damaged. The ten stages you venture through are all and eye catching in their own way. Some of them have features like falling cherry blossoms, while others have alluring colors that make the scene seem strange or otherworldly. Another thing to take note of in this game is the music, as all of the tracks are remarkable to listen to. These techno beats have great rhythm and flow. The boss music has two phases, like the two phases of the boss battle, while the stage music is mellow and changes based on the environment. Some stages have different types of beats and instruments in the mix, such as a noticeable piano in the background or an electric drum beat, and others use sound effects, such as the loud feminine screech that kicks off the boss battle music.
Shikhondo: Soul Eater does have its faults. Most of the time, the screen is absolutely littered with bullets and projectiles that are nearly impossible to dodge. I’d be dumbfounded if I found out anyone could complete a level without taking damage. Half the time I was playing, I couldn’t even see my character, let alone what’s about to hit me. There’s also the fact that changing the difficulty didn’t help much at all, because even the Easy Mode is hard. Then again, I could just be bad at Bullet Hell games, which is very likely because it’s hard for me to focus on keeping my character alive if I can barely see it.
Overall, Shikhondo: Soul Eater is a game I’d recommend to people who want a good Bullet Hell game that isn’t too long and has some exceptional qualities. The art is compelling, the music is enjoyable, and the enemies and bosses are all contrasting when it comes to their design and their attacks. The character design of both of the playable characters is distinct, making them stand out. I wouldn’t suggest this game to a Bullet Hell beginner. But to those with more experience, I urge them to try it out for themselves. Just try not to go insane while you indulge.
Writer Ronald Gordon is the head of the New York College of Technology – City Tech Videogame Critics Circle, one of our satellite locations.