Bullet-hell shooters are fairly hard to come by in the West, especially on Xbox where games more suited to Eastern audiences are even harder to come by. I’ve never actually sat and properly played a bullet hell shooter myself either, so Shikhondo: Soul Eater and its Korean mythology rooted yokai (Asian demons) was my first real experience with the genre.
Shikhondo doesn’t really have a plot outside of ‘demons have found a way into our world.’ The two selectable characters; The Grim Reaper and ‘The Girl’ have to stop the demons and free the souls they have taken. Each character is obviously set apart visually and also in how they play. The Grim Reaper fires wide-spread shots that can take up most of the screen for less damage whereas her alternate fire focuses the attacks into a small cone in front of her. The Girl fires in a straight line in front of her but two projectiles will track any target that’s on the screen while her alternate fire lets the projectiles move freely around the screen. Both characters have a Soul Collect mode power up state that you can gain by grazing enemy bullets. You can also get the chance to power up again if you collect enough souls. Despite being only temporary, this is essential for getting out of tough spots and gaining higher scores.
Shikhondo consists of five levels, each with different enemies, a boss and beautiful hand-drawn visuals. Standard enemy design is standard and nothing special really. It’s clear to see what each one is so you can get an idea of what attacks are coming your way. Sadly, even as someone new to the genre I didn’t even find the standard enemies before the bosses that challenging until the last two levels. The bosses are where it really ramped up and a lot of nice design choices came in.
Each boss has two phases. The first, they will have a (mostly) normal form to them where they will look more graceful than you’d expect a demon to look. As for the second, their appearance changes to a much more evil look and their attack patterns become much more challenging. Unique designs in the looks like half a woman hanging out of a tiger, while still being part of it; or the way the attack patterns work in some cases such as some making flower shapes or a more simple one being a web-like patter from a boss that’s half spider make the bosses memorable in their own way.
Obviously, being only five levels long the game is pretty short. I feel like a lot people already know this with these more arcade style games but there isn’t much replay value unless you’re interested in perfect runs or getting that high score. Shikhondo has that extra effort put in to extend some of the time you can get out of the game by allowing local co-op, including a boss rush mode, a custom game mode, a novice game mode made for introducing people new to the genre and multiple difficulties for each mode as well. Custom mode isn’t as in depth as I thought it would be but it lets you change some of the game mechanics and the way they work for making some unique runs to compete against other players on.