News, Reviews

Pawarumi: The Return of the SHMUP?

Today sees the launch of a game that has been on our radar for a few months now since EGX REZZED earlier this year, so if you had a chance to read our write up of that (here) you may remember it well!

This game is PAWARUMI!

A game which I hope, will help usher in the return of the “SHMUP” genre’s rise to prominence!

Some of the younger readers among you might not be familiar with SHMUP as a genre, because it doesn’t typically get mentioned in the same conversations as todays more standard genres such as FPS, RTS and MOBA (to name a few). Like those more familiar genres, naturally SHMUP is also an acronym of sorts: “Shoot ‘Em Up” – The old school arcade top down spaceship shooters that my generation grew up on.

Its not to say that this is the first SHMUP to come out since the “good old days”, but it definitely IS the first modern SHMUP to hook me since IKARUGA which I played many hours of at university. And I think it is because Pawarumi, from Manufacture 43, plays quite similarly to IKARUGA.

While it doesn’t directly copy IKARUGA’s two colour swapping mechanic, it could well be inspired by it. Where IKARUGA uses black and white, to create a bullet hell on the screen, where if your ships is white it absorbs white, and does bonus damage to black to create all sorts of crazy combos. Pawarumi uses red, blue and green, in more of a rock, paper, scissors mechanic. Where shooting the same colour enemies refills your health/shields, while the other “odd” colours will either refill your super gauge and the last colour combination will do bonus damage. (Hopefully the attached “Trinity System” .gif will help clarify things!)

It removes the stereotypical power-up pickup mechanics of most SHMUPS, and instead relies entirely on the three-way colour mechanic and player skill to get through the game. When I first played Pawarumi at REZZED, I did so on an XBOX controller, where the buttons for swapping between colours match the colours on the XBOX controller, but when playing at home I instead used my arcade stick, which doesn’t have conveniently coloured buttons, so it was rather confusing to begin with! But once I got to grips with which buttons on my arcade stick did what, I soon got the hang of it and started sinking time into the game!

And oh my, is it a game you can sink time into!

Pawarumi seems to hit all the nails on the head with one really big hammer. It combines beautiful graphics, which still capture that nostalgic feeling of similar titles with a new take on the genre’s mechanics, and throws in some wonderful sounds into the mix and it’s on to a winner!

While the more traditional SHMUPS are 2D affairs, Pawarumi is actually fully 3D, but the gameplay is 2D (to steal a phrase from Street Fighter, it could be described as 2.5D). This allows the gameplay to be as us older folk know and love it to be, but also throws in some gorgeous 3D cut scenes, while we traverse our way around the “NeoAztec” setting, or effectively generates a brilliant sense of scale when introducing a boss.

It is always good to have that sense of feeling tiny compared to the big baddy who is threatening to kill you next!

These days many games, especially AAA titles, are these insanely huge, deep, story driven graphical powerhouses, where it is the story that drags you in. But sometimes, you miss out on the smaller games that don’t have that kind of backing, and those are the ones that will steal your heart just because they’re so fun to play.

What drives this game for me, other than the nostalgia (#old), is the game mechanics. While at first I did miss not having traditional SHMUP power ups, I did like the feeling of it being more skill and strategy based. Knowing when best to go for raw damage, when to heal or when to build your super gauge means you can always play at the same level. Unlike some classic SHMUPs where your ship gets more and more powerful, then you die and suddenly you’re near the end of the game with no power… it makes it possible to have different strategies, for better or worse, while getting through the levels.

Maybe you need to use your super to get through a hard wave of enemies, and you get through it, but with low health – do you prioritise regaining health, or replenishing your super gauge? You might know you have a hard wave just before a boss, does it leave you enough time to regain super if you pop it now?

Even when I beat a level with relative ease, I’d often find myself replaying it, seeing if other strategies work better. Or perhaps one strategy works at one difficulty setting, but when it is a bit harder, you need something a bit different.

If you’re a SHMUP veteran, who has been thinking for a while “I really wish there was more SHMUP games out there”, then Pawarumi is the game for you. If you’ve never played a SHMUP, but want to see what you’re missing out on, then Pawarumi is the game for you. Basically, unless you have some weird unfathomable hatred for SHMUPs, I’d suggest trying out Pawarumi, and even then, I’d suggest you try it out just in case it can sway you!


Pawarumi is out now on Steam. And I really hope it does well enough to make its way onto consoles as well (especially the Switch, I’d play it non-stop on my lunch breaks!)

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