E3 was full of exciting announcements and reveals from plenty of major companies and enticing indies, but one bit of news at the tail end of the event got me especially hyped. Live Wire, the developer behind dark fantasy Metroidvania Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights, stealthily revealed that it would be localizing and releasing three different bullet hell games from legendary developer CAVE on Nintendo Switch. On top of that, the first game in the lineup — Mushihimesama — was stealth-released on Switch alongside the announcement. Nintendo Switch is already home to so many iconic shoot ’em up games, but now one of the most influential ones out there is on the hybrid handheld — and in review, this take on Mushihimesama is a nearly flawless port.
A lot of bullet hell games have pretty identical aesthetics. You’re almost always a sci-fi space vessel blasting away aliens or a military fighter pilot depositing bullets into warships. Mushihimesama, which literally translates to “bug princess,” goes for a way more unique style. You play as a bright and cheery anime girl, which isn’t uncommon for bullet hells, but the giant golden stag beetle she rides into battle is a lot less common for the genre. You and your beetle spend the entire game fighting hordes of giant neon insects, from turret-equipped bugs to poison-flinging plants and bullet-blasting butterflies. If you’ve got an aversion to insects, the game genuinely might be too much for you. If you can stomach it, though, it’s a really weird and memorable aesthetic that I couldn’t get enough of.
That flair for originality extends beyond the enemy illustrations. The game level design is full of unique moments too. One stage is essentially just an incredibly long boss battle where you slowly destroy each piece of a massive bug boss, and it’s so dang fun. On top of that, the soundtrack for the game is just killer. It’s full of upbeat and energetic tracks from a duo of legendary bullet-hell composers. Plus, there’s a bonus arrange soundtrack for one of the alternate modes in the game that’s composed by the team responsible for the jaw-dropping 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim soundtrack.
Bullet hells can, understandably, be pretty intimidating to people who’ve never experienced the genre. Their overwhelming visuals and screen-filling projectiles can be a lot, but part of what made Mushihimesama such a revelation when it originally came out in 2001 was the plethora of beginner-friendly options the game provided. The default Original mode is actually pretty forgiving by CAVE standards, offering easy-to-track bullet patterns and a basic scoring system. There’s a Novice mode that simplifies things even further, but it offers a great balance of excitement and action without feeling too simple or dumbed down.
Of course, Mushihimesama has just as many optional modes for hardcore fans that make the action even crazier. Maniac mode offers an experience way more in line with the unforgiving shmup catalog of CAVE — bullets are slower, but there are way more of them, and the scoring system introduces new combo mechanics that give you even more options for boosting your high score. If you’re a certified shmup demon, you can even dive into Ultra mode, a mode that straight-up warns you any time you try to select it. The bullets are everywhere, the bullets are fast, and you will die. A lot.
There are some additional modes that aren’t just difficulty modifiers, though, and they add a huge amount of replayability to the game. Arrange mode sets you up with powerful weaponry right out of the gate, along with the new ability to swap weapon types on the fly. It also changes up the enemy and bullet patterns from the base game, giving you some new challenges to learn and overcome.
Ver 1.5, a special alternate take on the game that was originally only available as DLC on Steam, completely revamps the game. Stages have an updated color palette, and the enemy and bullet patterns are majorly altered — but you also have some crazy new risk/reward gameplay mechanics thanks to MAX mode. If you activate it, you get a fully powered up weapon at the cost of your score directly increasing the speed of enemies. There are so many different modes and difficulty options in Mushihimesama that add some replayability to the package, but Ver 1.5 practically feels like a new game.
If there’s one thing missing from this Mushihimesama release, it’s extras. Other CAVE games have gotten modern ports through the M2 ShotTriggers line that featured a huge array of bonus options and updated menu graphics, but Mushihimesama on Nintendo Switch is a pretty direct port of the original experience. Even something like a gallery full of art for the game or new in-game tutorials to explain the differences between each mode would have been welcome. There are at least pretty in-depth options in the settings to do things like change screen orientation, select different border art, and even assign the music for each stage.
However, if all you want to do is play one of the most iconic entries in the bullet hell genre, the Nintendo Switch port of Mushihimesama is the perfect way to do just that.
A review code for Mushihimesama was provided by the publisher.