Castle Shikigami 2 is a member of the scarce family Shooter, a gaming genre that, though it's seen better days, retains a loyal fan base and is even making a small resurgence. Of the three shooters released this year, Shikigami 2 is the only vertical one, and the first vertical shooter since last year's Mobile Light Force 2. It should also be noted that Mobile Light Force 2 was the first Castle Shikigami until a localization not seen since the early NES days was inflicted upon it.
Shooters come in many styles today and Shikigami 2 falls squarely under the "bullet hell" genus. Bullet hell shooters typically throw tons of firepower about the screen, much of which simply creates pretty patterns rather than threatening the player, but compensate for the bullet density by making the part of the player that can be hit smaller than the actual character graphic. Many also throw in a bonus for gamers who fly close to bullets, and Castle Shikigami 2 takes that idea and runs with it. The closer you are to a bullet or enemy the higher the score multiplier goes, up to 8x, and if you get really close your main shot gets ridiculously powerful. This all ties in with strategies on seriously maximizing score, but more on that later.
In Castle Shikigami 2, players choose from one of seven human characters, who presumably have some type of psychic power. Each character has a unique primary shot pattern and bomb and two secondary shot patterns. At the beginning of the game, select the character of your choice and a secondary ability. From that point on, you follow the convention of all shooters - kill everything that moves (and strive to stay alive). It's a concept as old as Space Invaders that hasn't become dull. What especially sets Shikigami 2 apart from Space Invaders (or, more appropriately, EspRaDe, which is well worth the research if you've never heard of it) is how the regular shots, secondary shots, and scoring system all tie in together.
All points in a level, both coins and enemy killing, are subject to the Tension system, which basically measures how much trouble you're in. Kill something when life is good and get whatever the regular point value would be. Kill something when you're near an enemy or enemy bullet and get up to an 8x multiplier on the score, depending on how close you are to danger. Also, whenever you kill an enemy they let loose a few coins, but if you kill them with your secondary weapon all the coins rapidly home in on you rather than float languidly down the screen for you to try to pick up (and sometimes help get you killed by greed when the enemy firepower is thick). Those coins are also subject to the multiplier, and it's very easy to get an 8x score for killing an enemy but only a handful of bonus points on the coins because the initial danger is past. Welcome to the wonderful world of risk versus reward.
Also of note is the options menu, which admittedly is an odd thing to address. Shikigami 2 does, however, offer an option usually stripped from American shooter releases, and that's full tate mode. Vertical shooters tend to have severe letterboxing on the sides, with all gameplay in a stripe up the middle of the TV. In tate mode you can (carefully!) flip the TV and game image sideways, having it take up the full screen. If you don't have a million things on top of the TV or don't mind the struggle, then it's well worth the effort just to see everything full-sized, and it's nice to see a US release leave the option intact. So is game fun? Well, that depends. If you're into the arcade shooter, bullet hell variety, then yes, Shikigami 2 can be quite enjoyable. Personally I found myself overly hung-up on point chasing at first, making it more of a technical exercise. Ultimately, the game became more enjoyable once I became less obsessed with collecting every point.
I found it odd that mid-level bosses (weird machines) are more creative than end-level bosses (mostly human), but some of the bullet patterns they put out are pure evil in addition to being gorgeous to see. A lot of the fun of shooters isn't the horrible things they do to you, but learning how to deal with it, and Shikigami 2, thanks to the sheer variety of the selectable characters' abilities, gives the player a lot of freedom in dealing its situations. Shooter fans or anyone looking for something they can just pick up and play, Shikigami 2 has a lot to offer.
Though the game itself is good fun, there is a small catch with the localization - the developers didn't complete it. The voice actors remind me of the worst offering from the Turbo Duo/Sega CD era. Although in all fairness, the text they speak doesn't make any sense at all, the acting itself would be laughed off a high school stage. To their credit, some of the actors actually do try to rephrase their lines in order to make the individual sentences appear to have meaning, but it's a doomed effort overall thanks to one of the roughest translations I've ever seen. Even the back of the box has issues, such as "The time: 2006, the distant future." (I didn't realize a bit over a year was that far away) and "Memory Card (for PS2) - 8 MB". Yes, the game does claim it takes one whole PS2 memory card to save your high scores on. That's not even mentioning the tortured phrases inside the instruction manual.
Thankfully these complaints only involve things tangential to the game. The cut scenes are easily skipped (but you can choose to see them again in the Story Recollect menu if you want to torment your friends) and shooters don't really need much story beyond "Once upon a time there were a lot of things that pumped out tons of bullets and needed shooting". Castle Shikigami 2 may not be the pinnacle of the shooter genre but it is a fun ride while it lasts, and its $10 price means that it's not exactly a bank-breaker for those curious about it.