Drainus Review (Switch Online Store) | Nintendo Life
Drinus. Whether it’s the clumsy suitcase of Darius and Gradius, or referring to the core mechanics of the game, it’s a silly name no matter how you look at it. Japanese developer Team Ladybug, recently known for a pretty good entry Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth, has made Switch’s hardcore shooter wait eight months since the game’s release on Steam, but does it live up to the hype?
Drainus pays homage to classics from many genres; touch border down in their ship functions and style, a tribute Einhander in the aesthetics of the second stage of the train assault, and many Grad V in the transforming boss phases. The only influence that was inexplicably heavily touted in previews was Ikaruga, as if it were the only other game in the genre that the mainstream gaming press had ever heard of. While Drainus has an enemy fire absorption system that can be deflected by a barrage of homing lasers, the execution here has a lot more to do with takumi. Giga Wing than Treasure’s puzzle-joke hybrid, making it a largely misleading comparison.
There is a weird typo in Drainus, there is a tutorial that can’t tell you about your laser bomb, health, or speed control of the ship’s shortcut (activated with the left shoulder button). While it’s confusing at first, it’s a wonderful piece of work nonetheless: bold, daring, exhaustingly creative, and utterly beautiful.
While the absorption and reflection function is easy enough to understand, perfecting its timing takes practice, especially when you’re looking for a place to breathe in a curtain of bullets. Consistent, enjoyable, rhythmic interaction, the all-encompassing stage design takes into account all aspects of its capabilities, requiring its use not only to destroy enemy fire, but also to navigate laser wheels, internal mazes and survive against powerful artillery strikes. Boss appendages open to reveal laser links and bridges to lean on or maneuver across, and stage obstacles regularly require well-timed use to survive forced scrolling. For tighter segments that require precise movement, you can slow the ship down with the right shoulder button. It is this ingenuity that makes everything work so efficiently. Similarly, Drainus is pure action that requires reflexes and muscle memory to overcome rather than mechanical strategies.
Visually, it’s a work of art, running at 60fps both handheld and docked. Rarely have 2D shooters been blessed with such breathtaking visuals, and now is the time. Modern hardware is capable of creating a graphic showcase without bloating or using gross, misplaced resources. Drainus, like Didlit in The Wonderful Labyrinth, turns sharp details and beautiful animation into an incredible spectacle, his style is no different from Phalanx on X68000.
In the first phase, you dash out of a battered sand pipe, the landscape spinning 360 degrees before you blast across the desert surface and crash headlong into fury road– a dust storm. From there, you ascend into rainy skies, water droplets cascading across the screen, and then into space, where the planet below fades into oblivion, leaving you to navigate a smoldering asteroid field. It’s something.
Bosses and mid-bosses are fantastic builds of mecha dragons, transforming fortresses, and even a 2001 monolith, many of which offer stripping appendages and multiple phases. Since Radiant Silvergun, we haven’t seen such a creative display of large-scale enemy power, and Drainus doesn’t shy away from borrowing a few ideas. There are typical shooter tropes, like the giant mothership assault where you fight your way in to destroy the core, but it’s done in a way that feels brand new.
However, in terms of gameplay, there are a few details that will not immediately appeal to fans of shooting games. In terms of scoring, there are certainly ways to score more numbers than the next best player, but at the same time, opportunities to flesh out a special system are missed. Also, your score counter only triggers when you continue, and there is no sign of an online leaderboard (yet).
Drainus also has a weapon upgrade structure that requires the game to be paused in the middle. While avid shooter fans usually frown on stopping the action, it’s time to embrace a new way of doing things, and the ship’s fortification feature adds a unique dimension to the action. However, arcade mode, which limits refresh to intermediate intervals, was probably supposed to be the default option, not locked until you clear two game loops.
Energy canisters accumulated during the game act as a form of currency. On the pause screen is a huge menu of add-ons and boost options. Initially, your ship has three slots, and you can apply new weapons to the available slots in the order you choose. In the game, picking up power-up icons launches each slot in ascending order, automatically activating the weapon being used. These slots also double your ship’s health, meaning that eating a bullet will drop from one slot and return to the next weapon. When you balance on the last active slot with a low power pea shooter, you are in a precarious position, being in one collision with death, otherwise you will be able to turn on again. It’s a system that encourages you to stay unscathed, especially if your best weapon is intelligently applied to the maximum possible slot. There’s shot power and laser upgrades, shaping options, and plenty of other trinkets to buy and customize, and half the game depends on how and when you spend your currency. It is possible, depending on skill, to go through several stages without buying anything, and then run into a hefty reward at once. Each player will determine their personal preferences, but it will take a lot of playing before you know what suits you and, due to the rather limited descriptions, some time to understand what it all does.
Perhaps one of the obvious problems for purists is that standard and even hard difficulties are too leisurely. While we are admittedly experienced in the genre, on our sixth try we achieved a two-loop clear with one credit. And, while the second cycle gets harder, it’s mitigated by saving all your lives and bonuses and giving you even more powerful weapon options. To say it’s too easy might not be entirely fair, but for some, it definitely is. However, completing both cycles and the actual final boss unlocks additional modes, including a “Ridiculous” difficulty level that high-level players can delve into.
Drainus never hit the adrenaline highs of Andro Dunos 2, partly because the music – while still good – isn’t on the same level, and the overall climactic nature of things isn’t quite satisfying. Where he excels is in his desire to impress. When you pierce the innards of a carrier ship, blow up huge structures, ride power-ups and keep the heat going, it’s really exciting. The visual feedback is quite powerful, and the constant pressure associated with absorbing bullets creates a layered sense of engagement that feels more engaging than most game tricks.
Team Ladybug really showcases their programming experience with Drainus. It’s dangerous and bold to try to build a Gradius V or Einhander-scale shooter, but for the most part, the developer handles it convincingly. It’s not exactly perfect, perhaps too simple, and some aspects are more suitable for some players than others. But at least it’s a compelling sci-fi action movie that’s constantly being developed, created, and shown. To that end, Drainus will appeal to hardcore and casual players alike.