DRANIUS is a Shmup developed by Team LadyBug, famous for the recent Record Of Lodoss War title and one of my favourite curiosity titles Shin Megami Tensei: Synchronicity Prologue, they can ‘Vania but can they Gradius?.
DRANIUS is a very narratively focused title, especially for a title that is residing in a genre not known for gripping tales and cutscenes but it’s done with great skill as evidenced by the way the tutorial pans out.
You start by learning how to fly the DRAINUS and its various abilities, as the tutorial concludes you hear that a ship was stolen and that whoever did it is watching this training video right now, the screen pans out and the main character’s face is reflected in the screen, you’ve been found and it’s time to make tracks and just like that you explode into the first stage which is a mad dash to get off the planet and make some space between you and your hunters.
There is quite a lot of story here to unpack and it makes a difference from the usual excuse or window dressing, on my first playthrough of the game I was less bothered about score building and more bothered about finding out what happened between the cast and the Kharlal Empire, the last title I remember being this invested in the story for the Shmup was a favourite of mine called SineMora.
Visually Team LadyBug must have cut some deal with Lucifer or another great power as it looks like an absolute tour de force with sprites but upon further inspection, the game is using fully 3D models with a filter, it may sound lazy but I cannot fathom how much work was put into it to make it look so authentic, a wild departure from the usual clean HD mobile look that is so prevalent in modern games.
Character portraits are drawn beautifully and manage to express a lot of character and emotion from them and the game is rammed with explosions and set pieces that give DRAINUS the roller coaster feel that truly great Shmups can produce, honestly, the presentation here is just a top notch from the menus down to the gameplay.
DRAINUS is a horizontally scrolling Shoot Em Up, you know the drill it scrolls from left to right until you reach the boss at the end of the stage, it’s what DRAINUS does with the gameplay that applies a fresh coat of paint on the genre and not how it’s presented.
First off, the DRAINUS ship has a shield which you can activate at any time, this can absorb any bullet or laser aside from red ones, this fills a meter which then allows you to fire a homing beam back, not only a brilliant way of taking down foes but essential to avoiding heavy bullet patterns and environmental dangers such as laser traps.
Secondly, you can customize your shot at any time, throughout the game you’ll pick up a currency which lets you purchase different shots and in the story mode you can change these out, as you see fit allowing for the ultimate attack approach, tight cave? You want some bouncing lasers!, Open areas? Time to switch to spread, the choice is yours.
Upon completion of the story mode, you unlock an arcade mode which allows you to replay the game, without cutscenes and a limit to how many times you can change shots and where alongside several difficulties you’ll be hard-pressed to not find an ideal way to play this one.
DRAINUS was a surprise release by Playism and Team LadyBug and one that completely caught me off guard, it’s a fantastic game and feels rewarding even if you just want to play casually and not go for the 1CC.
While it may not be the purest form of Shmup you can buy, the appetising price point, gorgeous visuals, customisation and rollercoaster gameplay make DRAINUS an essential recommendation to anyone with even a passing affection for the genre.
A beautiful and thrilling Shmup ride
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Straight from the streets of SouthTown, all Dunks Powah'd and ready to Bust A Wolf. Catch me on Twitch/YouTube.