Danmaku Unlimited 3 is a vertically-scrolling shoot ’em up from one-man Canadian coder, Doragon Entertainment. The previous two games never made it over to PSN, and seem to just be mobile phone efforts, but this game landed on the Switch back in 2019 and has now finally made it to the PS4.
On the face of it, this is standard stuff. You fly upwards, enemies fly downwards and try to shoot you and bosses show up at the end of each of the five stages and do their best to give you fits. But there’s something about this particular shoot ’em up that feels different to others that we’ve reviewed and that includes Raiden III x MIKADO MANIAX which we recently reviewed. The comparison of these games really highlights Danmaku‘s brilliance.
Both games are vertically-scrolling shoot ’em ups that employ a ‘grazing’ mechanic (where you are rewarded for letting bullets skim by you closely) but where Raiden III has you barely hanging on for dear life as bullets come whizzing at you and enemies show up faster than you can clear them, Danmaku somehow manages to up the ante by absolutely filling the screen with terrifying, but glorious, bullet patterns but giving you enough time to weave a path through them. Where Raiden III‘s grazing is just for points, here you get a real advantage as the grazing gives you a temporary firepower boost but also turns bullets into ‘spirit’ bullets that can be collected.
The sense of shock and awe that you’d get from Danmaku‘s enemies is matched by the sheer firepower you can deliver. Within a second you’ll have the screen full of your own bullets, initially in a devastating spread pattern. fires your primary weapon but holding modifies it, pulling the entire spread into a focused beam. You have to hold the whole time, letting go stops you firing, but it works well as you just need to rock your thumb over to get the beam. That also slows you down but that makes it perfect for delivering max offensive power at bosses while letting you neatly thread a path through the patterns of death that they spew at you. Indeed, this is the first game in a while that truly deserves to be called a ‘bullet hell’ shooter. That term is used a lot but Danmaku earns it.
There are a couple of things we absolutely love about the game that we have seen in other shoot ’em ups but are very happy to see them used here. Firstly, if you get hit, you’ll fire off a life-saving bomb (if you have any in stock). Always welcome. The other is that when you die, you don’t power down. Indeed, you don’t power up either. You always have the same devastating level of firepower. There’s nothing we hate more than dying in a difficult later level of a shoot ’em up and then being forced to play on with little more than a space peashooter. It’s bullshit. Thankfully, Danmaku agrees.
That’s not to say that Danmaku Unlimited 3 is a cakewalk. The early levels, on Easy at least, offer a pretty sedate level of challenge but the last two stages definitely up the ante a bit and if you play on harder difficulties, that crunch comes a lot sooner. But the game never feels unfair and at just five stages, it’s not the horrible memory test that other shoot ’em ups can be.
There’s also the matter of the game’s second gameplay mode. This one is much harder, offering you a starting difficulty of ‘Hard’ (the second toughest out of four) and removing the auto-bomb facility. It also complicates the grazing bonus by taking it through an extra stage of powering up before the enemy bullets disappear. It’s way harder but will offer a great option for hardcore players who might find the main mode a little too easy.
What’s very cool about the game is that there are other weapon options but these have to be earned by completing in-game tasks such as grazing A LOT of bullets, reaching score targets or beating the game on higher difficulties. It’s a good system that encourages you to replay the game a lot. That said, some of these requirements might be a little too much for some players.
Another area where Danmaku shines is in its presentation. While it’s not perfect (the visuals don’t change much between levels and the basic sprites for ships are a little rough) the sheer sense of excitement really pops from the screen. There’s so much going on and it’s all in hyper-bright colours. And yet, you can always see enemy bullets (something that wasn’t always the case with Raiden III). It never puts a foot wrong.
The music is also pretty sensational. It’s all provided by the ‘Blankfield’ who we think might be one guy. It’s very guitar-forward and Djent-ish. That’s not our favourite genre but he gets enough melody in there while letting all that guitar chuggery add to the sense of awe that you’re already getting from the game.
We have no idea if this is considered a great shoot ’em up by the ‘Shmup’ (urgh!) community but for us it’s the right mix of fun, skill, drama and satisfaction that so many other shoot ’em ups can’t manage. We liked Raiden III a lot but its faults were things we’ve seen so many times before in this genre where as Danmaku Unlimited 3 feels like the shoot ’em up that the creator wished he could play.
+ avoids some of the failings of the genre
+ caters to multiple skill levels
+ encourages replaying
+ superb presenation
- 'Spirit' mode is very challenging