Papilio is a colorful, beautiful, hardcore horizontal scrolling “bullet hail” cute’em up (cute shoot’em up) that has you flying as your choice of three Naajiras (fairy wisps) in a world full of hostile insects. This is a brief prototype or alpha with only three levels, but these three levels were amazing, entertaining and fun to play through over and over again, even with the game’s numerous issues. Since the game is rooted in arcade games, you can play one or two player simultaneously and enter your initials into a high score.
I feel it appropriate to here mention a lot of the issues have been fixed after this review.
It plays like several other “bullet hail” shooters, you fly around and you have the ability to shoot left and right. The ability to shoot left opens up a whole new door for me after growing up with Gradius games. This means that enemies come from the right, left and even top and bottom. Its engaging and keeps you on your toes, but Papilio never throws enemies directly into you, if a wave is coming from the right after it just had enemies from the left, it warns you with a nice big warning. This keeps the game from getting lost in memorization.
Firing is automatic, just hold down the button. Its more a game about dodging and surviving, finding a few areas without bullets, but its not a pattern sort of game. The enemies aim for you and you’ll never be safe in the same place twice.
There are what seems like three weapons in the game. Each of these weapons can be upgraded by collecting hundreds of gems. When an enemy explodes, gems fly out and you only need to get close enough to them in order for them to get vacuumed into your fairy. This is great for when the screen gets full of enemies and projectiles. A standard stock pulse machine gun that turns into a laser. A blue ion weapon that when it upgrades some of the bullets seek out enemies and finally, a green gun that upgrades into what I can only describe as a short range shotgun.
Oh, but there’s more! The fairies seem to have their own variants of each weapon. One fairy has straight long lasers, while another has fat short range, wide lasers. Its a nice level of detail, but the problem is, I think that two fairies share the same weapons.
On top of that, you have a special weapon. Not a screen clearing bomb, but depending on the weapon and character, they’re different. The red laser’s special weapon turns into a fire snake with one fairy, a radial bomb with another and finally some sort of scissors with the third fairy. This makes for nine special weapons and for the most part, they all feel fun. Blue homing missiles, sprays of blue bullets in all 360 degrees. Some of the time, I was able to use the special weapon without letting it cool down all the way. Glitch or not, I was thankful for it.
When you use the special weapon, it has a cool down, before you can use it again. There are also a few rare power ups that instantly cool down the special ability. If you take damage, you’ll have to wait even longer before you can use it, but if you’re in a hurry, the special will cool down quicker when you stop shooting.
The weapon icons float around the screen with their letter icon in specific colors. If you don’t get them after a few seconds, they turn into a different color. This adds a bit to the challenge, because if you don’t want a weapon, these power ups will stay on screen for longer than you’d think, giving you a chance to accidentally get them.
Each fairy has its own stats for power, movement and range. They even have their own shields. One fairy has a standard forward double shield and a wide spray of bullets. Another has a rotating double shield that fires bullets forward. The last fairy has a mutable double shield that lets you put the shield where you want to by which direction you’re flying in when you’re not shooting.
Papilio is a beautiful game with retro style, old school 90s sprites that would really put the game at home on a 16-bit console. The enemies, bullets and my character still manage to still stand out amidst a beautiful background. The third level gets a little chaotic with too much detail. Lush, leafy trees mixed in with enemies and bullets makes a tough level even tougher with the background.
All of these controls let you play how you want and it makes the game fun. Even if its a bullet hail shooter, it doesn’t feel truly difficult until the third and final stage. It gets pretty insane for several reasons. One of which is the game feels like its glitched in such a way where when you die on the third level, you restart on the second level. I’m not sure if it was done for the challenge or to prove how hardcore you need to be for this game.
You now restart from the third level if you die on the third.
Your character can take a few hits, which I’m thankful for, but I’m sure there are some die hard players out there that want a difficulty setting where one hit is death. Its not the toughest bullet hail shooter, but I’d say the trade off is that its enjoyable. When you take damage, your weapon power level will fall a level and its a nice trade off.
There are a diverse array of enemies, with different projectiles and patterns. Some come from the top or bottom and wave downward. Others come from the left or right and shoot directly at you. Still some are put there just as road blocks that fire giant lasers forward to box you in. Heavy bodied insects that spray a spread of spikes at you. There are several mini bosses and not just that, but the level bosses are big, beautiful and offer multiple patterns of fun. All of the bosses have health and you’ll never see the same boss twice.
One subtle detail of the game isn’t just the patterns, but the variety. I played a three level game for four hours and I still feel like it was showing me new things in those three levels. A boss wouldn’t just have a new pattern, it would have new projectiles. Circular projectiles that force you to fly in them as they rotate, when on other play throughs, they were giant bars that would rotate and you’d need to fly by instead of into. The second level feels like it branches without having a clear cut selection of where you want to go. I even found branches within branches, one that took me to a horrifying sub boss that is probably the toughest in the entire game. These little details felt like it kept the game fresh.
I’ve discussed why the game is fun and entertaining, complex, now its time to get real and tell you about the cold hard facts of Papilio. This is an alpha, a prototype and there are several programming issues. Not flaws; issues, major issues. Game stopping, game breaking issues, but at least these are predictable issues. I’m not even sure if those level branches or changes in boss patterns were supposed to be there or if there were glitches.
Oh, but that type of glitch is charming. The issues I’m talking about are hitting the ESC key closes the game. You will get stuck in menus. That’s only because while the game tells you to press Enter to confirm to exit a menu, its really the “left fire button.” Perhaps this is an issue of lost in translation that can be easily fixed. The settings menu is the only thing that I’ve ever gotten out of. By default, the game is played on a keyboard, and it works well enough. There aren’t any real issues. There’s native controller support, but I’m not sure what controller its for, because on my 360 controller the start button was the only thing that worked and I fired right. There were no bombs or shooting left, in fact I thought that there was no left firing until I loaded up the keyboard controls…. only to get stuck in the menu.
The manual screen is laughably scrunched down, but see, that’s not a game breaking issue. What is a game breaking issue is what I think is the end of the third level there is a bug that crashed the game. Consistently, over and over again. Its difficult enough getting up to that point with it being bullet insanity and the fact that you need to survive level 2 and 3 all on 1 life. I say this, even though there is a video on the store page of it working perfectly. There are a number of other minor and forgivable flaws.
The manual is fixed, the game crashing third boss glitch has been fixed. Other minor things have been fixed.
With everything said, I have high hopes for this game. Its a future gem with a 90s feel to it. Its like finding a beautiful giant sapphire ruby (because they exist) and then finding that oh its got a lot of sharp edges that will cut you. Its still beautiful and fun to be around, but someone has to put the time and effort into shaving down those edges. I really got a sense of a fun game in these three levels and I want more! $3 is well worth the price.
As mentioned before, the issues have been fixed and this is now a game I can highly recommend to shoot’em up fans!