There’s definitely no shortage when it comes to shoot ‘em ups, ‘shmups’ for short, and the latest effort comes courtesy of developers Manufacture 43. Pawarumi is a crazy shooter where you control a super-powerful ship in a strange futuristic setting. Out now on PC, Xbox One and the Nintendo Switch, Pawarumi was originally a Kickstarter campaign back in 2017 which was successfully funded thanks to it’s addictive looking gameplay and colourful art design. Aside from the obvious resolution differences, there’s really only one other difference between all three versions, the Switch edition allows you to play as a ship which mimics your Joycon colour!
The ship has a very unique mechanic that makes this game really stand out from the rest of the pack in the genre, but can this lone wolf survive in a world of its own?
I’m not sure how many people play shmups for the story, or even acknowledge that there is one, but there is one here in Pawarumi. Interestingly enough, the story and the order changes based on which difficulty you choose. With each of the three difficulties, they not only obviously get harder but each progressively adds a level (from 3 to 5) and alternative endings. The general basis is the same though. You play as Axo in a futuristic pre-Columbian inspired universe where you control Chukaru, a very powerful ship. You are trying to overthrow ‘The Council’, an organisation who have too much power in the local universe and so you need to rise against them to stop them ruling everything they can.
The story only really progresses in mini comic-book style conversations between bosses and your character, with cutscenes limited to when you enter or leave each area. I didn’t find them particularly interesting or engaging and they felt a bit more like filler for a loading screen. There’s not enough to get you invested, it’s just there to give you a reason to want to shoot stuff.
Overall, Pawarumi plays much like any other shmup but it does have some key differences which I will soon get into. As usual, the screen rolls down top to bottom and you can move your ship in any direction but can only face forward to aim and dodge the enemy’s projectiles. The movement is quite slow but sometimes that’s helpful because there are some tight patterns you need to fly through which would be hard if you felt really zippy around the screen. This would usually make the game feel slow but it is equalled by the sheer amount of stuff on the screen. There’s so much to dodge that it never feels slow. I surprisingly had no performance issues in both the portable and docked modes on the Switch, despite the onslaught of pew-pews, so I was impressed in that regard.
The game feels fine to play and is very fun but it sometimes feels a bit limiting in how you can move and shoot. Your attacks require you to mainly be directly underneath your target which is difficult when there are hundreds of projectiles stopping you from getting to the area where you can shoot. This becomes frustrating and adds so much more to the difficulty which is very high. I have played a fair few shmups but this one feels very tough, although I could just really suck. I think to solve the intense difficulty spikes and the ability to get to positions to shoot, there should be an evade option of some sort. However, I think it’s on purpose that the game feels this hard to make it last longer, as you only have one life on each playthrough.
Where the game really stands out is its unique weapon system, called the Trinity mechanic. Assigned to three different face buttons, you have coloured weapons that have unique attacks based on the creature they’re associated with. There’s a green serpent, a blue condor and a red jaguar, all with very different attacks. What makes it truly unique though is how it interacts with the enemies depending on who you’re shooting at and with what weapon. As with your weapons, enemies are also colour coded with RGB, which is the start of a very interesting and tactical weapon system.
There are three types of interactions between your weapons and the enemies which adds a layer to the game I’ve never seen before in a shmup. These interactions are called drain, boost and crush. If you shoot an enemy with the same colour as your weapon, you can slowly gain shields based on your damage. Another combination allows you to gain charge towards your ultimate power, a screen wiper that merges all three powers into one to kill everything in sight. Or, with the final interaction, you can cause the most damage by attacking ships with its counter. At any given point, the game will display which colour is countered by your current weapon which allows you to work out which tactic you wish to go for. You may be desperate for health, or may need to just deal that last bit of mega damage to a boss to finish him, the choice is yours.
It’s a sort of rock/paper/scissors mechanic that can indeed involve a bit of luck but once you get to grips with it (I fully recommend completing the tutorial) you can master a very useful system to boss the game in no time. The system works great and I think it’s a brilliant little addition to the genre and makes for some really interesting gameplay. It makes you really consider every shot you fire in the game which is insane for a game belonging to the shmup genre where usually all thought goes out the window; just shoot and survive.
The bosses in this game are awesome. While they all still utilise the Trinity mechanic, they all do so in very unique ways. There may only be 5 levels but there’s enough variety in each of them to feel refreshing. My favourite of the bosses sees you fighting a giant metal snake in the open desert which feels very cinematic, something I don’t ever usually get from a shmup game, so it makes it really stand out. Each boss feels completely different so it’s actually really fun getting through the hard difficulty to see all of the bosses, even if it will take hours and hours of practice to get through the hard mode thanks to some insanely difficult sections. The bosses are actually not that difficult but the sections before can really ramp up and I think will challenge even some veteran shmup players.
I have to say that the environments in the game also look fantastic. You are treated to little links where the camera pans out and shows you the Chukaru flying through the different settings and they look amazing. There’s deserts, lava-filled caves, snowy landscapes and more, where they all look amazing for a game in a genre not known for their backgrounds. As you’re fighting there are some great environmental and background visuals on display, for the split second you actually get to take a look, as well as some very pretty vistas which I was pleasantly surprised by.
Unfortunately, there’s not much in the way of replayability and even though there are different endings for each difficulty, that’s about it. You probably aren’t playing the game for the story, so really once you’ve beaten the challenge of the hard mode, there’s not much left for you in this game. There is a world leaderboard where you can place your own high scores, so there’s always bragging rights to play for, but with the game being so short – an hour at most to complete if you get lucky – you aren’t getting a whole lot of game. At £13.49 it isn’t too expensive but I think, even at that price, it might be enough to put you off based on how little time you might spend within the game.
Pawarumi is an extremely fun and smartly unique shmup with a mechanic that makes the game both tactical and exciting. There is an element of luck at first but it’s very satisfying when you start mixing the weapons correctly for what you want to do. Although I struggled with the difficulty for way too long, once I got a grip of the Trinity mechanic I had an absolute blast and I wanted to keep improving my score for the leaderboard. There’s not a lot of game here, with the high score system really the only thing to keep you coming back, but what is here is very solid, fun and very, very pretty.