Good shmups are fairly easy to find, especially on the Nintendo Switch. A portable console that’s powerful enough to show massive bullet fields, can rotate on a whim for vertical play, and seems to be welcoming indie and less-than-AAA studios with open arms? There’s a damn good reason that Psikyo, CAVE and even Team Shanghai Alice have been putting out a ton of ports onto this system (though several are still not available in the West). Alfa System is a name that flies under some radars, but their seminal work, Castle of Shikigami, are well renown in the shooter circles (and RPG fans always nod to their hand in the creation of Ys). The team has been rather quiet as of late, sadly watching some of their last works depart on the beautiful Viking burial ship that was the PlayStation Vita. But now they’re back, and they’re back in the shooting world, and they’ve brought a Nintendo Switch exclusive. It’s damn tough, it’s got great mechanics, and, most importantly, its funny.
In the land of Pultima, there has long been a storied prophecy about five sisters who would rise and combine their powers to defeat Seytan, a terrible warlord who rules through cruelty and malice. In fact, when five magical sisters were revealed, the people rejoiced, thinking they would, at last, find freedom and justice. Their hopes were dashed, however, when the sisters split and went their separate ways, unable to reconcile their dynamically different personalities. And, when the sisters finally came back together years later, the people of Pultima were only able to entertain the notion of vindication for a very short while. As it turns out, the five sisters had all become smitten with one man, Lord Yashin, and there was no way they were planning to share. As a result, the five sisters are back to fight each other and prove who is worthy to be Yashin’s bride, and, if Seytan is foolish enough to try to interrupt their trials, then maybe Pultima may get salvation after all, if only by accident.
Sisters Royale is a vertical shmup that uses the five sisters as the five known bosses you need to defeat, including an inevitable battle against yourself (because, really, we wouldn’t have it any other way), and maybe a little more if you’re lucky. At the time of this writing, another DLC character, who might be a sister but might just be another woman interested in Yashin, will be available shortly, but I didn’t get a chance to check her story out. Anyways, each of the sisters has a distinct fighting style, which you need to explore through trial and error. You’ve got three primary attacks to worry about: long range shooting, short range melee swipes, and limited bomb attacks that vary from giant pinwheels of fire to a barrage of homing missiles. The bombs are quite important on higher difficulty levels because they also eliminate enemy bullets on the screen, a luxury you cannot afford to waste when the going gets tough. There are three difficulty levels to choose from, and the hard level is exactly what you’d like from this sort of game: millimetre wide hitboxes to weave through curtains of bullets while trying desperately to return fire.
Sisters Royale utilizes their own variant of the Graze system called the Tension Bonus System, which does double duty of both improving the gameplay environment and improving the bonuses. As this is pretty old school at the roots and your high score and coins collected are everything, getting within the radius of enemy projectiles is always in your best interest. Your attacks are fairly okay without the TBS being activated, but you’ll often miss destroying the larger enemies as a result of not dealing enough damage. Hell, even on the easy difficulty you’ll end up with a fairly low score and you might not even be able to defeat the bosses (who operate on a timer) if you aren’t comfortable floating near the bullets. The difficulty gradually increases, so newcomers can practice getting as close as possible without killing themselves in the early stage (Graveyard of Fire), but it never stays that way. Bullets begin to change form and shape pretty early on, and I think it’s the third boss where bullets will actually change trajectory mid travel to zero in on you. It’s a good system, and the TBS is both rewarding and satisfying without either being too demanding or too easy.
Each sister has a different shot style and bomb technique, so feel free to really experiment with who suits you best. For me, Lale was probably the best girl, as piercing shots tended to work out better in my favor (in lieu of higher bullet density or a better spread), and her Bomb technique of the homing missiles could turn the tide when time was running out. Again, feel free to run through the first stage with each girl first to know what works best for you. Also, it’s a great opportunity to see the reasoning and backstory for each of the girl’s quest to win Yashin’s heart, and it’s hilarious.
In Sisters Royale, we’re treated to five different, stereotypical tropes in these characters, and each has their own take and branching ideology moving forward. We’ve got the domineering sister who is clearly in control except for when it comes to Yashin. We’ve got the eldest sister who might be doing this just to piss off the other four (and she’s also the bustiest of them). We’ve got the holier-than-thou sister who is the only one dressed in a sort of Eastern, ceremonial robe but no one cares to give her the time of day to figure out why she’s dolled up like that. We’ve got a sister who might be completely insane UNLESS you take her route, at which point you realize she’s playing this whole thing up like a Shakespearean drama and that makes it so much better. And Lale, the youngest, clearly wants to win Yashin (she calls him Yashikins), but has no reason why, and constantly demands her sisters explain what happens on dates. It’s incredibly silly, but it’s honestly a bit of a refreshing take on a bullet hell after several games worth of convoluted sci-fi lore and storylines told through poetry and vague insinuations. It’s funny, and I appreciate that.
Naturally, the most important part is the delivery of the game and the replay incentive, and Sisters Royale: Five Sisters Under Fire does a bang up job of presentation. You’ve got optional vertical gameplay (left or right rotation), you’ve got three levels of difficulty, you’ve got potential DLC characters and you’ve got different terrain, monsters and combat styles for each round. Sometimes you’re slipping and sliding on ice, making survival and targeting quite difficult. Sometimes you NEED to make those melee shots to tip the scale, putting yourself in harms way in order to deal the killing blow. You drop coins in an explosion of loot like Sonic the Hedgehog when you get hit, and you have an unlimited number of continues to expend with the caveat being that your score keeps getting reset. This is a fantastic game at a solid price, and my only concern is that this isn’t getting a ton of marketing, so I hope that streamers and enthusiasts can get the name out there and make sure Alfa System (and the publisher, Chorus WorldWide Games) see a positive reception. It’s a damn good shooter, it does its job well, and it’s a Switch exclusive. Who could ask for anything more?
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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Sisters Royale: Five Sisters Under Fire Review
Gameplay - 9/10
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 9/10
Replay Value - 9/10
A family feud of epic proportions, Sisters Royale takes a fantastic bullet hell formula and makes it both challenging and sincerely fun.