Combat is fast, frantic, and addicting; presentation values are top-notch; excellent soundtrack; super clean art style; great price point (only $8)
Control setup is awkward at best and gameplay hindering at worst; short campaign; only two modes of play with no online leaderboards; enemy variety is lacking
Liberation Maiden is an eShop title brought to us by the wonderful folks at Level-5 and the obscurely brilliant Suda51. It sounds like the ultimate dream team on paper, a collaboration capable of producing an immediate classic, but sadly Liberation Maiden isn’t ever quite as good as it should be. That said, while it does fall short of expectations, it’s nevertheless a solid shooter that is genuinely interesting, refreshing and fun.
Liberation Maiden stars Shoko Oozora, New Japan’s president and primary heroine of the game’s story. Lady Shoko has recently come into power as president after the death of the nation’s former leader, who just so happened to be her father. Shoko’s first task is to deal with the urgent threat at hand: the invasion of New Japan by an enigmatic force called the Dominion. To combat this imposing evil, the Madame President takes matters into her own hands by jumping in the cockpit of a flying mech robot that’s equipped with an arsenal of weaponry so impressive that even Michael Bay would be jealous of the explosion-inducing goodness at her disposal. This all acts as the narrative backdrop to the game’s main focus, however, which is the frenetic combat.
Liberation Maiden is probably closest in design to that of a classic shoot ‘em up. Shoko takes to the skies around Japan and must destroy Dominion forces wherever they pop up. She can dish out the punishment in a variety of ways thanks to the many weapons with which her beautiful mech is equipped. Essentially, each level starts off the same: you are tasked with some minor objectives that usually involve taking down an assortment of flying enemies, a couple sub-bosses, and then the stage’s main boss man. Though this seems like it would become tiresome, it never really does thanks to the hard-hitting action.
Much like your typical shump, you’ll spend the majority of your time manoeuvring Shoko out of harm’s way from bullets and missiles, all the while blasting back a barrage of your own to induce a mouth-dropping display of fireworks. As you advance further into each stage, enemies become increasingly more plentiful and difficult to shoot down, inevitably culminating in a horde of assailants that rain down projectiles which test your manual dexterity and quick reflexes. Fortunately, Shoko has her own assortment of goodies to dispatch the baddies, complete with lasers, an obligatory mech-sword for melee combat, and her standard trusty missiles.
This all sounds like basic stuff, but the execution of it is what makes Liberation Maiden a real treat to play. To control Shoko, you’ll use the Circle Pad and L button to move and strafe, but to take down your rivals you have to mark them by holding the stylus to the touchscreen. As long as you hold it down, you’ll build up the strength of your shot, and once you let go your army of heat-seeking missiles will soar through the air and destroy any opponent you’ve locked on to. This system allows you to shoot and move without ever having to worry about precision aiming. You see, in Liberation Maiden, it’s imperative that you’re constantly moving to avoid enemy fire. Thus, being able to swipe the stylus across the touchscreen and release it without having to worry about where your missiles are going allows you to focus more on your positioning rather than pinpoint accuracy.
Unfortunately, the game drops the ball slightly when it comes to its overall control scheme, and it slips into many of the comfort issues faced by Kid Icarus: Uprising. Since movement, evasion, shooting, and counter-attacks are all so vital to reaching the end of each stage, one would think the control set-up would be conducive to the debauchery taking place. Sadly, that’s not the case, and you have to hold the 3DS in a rather uncomfortable position to be able to control Shoko with the analog stick, L button, and stylus.
It’s made worse by the fact that, when you’re not holding down the L button and you’re just using the analog stick, everyone’s favourite type of Resident Evil tank controls take over and Shoko can only go in one direction. This means that you really do need to use the L button in order to duck and dodge incoming enemy fire, so for a the game that throws so much at you (not to mention one that requires your movements to be pretty exact), it sure does try to hold you back from being able to do so with any sort of fluidity. Switching between weapons is even more difficult, as this involves tapping and sliding various parts of the outer corners of the touchscreen, and it certainly doesn’t help your cause when you’re trying to deal with all the chaos effectively.
Sometimes you’ll forgive the game’s shortcomings, though, because Liberation Maiden is one looker of a game, particularly so for an eShop title. Character models look solid, the anime cutscenes are phenomenal, and the overall interface is very slick. Unfortunately, some of the textures are quite low-res, environments aren’t all that diverse, and the character portraits that pop up during dialogue sequences aren’t as crisp as I would have liked. The audio, however, delivers in spades, and the soundtrack matches the fast state of play with excellent, upbeat overtures that will almost definitely get your feet a-tapping; while the voice-over work is consistently solid throughout and brings to life the game’s surprisingly interesting tale. And since you’ll be blowing up anything and everything that crosses your path, it’s nice to hear clean explosions and various other great effects.
Regrettably, despite how great it looks and sounds, the game’s over far too quickly. With only five levels that clock in around 25 minutes each, the campaign in its entirety is only about two hours long. There’s also not much incentive to go back and plow through it a second or third time unless you’re the type of person who digs trying to top your own high score in the Score Attack mode. There’s a gallery of art and videos to unlock as well which attempts to make up for these deficiencies, but while it’s a commendable effort, it doesn’t quite do the trick– I would have preferred to see some kind of online leaderboard feature implemented instead.
Liberation Maiden may not be Suda51′s best work, but it is nonetheless a solid, albeit limited, game. The presentation values alone warrant the price tag, and the game has a sort of a “big game” feel to it, which is wonderful considering its small price. Better yet, the action at the heart of the game is intense, fast, and hectic. The graphics and sound are also delightful, but the fact that the game only has a handful of stages to throw at you just isn’t completely satisfying, especially considering how riveting the gameplay can be when you’re caught up in the fray. In spite of how much fun there is to be had, the control set-up will to hinder your excitement at every turn, but if you can work past it, you’ll ultimately have a great time. I can certainly think of a dozen other worse ways to spend eight dollars, that’s for sure.