Thursday, February 21, 2013

Strike Witches (PSP)

Checkpoints OFF
5 Difficulty levels
6 Stages
Ship speed fixed, selectable at start
- - - - - - -
Developed by Cyberfront
Published by Cyberfront / Kadokawa Games in 2012

Fans of the Strike Witches anime that are also gamers must have been really happy when Strike Striches - Hakugin No Tsubasa found its way to the PSP after a first incarnation on the Xbox 360. Though not a stinker in its own rights, the original version was a bit of a letdown given the amount of "air" in the graphic design. Therefore it isn't so surprising that shrinking the screen and the resolution to PSP standards gave the game a bit more dignity. The experience is almost the same, differing in the obvious lack of twin stick controls and a few mild gameplay enhancements. The PSP port also includes all additional download content not originally available on the Xbox 360 disc, thus making the expression "fan service" even more suitable for those who enjoy portable gaming.

I read about the story to Strike Witches somewhere but I don't remember anything now. What matters is that a bunch of cyborg girls with the ability to fly are waging war against an alien race called Neuroi. Yes, that's it, teenage girls with cute faces armed with machineguns must save the world. The player takes control of teams of three of them and faces six stages of increasingly harder multidirectional shooting, arranging them ladies in different flight patterns as the alien technology sends wave after wave of enemy planes and drones. One girl acts as the leader and dictates movement speed, and while she fires her weapons at nominal power the other two will always contribute with reduced strength. There are no power-ups to be collected, but don't complain about this. So does Ikaruga, right?

Shoot the [huge] core!

In Story mode character interaction plays a large role and halts the game from time to time, but fortunately these interruptions are promptly skippable. In this mode you can only choose from predetermined teams, but upon completing the game all characters you played with are unlocked for selection in Arcade mode. Arcade mode is exactly the same game with no interruptions and the possibility to hand-pick your team at the start of a credit. On both modes you’re allowed to select the starting stage, provided you’ve reached them in previous attempts. The health bar has eight cells that are shared by all girls and get refilled at the start of a level (no in-stage refills). Some enemy attacks, especially of the laser type, drain more health than others, and if you lose all health the game ends. Besides the danger imposed by bullets and lasers, collisions are the biggest threat since enemies often dart into the screen or just like to ram into you.

Of all available control schemes in Strike Witches, the only one I consider decent is the "Arcade style". The other two are too cumbersome, but might please people who’re keen on holding the PSP in awkward positions. In Arcade style you can perform the act of shooting in two ways: with □ you shoot freely with the characters moving along as you press the d-pad, with ○ shooting direction is locked. L changes the leader girl and ∆ cycles their formation between triangle forwards, trailing and back-to-back (leader facing forward, followers facing the opposite direction). Finally, R unleashes the special attack, an essential device both for survival and for scoring. Note: Arcade style is the closest you get to the control setup from the Xbox 360 version - if you’ve been exposed to the original first you might be in for a hard time getting used to the new button layout.

Official trailer for the PSP version of Strike Witches
(courtesy of YouTube user KADOKAWAanime)

Scoring is based on collecting crosses left by defeated enemies, which are automatically sucked in if you’re close enough to them. Once you get more than 100 crosses they go from bronze to silver and increase in value from 1.000 to 10.000 points. After 200 all crosses are golden and worth 100.000 points each. The catch is that killing an enemy with a special attack (button R) generates twice more crosses than usual. Special attacks are fueled by the energy of each girl in the team, as depicted by the small gauge below their faces in the HUD. If the energy gauges are full a special attack comes with invincibility for as long as you keep button R pressed. After you release the button you need to wait for the gauges to start refilling in order to use the special attack again. Remember that there’s no invincibility if the special attack is triggered before the gauges are full (besides the visual indication you’ll also hear a characteristic sound cue).

Using the special attack wisely takes a little time. Reaping more crosses only comes with memorization and good timing. Different combinations of characters result in varying firepower efficiency, as well as different recovery times. Reaching the end of a stage comes with a bonus composed of the number of crosses collected × enemies destroyed × 10.000 points, minus a factor determined by the number of times you got hit. Once you start understanding how this works chances are Strike Witches will get more enjoyable, and pushing for a higher score soon becomes second nature. However, even though it starts easy enough the game is definitely no pushover in the last couple of levels. Continuing won’t allow access to the TLB (True Last Boss).

 Click for a larger picture of the menus translation for Strike Witches, PSP version
(many thanks to Jorge)

As I mentioned above, Strike Witches fits the PSP much better than it did the Xbox 360. All download content originally released for the Xbox 360 version appears by default in the PSP port. That includes a 12th character (Nakajima Nishiki), a fifth team/scenario in Story mode and an additional Time Attack mode (a boss rush where it’s impossible to die – getting hit adds 10 seconds to the counter, each cross collected decreases the counter in 1 second). Everything else is pretty much the same despite a few minor improvements in the main game, such as sound effects for the leg propellers during stage debriefing, damage indication on enemies (they start flashing red as they’re about to die) and no more loss of crosses during transitions (in the Xbox 360 version you lose your crosses on a screen transition, i.e. the 2nd stage mid-boss). As for the packaging variations, the only extra in the limited edition of the game is a Nendoroid miniature of character Lynette Bishop in a swimsuit outfit.

Once I finished Story mode with three teams and got used to the new controls I went straight to Arcade mode. I fiddled around a little and decided on Erica Hartmann, Yoshika Miyafuji and Perrine Clostermann as my official cute army of three. The clear didn’t come easily, in fact I'd been carrying the PSP with me during a few trips/flights since I beat the game on the Xbox 360, finally succeeding during the last Carnival holidays. No play on the TV this time, yay!


  1. Congratulations for the 1CC and the nice review. I liked this game. The shmup have a good anime style.

    1. Many thanks to you for the extra menu translation!