Have you ever battled your four sisters for the affections of a love rival? If you answered ‘yes’, sell that stuff to the tabloids, quick-smart. If not, you can experience the world of hyper-powered sibling rivalry in Sisters Royale, the latest release from developers Alfa System.
A ‘Bullet Hell’ shooter at heart, Sisters Royale has you fight through five stages, each culminating in a boss battle with one of your fraternal nemeses, for the right to marry Lord Yashin. Much like Alfa’s earlier shooter series, Castle of Shikigami, your avatar is human rather than a piece of militaristic hardware, or piloting an attack ship.
Depending on which sister you pick, you’ll be blasting the grunts with the likes of lasers, homing projectiles or wide-angled spread attacks. You also wield a secondary weapon unique to your chosen sister; a spirit totem that represents your personality, and varies between solar beam projections, emerald-coloured angels that encircle you for defense, an angry fire golem that chases things down, plus others.
Switching these two abilities up is essential when navigating the tricky bullet patterns, but you don’t want things too relaxed, however. Bullet grazing – getting as close to projectiles as possible – amplifies your attacks. Larger enemies and boss fights are on a timer, and failing to boost your attack power in this way will often see them flee the scene before destruction… taking their potential for higher scores along with them.
A new wrinkle Sisters Royale introduces is good old terra firma. Your character walks rather than flies, and has to deal with various obstacles as she navigates her way through the forced-scrolling levels. This ‘grounded’ contrivance isn’t utilised very well, sadly, and could have done with expanded elements like traps, weather effects, environmental hazards and the like; dead ends, slippery floors and suchlike are more irritating than fascinating, and it ends up as more of a tacked-on gimmick than an essential play component.
With so many shooters of this type floating around, any unique touches are appreciated and Sisters Royale has a decent storytelling shtick: it’s funny. That’s right, not only does this thing have a storyline, it’s actually humorous to boot. Maybe not laugh-out-loud hilarious, but the cutscenes where the titular women trade acidic jibes and sarcastic barbs in their competition for Yashin’s affection will certainly bring a smile to your face.
There’s a bit of a disconnect in the way the women and girls are portrayed, though. The character models are all rendered in the ‘Chibi’ style and feature the oversized heads and vestigial torsos you associate with Funko Pop toys. In sharp contrast, the character art you see in cutscenes is sexualised in the typical anime style. Oversized bosoms and flimsy lingerie are at odds with the otherwise dopey and frivolous atmosphere you get from the story and sprites, and left me a bit disappointed (and embarrassed).
Graphics are appealing but unexceptional and, on the music front, there are nifty, jazzy rock tunes that keep the energy up without ever really standing out. The Nintendo Switch is becoming a popular platform for the vertical shooter genre; it’s really carving out a niche and I was pleased to discover the game supports TATE (rotated) screen orientation, which is the best way to utilise of all that Switch screen real estate.
With a good many verts knocking around, a new entrant needs to make its presence felt and Sisters Royale has some winning characteristics. I was a big fan of its cheeky script, as well as the blobby little enemies that put me in mind of Mario’s foes or Final Fantasy VII’s roster of critters. It’s challenging, too, with only three hits causing your death (and the loss of your score) but not to the point where its systems feel punitive. The most significant downside to the game is its brevity: it features very few levels, and each one pretty short, so you’re likely to see everything the game has to offer within the first hour or so of play.
Endearing and entertaining, Sisters Royale may be a slight, insubstantial release next to classics available on the platform like Psyvariar Delta and Ikaruga, but is worth considering if you’re after a fun little blast. In-between punishing score attack sessions on the old standards, why not squeeze in some time with a set of micky-taking, squabbling princesses?
Sisters Royal is available on PS4 and Nintendo Switch
Review Supplied by @Treble_Alpha