Pawarumi Switch Review

French developer Manufacture 43 has released Pawarumi on Switch, a shoot ’em up which used Kickstarter to help add finishing polish to the game for its PC release back in January 2018. Pawarumi also uses a colour mechanic that is clearly an inspiration from the classic Ikaruga by Treasure, which Manufacture 43 happily acknowledges in their original Kickstarter – if you are going to create a shoot ’em up, you might as well use one of the best as a building block. Pawarumi doesn’t just take the core element from Ikaruga, but throws in its own twists and additions, but does this complicate what was already a perfectly designed game mechanic?

Advertised as a pre-Columbian inspired futuristic universe, the story of Pawarumi is set in a world where an organisation called the Council rules every nation with a tyrannical authority, installing terror into the citizens. Chukaru is a legendary ship, seen as the most powerful ship ever created, and is piloted by Axo, a heroine, who was once part of this corrupt Council, is now trying to avenge the death of all the people who suffered at the hands of the Council. With such a strong weapon in her hand, which is powered up by three Gods, Axo might just be able to stick it to the Council, but just like many other shoot ’em ups on the market, it’s not an easy job making it through the game’s five levels, each one having a big boss to take down.

Manufacture 43’s addition comes in the form of the Trinity Mechanic, which takes Ikaruga‘s polarity and adds a third colour. Introduced through the tutorial are the game’s mechanics, as it explains that the enemies in Pawarumi are powered up by one of the three gods that power the Chukaru – Serpent (green), Condor (blue) and Jaguar (red) – meaning the ship also is able to pick one of three colours to attack. Green is rapid fire, blue is a powerful laser beam and red is a lock on that fires waves of missiles. The Trinity Mechanic is rock, paper scissors, in which using the opposite colour will double the damage, red beats blue, blue beats green and green beats red, but there is actually more to this, as the trinity in the game isn’t just a reference to the colours, but how each colour can preform three functions – this is incredibly important to the core gameplay.

Not only is there the extra damage done through rock, paper, scissors, which is known as Crush, there is also the ability to Boost and Drain. Drain fills up the special move bar when the reverse of Crush happens, so while shooting a blue enemy with red would deal extra damage, if you shoot the blue enemy with green then this would build up super. The super move can be activity once the bar is filled up past the first level – filling up to a max of three does more damage, showering the screen in a wave of white bullets and rings. Boost is done by matching ammo with the enemy, so hitting red with red missiles will refill the ship’s shield, but there is a catch with boosting, since this ends up making the enemy stronger due to the matching colours boosting them.

Adding a third colour and the extra gameplay mechanics did take a few attempts to get the grasp of things, but thankfully, the developers have the colours indicated at the bottom of the screen next to the relevant bars to show which coloured enemy will perform the relevant trinity action depending on the active power, indicated by the colour of the ship. Using each colour is straightforward, since they are represented by Y, B and A, with X used to activate the super move, and as you might have guessed from the screenshots, this is a vertical scrolling shoot ’em up, with the ship controlled by the left stick to move around the screen.

The player only has one life for the entire session, but the shield saves from one hit deaths, since it absorbs a limited amount of damage until depleted, ending with a game over. There are no continues or ways to increase lives, since the game is about refilling the shield with the Boost element of its Trinity Mechanic. Absent is any sort of weapon pick-ups or upgrades. Pawarumi is about how skilful the player is at managing the trinity to keep alive and kicking enemy butt. Some players might not want to be constantly changing and will be happy just switching every so often and dodging bullets, but a master will be always changing, especially on the hardest of the three difficulties available, where enemy count is increased, meaning more bullets to dodge as the action comes thick and fast, requiring split second reactions – seeing a pro player is a colourful work of art on display as they switch trinity and the visuals are alternating between those colours perpetually. Even Bosses aren’t saved from the Trinity Mechanic, as they also suffer from the same weaknesses, but designed in more imaginative ways rather than mindlessly blasting them to obliteration.

Stepping away from the arcade mode leaves…well, nothing, since the campaign and its three difficulties are the only thing of any substance in the game. Even the story is only vaguely touched upon during the start and end of each stage. There is a training mode that enables rerunning through one of the stages, as long as that stage has been visited already in the campaign, but apart from that, there is zilch to do, no cooperative or online play features. There is a leaderboard recorded online, so players can at least see how well they do against the rest of the world on each difficulty. The counterargument to the content is that it’s selling for £13.49, which is less than a large Dominos pizza, plus, the game will last longer, since unless you are a perfectly crafted shoot ’em up expert, then the hardest challenge will kill you time and time again until the enemy patterns are learned, so they can be predicted for the next attempt.

Visually, Pawarumi is filled with colour, with each stage, be it the snowy wasteland to the volcanic zone, packed with vibrant environments rendered in 3D that allows the game to twist the view and zoom the camera to heighten the transition during flybys. Loading on the Switch can cause a hiccup in performance as the game judders, but this usually happens during a transition where interaction isn’t enabled. One disappointment about Pawarumi is that it doesn’t run at 60 frames per second. The game is locked to 30 frames per second, because 60 wasn’t as consistent as the developers would have liked. It certainly can be felt in the motion and controls, so if portability doesn’t enter the equation, then picking Pawarumi on PC will be the better option. The soundtrack is rather good too, offering a blend of rock, electro and plenty of bass that sets the mood for the carnage ahead.

Pawarumi is a solid shoot ’em up in both challenge and its creative design. The sci-fi Aztec-infused presentation is refreshing, while taking inspiration from Ikaruga and throwing in their own inventive twist on the formula helps give Pawarumi its own flavour. It might be too hard for the casual fan, since there is no way to continue on death – it is key to learn Pawarumi‘s distinct Trinity Mechanic system to survive, but spending time doing so is rewarding. Pawarumi doesn’t have the final polish and tightly knitted gameplay that Treasure’s black and white gem does that could have pushed it to the kings of the genre – this comes with experience crafting games in the genre, which Treasure has mountains of – but shoot ’em up fans will have a blast as they try chase down the world champions on the leaderboard.

7 out of 10