It’s well established at this point, that I’m a Hyperdimension Neptunia fangirl. I owe a lot to this series. I’ve said before how I felt an affinity with this series as a socially isolated, closeted trans woman. The original Hyperdimension Neptunia was one of the key reasons I bought a PS3. Yes, that low budget mess of a JRPG was one of the key reasons I got a PS3. And I don’t regret it, hell I still enjoy the original PS3 trilogy despite its flaws. However, I’ve come to the realization that I only like half of the games I’ve played. I loved the PS3 trilogy, and I absolutely adored Megadimension Neptunia VII. I guess I “half-liked” Neptunia Re;Birth1, but I can’t say I’m fond of Producing Perfection, Re;Birth2, or the subject of today’s review; Neptunia Shooter.
If the average gamer were to take a look at Neptunia Shooter, their most likely reaction would be “is this a joke?” And the answer to that question would be “yes, Neptunia Shooter is a literal joke.” This game was first announced as an April Fools Day gag, I kid you not. They then decided to release the actual game a month later. In other words, this game was likely made in one month. Either that, or they made an entire game just for an April Fools joke and decided to sell the game at the last minute. Or there’s the more underhanded theory that they intended to sell this game from the beginning, and they first showed it on April Fools Day so they could later say they released it for fan demand, so as to cover their asses for releasing such a low effort product.
I’m not normally one to emphasize production values over gameplay, but just look at this! This was made by a professional company with decades of experience under their belt, or at least I think it was. I doubt that this had anywhere near the budget or manpower behind it as a typical Neptunia installment. Indie titles have been mocked for using “retro pixel art” to cheap out on the budget for years, but they at least have the excuse of being small teams with only a few people.
It’s tempting to say that Neptunia Shooter has bad art direction, but that’s actually not true. The sprite work is a pretty nice and is visually appealing, what little there actually is. The real problem is how little variety there is. The same space background is used throughout the entire game, and every enemy is a palette swap of the same dogoo sprite. Neptunia Shooter feels a lot like early arcade games where levels look almost identical in appearance. The difference, however, is that Neptunia Shooter was released in 2019, despite the fact that arcade games from the early 80s have better variety. On top of this, they couldn’t even be bothered to create six different music tracks for the levels, and just re-used the first three for the second half of the game.
As for the gameplay, I’m conflicted as to whether or not it’s outright bad. I did put twenty hours into this game, so it must be doing something right on a core level. And yes, one can enjoy this if they are the type that thinks there’s no such thing as a bad shmup. But there’s also a fuck ton of shmups on Steam that cost less than this, and also look a fuck ton better. Neptunia Shooter would have to get the gameplay just right in order for its half-assed presentation to be worth it. And no, it does not get it right.
Neptunia Shooter is clearly inspired more by retro shmups like Gradius, as opposed to bullet hell shooters like Touhou, Deathsmiles, or eXceed. It’s a common misconception that Bullet Hell shooters are harder than classic shmups due to the massive amounts of bullets on screen. In reality, many of those games compensate by having the bullets move slowly and giving the player a tiny hitbox. They also don’t have enemies spawn on the same side the player starts at.
Neptunia Shooter, on the other hand, will have enemies enter the screen from all four sides. This will lead to a ton of cheap deaths in a game with no continues, and that requires you start over once you run out. Neptunia Shooter was admittedly fun at first, but it started to get more and more frustrating in the later levels. I spent close to 20 hours on this game, and only got past the fifth level once. I gave up because I know that I had several more hours of attempts to get good enough at the sixth level until I completed this game. And it isn’t even due to fair and challenging level design.
Neptunia Shooter’s main gimmick is allowing you to switch between six characters. You unlock each character at the end of each stage, and you switch between them at the press of a button. Each character will have a different form of attack that is more efficient against certain types of enemies. For example, Neptune, Compa, IF, and Noire’s are effective against enemies emerging from the right, bottom, left, and top of the screen respectively. Vert will have a charge up attack that can take out a bunch of durable enemies is a short time, but will also leave you vulnerable. Lastly, Blanc has a shield that protects you from bullets, but that doesn’t let you shoot.
This sounds like a good idea in theory, and it isn’t too bad when it’s only two or three characters that are easy to swap between. The problem is that the more you unlock, the harder it is to switch to the one you need in the split second that this game requires. Normally, a game like this would allow you to switch characters via the pause menu, but Neptunia Shooter does not have that. Your only option is to meticulously memorize the enemy layout of each level, and how many button presses to switch to the exact character you need within the exact instant you need them. Then you have to re-learn this all again once you unlock another character.
I suppose Neptunia Shooter isn’t the worst game I’ve ever played. Hell I’m unsure if I can label it as bad since some people might not mind the cheap difficulty. I haven’t played an overly large amount of shmups, so I can’t comment on how it compares design wise. But I can say that there are a number of shmups with more effort put into them than this. There are much more interesting shmups for fans of the genre, and this game will barely appeal to Neptunia fans either. There is little of the series’ signature humor or charm involved in this game. Neptunia Shooter feels more like a romhack that changes the sprites of one game to that of another.
I can’t think of any reason for this game to exist aside from “Idea Factory was low on cash and needed a quick buck.” I get that Idea Factory and Compile Heart games are often low budget and re-use a lot of assets, but this is just absurd. I just can’t view this as anything other than a cynical cash grab, and I can’t recommend it. Why should any of us take this game seriously, when Idea Factory couldn’t be bothered to themselves?
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