For years I’ve been mystified by Mushihime-Sama. Watching videos of playthroughs and reading about it, I’ve always been meaning to try it out, but never got around to it. This past week I finally got my chance to play Cave‘s famous bullet hell, and I’ve gotta say that I’m every bit as impressed with it as I thought I would be.
The story is a bit complex for a shmup, and a little confusing. To put it simply Mushihime-Sama (Bug Princess or Insect Princess in English), is about a 15 year old girl named Reco who is on a mission to stop the giant insects known as koujuu from destroying the people in her village. In the world of Mushihime-Sama, the koujuu share the planet with humans, unfortunately it’s not a completely harmonious co-existence. These creatures produce a substance toxic to humans known as levi-sense, which is spread so far and wide that it makes human life almost impossible. In order to remedy this problem, every 200 years a 15 year old girl from Reco’s village is sacrificed. Reco happens to be that very girl this time around, but it’s apparently too late as her village is already being exposed to the levi-sense. In order to save her village, Reco takes flight on her beetle known as kiniro to combat the koujouu as well as their god.
There’s more to it that you will learn as you play through the game, and the plot is in fact pretty interesting for a shmup. This is especially apparent after you beat the final boss and discover more about Reco’s mission and the koujouu as well. It’s fun to read over a couple of times just to understand what exactly is going on, and why Reco must go on this mission.
Mushihime-Sama, like most shmups, is manic in nature. From the very first stage, you will be dealing with a barrage of bullets on screen; so much so that the enemies themselves sometimes aren’t even visible, and the only thing that seems to exist is the curtain of bullets. What makes this at least somewhat doable is the fact that you cannot die simply by a bullet grazing Reco’s sprite. What does cause your death is the hitbox getting touched by enemy fire. The hitbox can range from a ship’s cockpit, to a character’s head, the point is that it’s merely a small part of the sprite, usually as small as a pixel in Cave’s games. The enemy fire is also slow enough for you to react, the hard part is navigating around the bullets, trying to find a safe space for your hitbox. Thankfully firing at enemies is often very easy, as your shots tend to get very wide spread after collecting a few powerups. You can fire a more narrow and powerful shot by holding the fire button down, which also makes your hitbox glow. However, you do slow down while doing this, so take care not to overuse it.
There are 5 stages throughout the entire game, but it’s far from short if you plan on beating it all in a single credit. If you just power your way through and continue numerous amount of times, you’ll be done within about a half hour or so. Cave encourages the player to beat it all in one credit with the generous score system that offers an extra life quite frequently, and the true final boss that can only be accessed if you don’t use up any credits.
This game’s soundtrack is absolutely wonderful. I found 4 of the stage themes pleasing to the ear. They’re great to listen to while playing and in your leisure, and each song fits with the level’s theme pretty well. The type of music is a fairly upbeat variety of electronica, with stage 4 being more ambient and calming.
The stages themselves all look very imaginative, with some unique looking flora and fauna. The first stage is a pretty cheerful looking forest sprawled with insects crawling on the ground and in the sky. Stage 2 is a desert with large plants that spray levi-sense at you, and is filled with varying sizes of scorpions, including a mini-boss which is a giant scorpion. Stage 3 is quite possibly my favorite and in my opinion the most imaginative stage in the game. The entire stage consists of one giant bug, in which you must destroy individual sections on it as you ascend to the top. Small insects are produced by it, and it has many different heads and other parts that attack you on the way up. The boss is, what can only be assumed to be the core of the monster, which is a transparent looking insect that flies around the stage attacking you. Stage 4 has you descending deep into a water filled cave. It is teeming with life and will pit you against these centipede like creatures that fire long lines of bullets as they circle around you. You have to be quick if you’re going to avoid getting overwhelmed by enemy fire. Finally, stage 5 is like a grander version of stage 1, it’s a forest but with enormously sized venus fly traps that spit out hundreds of bullets. You’re attacked by a whole manner of enemies, which range from moth like creatures, to praying mantises, and even a dragon fly that assaults you just before the final boss.
Almost ten years later, Mushimhime-Sama remains in my humble opinion the best of Cave’s bullet hell titles. Everything about it seems to be done just perfectly, from the difficulty, to the flow of the game, to the aesthetics, and even the music. Even if you’re typically not a fan of bullet hells, I urge you to try this out anyway. It may very well get you into the genre, and who knows, maybe even Cave shmups as well.