It takes a lot for a shmup to grab my attention. Whilst I have warmed to them over the course 2022, I still find it tough to get excited for one unless it does something particularly different.
What brought After Wave: Downfall to my attention was that it didn’t even look like a shmup at all. At first glance it looked like Star Fox on Jet Skis, which had me very excited, but on closer inspection I realised that the game is essentially a 3D vertical shmup with a slightly different perspective to the action.
That’s not a bad thing though, and it was enough for me to want to give it a try.
Many thanks to 7 Raven Studios for the review code.
DEATHRIX ARE FOR KIDS
The game begins with a loading screen full of text that informs you that an entity known as the Deathrix has invaded, and has hit the world with meteorites causing a great flood which has spread an infection across the animals of the world, making them hostile.
As a Jet Ski riding child, it’s up to you to stop the Deathrix by shooting these monstrous creatures. It’s a reasonable premise, but the wonky translations can make it difficult to get completely invested in what’s going on. At the end of the day, it’s a shmup and you shoot things so you probably won’t bemoan the flawed story.
The one narrative element that is worth praising, however, is that the three difficulties have slightly altered stories. On easy mode, only a single meteorite hit, and so you can sort everything out in a mere four levels. Normal and harder difficulties have more stages due to increased number of meteorites, with the hardest mode having 10 total stages. It’s a nice way of expanding the harder difficulties, and certainly less infuriating than the ‘play on a harder difficulty for the true ending’ screen that plagues some other titles.
Other than 3D visuals that harken back to early 3D shooters such as G-Darius, the main thing that differentiates the game from other shooters is the cylindrical nature of the levels. In a style that brought back memories of Sonic Lost World and Super Mario Galaxy, the world appears to be a giant cylinder that you work your way around. It’s an unusual perspective, but one that I found quite appealing. Seeing giant boss enemies looming over the horizon, and jumping into view was something I never got tired of – even if the level themes themselves lack a little variety, consisting of near identical looking rivers.
The game itself functions largely as you’d expect, with the B button being assigned to your auto-firing primary weapon, and the shoulder buttons for more powerful – yet limited attacks. These attacks use up the battery power that you acquire from surprisingly liberal enemy drops, but you also have a rechargeable super weapon too; it does take forever to charge, but it’ll clear the screen with ease. More interestingly, the triggers can be used for either slow or fast movement to help you navigate obstacles and bullet hell moments far easier. Despite not seeming important at first, using these triggers well will be the key to avoiding many attacks.
Speaking of attacks, they can be tricky to avoid at times due to the game’s perspective, but patterns are usually fair enough where avoiding things is at least feasible (on easy and normal!). Usually, the attacks that are harder to avoid tend to fall from the sky or come from behind; these are normally telegraphed with red circles or arrows, which makes things easier, but not always. It’s not clear whether these moments are merely just an oversight, but losing health from a surprise attack always felt unfair. Thankfully this only tends to happen perhaps once or twice a level, so wasn’t enough to spoil my enjoyment.
Bosses and sub bosses are where the game really shines though, as there are some really interesting enemies to take down. My particular favourite was a ballista-mounted beaver that fires a range of arrows in your general direction. Bosses are a blast, and you’ll be fighting a lot of them as you progress through the game.
KIDS VS FISH
As for your protagonist, there are six characters at your disposal, and each one has a completely unique arsenal. The chaingunning lad is pretty cool, but I found myself drawn to the girl with the flamethrower. They all control essentially the same, but their varied arsenal gives you enough incentive to want to try the game out with other people. You have access to half the roster at first, with the others being unlockable.
Speaking of which, the game has plenty to unlock too. The most important of which relates to the game’s upgrade system, where you can improve your character’s abilities by channeling the points you earn in story mode. Each upgrade is pretty expensive, and there are a lot of them, which can make the system feel a little grindy – especially as upgrade points are only earned in story mode – but they’re not necessary to be able to beat the game, they just make it a tad easier.
Other unlocks include achievements, the aforementioned harder difficulties, and four additional game modes too. The game modes in particular are a neat addition, especially the rafting one that deactivates your weapons and has you avoiding obstacles and enemies for as long as possible. It’s a lot of fun and acts like a training ground to hone your skills. There’s a surprising amount of content here to keep you going, although I think having upgrade points available over all game modes would have made the upgrade process more enjoyable.
The visual style and perspective may put off some people, and the grindy upgrade system probably needs a tweak or two to make it less of a hassle; however, if you can get past that, there’s a lot to enjoy here. I was certainly surprised and can see myself coming back to this one as I attempt to try and unlock everything the game has to offer.