Big Bugs

By Jared Petty

Pastels and neon blend, spill, and cascade around you. Giant space bugs hone in on you as colossal caterpillars breathe curtains of purple death in stunning fractal patterns. You dodge, dance, nudge, and blast away atop your magnificent flying beetle-buddy stallion as pulsing pink bullets zip past only millimeters away. Welcome to Mushihimesama.

If you love shoot em’ ups, you likely already know just how much of a solid gold classic Mushihimesama is. If shoot em’ ups haven’t been your thing up until now, Mushihimesama is one of the best ways to discover one of gaming’s richest genres, a heritage that dates back to the very dawn of the arcade.

Mushihimesama is available for Switch in Standard and Collector’s editions through November 28th from Limited Run Games. Also, I mean look at this amazing thing.

The Mushihimesama Switch Mini Arcade arcade turns your Switch or OLED Switch into a mini-arcade cabinet. You can pick it up at LRG too.

Wanna know why you need some Mushihimesama in your life? Listen to Kurt Kalata from Hardcore Gaming 101, James Mielke from Limited Run, and yours truly as we wax effusive on shoot em’ ups in general and Mushihimesama in particular on this week’s Limited Run Games podcast.

You can listen with the link above or find us on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts.

As James points out in the podcast, one of the best reasons to play Mushihimesama is the instant reward. There’s no particular onboarding necessary. If you learn a couple of instantly-comprehensible concepts, you’re ready to play. Space Invaders established a pair of key rules for practically all the shoot em’ ups that followed:

  1. Shoot Everything
  1. Don’t Get Hit

Mushihimesama enriches both of these principles through clever iteration. Shooting things helps keep you alive, but to maximize your score, you need to pay very careful attention to the order you’re shooting things in, which is no mean feat when jinking to avoid approximately six trazillion projectiles. You can absolutely have a great time touring Mushihimesama’s splendid levels, blasting away at everything pell-mell in a quest to simply see the final screen, but the scoring mechanics and multipliers invite you to explore goals beyond survival. They incentivize replay, experimentation, exploration, and mastery.

And avoiding getting hit? There’s a reason it’s called bullet hell. Until you play Mishihimesama, you may not be able to get your head around just how many threats you’re required to evade at once. BUT, thanks to stunningly thoughtful design, you soon discover an order embedded in the chaos. The seemingly-inescapable walls of bullets are, in fact, crafted in cascading patterns that hide ample, fluid pathways. As your skills grow, seemingly insurmountable challenges transform into an elegant, fluid dance. There’s a sense of zen to the whole thing, that wonderful old chestnut of finding yourself “in the zone.”

Mushihimesama’s quirks mirror the best parts of the pinball experience. Pinball’s core survival rule is instantly comprehensible—don’t let the ball fall through the bottom of the table. But the scoring, patterns, multipliers, and skills demanded to master each individual table are distinct and complex. Learning the right tolerance for tilting, the precise lanes and paths and patterns to pursue is an exercise as intellectual as it is reflexive, and it’s deeply rewarding.

We can all be grateful that Mushihimesama on Switch includes a novice mode designed to ease us all into the demanding language of bullet hell shooters. It’s not so much a tutorial as a thoughtful, action-packed ramp-up, a campaign that gradually instructs your reflexes on the demands of Normal Mode and beyond.

And if you are willing to go the distance, it’s possible to master Mushihimesama to the degree that you can face its final form: Ultra Mode. It’s just. . . well, it’s a lot. But as the world’s best players have proven, it’s surmountable. It’s a video game Everest: it’s quite the climb, but it can be climbed.

Or, you know, you can just shoot big colorful bugs. That’s fun too. 🐛

You’ve got until November 28th to grab Mushihimesama on Switch from Limited Run Games (and reserve that awesome mini arcade cabinet). I hope you will.

November 19, 2021