|Task Force Kampas
|Casiopea Wave, EastAsiaSoft
|May 7th, 2020 (Switch)
|PC(Itch.io), PS4, PS Vita, Xbox One, Switch
|Rated M for Mature
I have seen a multitude of shmups in my life, ranging from classics to modern, but never have I seen one with random levels. Until now, that is. Task Force Kampas takes influence from Japanese shmups, with a few bells and whistles thrown in. However, there are aspects of it that feel much less like a retro shmup, barring the modernized aspects of the game. This I will get into later, first let’s talk about how the game plays.
During a run, you only have one life, though thankfully you have a health bar. If you get hit, you become invulnerable for a period of time, at the cost of your firepower. After that period, you cannot shoot at all in order to regain health. In addition, you can save creatures called cocos, where once you save enough of them you’ll get a coco satellite that shoots on your behalf. Shooting down enemies increases your firepower, and twice per stage you can choose between two random upgrades once you go far enough. These upgrades are a super shot, double shot, and an increase to your max HP. However, these upgrades only last until you defeat the boss.
As far as options are concerned, there are five difficulty levels, three sound levels, five ships, and technically seven filters. The difficulty levels mainly change the amount of enemies, though I can’t say I truly noticed a difference with boss patterns. Between the five ships, each has one specific defining aspect to separate them all. These range from double shot, super shot, more HP, side shots, or even the inability to shoot at all but you have a multitude of coco satellites in tow.
Meanwhile there are three bosses in the game. Despite the levels being random, all three bosses are in the same order. There is an evil squid, a crab, and a mantis most likely influenced by psychedelics. These bosses are really simplistic, with the squid oddly being the most complex despite being the first fought. The squid shoots out projectiles in circular patterns. The crab swaps between one claw shooting singular projectiles and the other sets of three projectiles, and then firing lasers. The mantis throws projectiles that act as the game’s equivalent of curvy lasers.
As a whole, the soundtrack is okay. I can’t say I truly find any track memorable outside of the mantis’ theme. Sound effects are rudimentary, or at least seem like it since they tend to get lost and blended together during gameplay. Also, the only technical issue I found was when changing filters where none was selected, one of them specifically would not be applied until I selected default. Graphically, the game looks decent, at a glance. However, the way the game presents its visual information is mind boggling. The screen shakes quite often, with enemies all grouped up together, so it becomes too easy to just lose track of any important element. I had moments where I couldn’t even judge distance properly. I can’t even begin to imagine how much worse it becomes when using the filters.
With that said, what aspects makes Task Force Kampas feel much less like a retro inspired shmup? Well, the screen shaking is certainly one of them. Beyond that, the game is lacking in specific options. The only options that affect gameplay directly are difficulty level and ship type. In other games, it can range from difficulty level, shot type, ships, bombs, and any other option potentially possible. Also, game information on the store pages imply the game potentially ending is a twist, where skilled players can get past the ending. This confuses me, as all the store pages specifically mention that it takes after the golden age of Japanese shmups, just with modern conventions. There were many shmups on the market that did, in fact, end. Not all were like Namco shmups like Galaga that were completely endless. Games like Pop’n Twinbee, classic Earth Defense Force, and DoDonPachi revolved around players getting better and better, trying to use as few lives and even bombs as possible.
Then there are other aspects that ruin that feel, and even get in the way with the game’s quality. The levels are indeed random, but in the most lackluster way possible. It would be one thing if enemies spawned in formation, yet everything in the game spawns in clusters. This boils the gameplay loop down to keep moving left and right just washing the screen with your bullets to kill everything as fast as you can. It doesn’t help that enemies don’t leave after a set amount of time. Then there are the missiles that slide down at the very sides of the screen and have randomized speeds as well as random spots where they suddenly change trajectory at a diagonal. It gets worse if you get hit, as the screen is flushed with red significantly until you recover enough health. Amidst the chaos, these factors can make runs spiral out of control.
Even the movement is not right. The player’s ship moves far too loosely, especially for a game asking you to weave through projectiles rather tightly. It doesn’t help that the player’s sprite matches the hitbox. This may sound odd, and at first sprite and hitbox being one to one was the standard. Later on though, more and more games made the player’s hitbox smaller than their sprite, to create a happy medium on being able to see where you are, but also still grant the possibility to tightly move between projectiles. Considering Task Force Kampas’ approach to modern conventions, it gives me the impression that the influence is only surface level.
At the end of the day, I can’t tell what era of games Task Force Kampas takes after. It is clearly not like anything from Namco, many games made by Konami, or even shmups made in the early to mid 2000s such as those by Cave. One can certainly argue that it is good that it attempts to not completely mimic those games. However, I find it odd that the developers on their Itch.io page mention that it takes after the golden age of Japanese shmups, considering these oddities. There are pieces that correlate to certain eras but many of them are executed at the basic level. This ranges from the idea of endless runs, bullet hells, satellites, bosses having stages, and game loops. Yet this influence stops itself to just three bosses before looping, the squid being the only truly “bullet hell” boss, no visual cues between boss phases, and difficulty levels mainly relying on enemy count rather than enemy formations. Not to mention the only new thing as far as I am aware of is the ability to recover health by not shooting.
In truth, is the game bad? Not at all, in fact it is not even that difficult overall. However, it’s also roughly average, with some blemishes on top of it. Even for $4.99 on their itch.io page, or $5.99 on all other platforms, it is hard for me to recommend this to fans of the genre after playing this for 2-3 hours. At best, the ones who like to get the highest score possible from endless runs I can recommend this to. This unfortunately derives from the fact where one aspect some players love about the genre, others could care less. That is the issue when Task Force Kampas is such a loose understanding of the genre. Hopefully when Casiopea Wave crafts another title about the golden age of a particular genre, they took notes of ideas on what to do going forward.
Review copy provided by the publisher