Blissful Death: Kamui is a shoot ’em up with layers

Blissful Death: Celebrating the Shoot 'em Up

And so we finally come to the grand finale of the Tale of ALLTYNEX series — which, owing to various remakes and rereleases of the prior two games over the years, is actually one of the earliest games in the series to actually be released, dating back to 1999. Kamui, as it’s known, is widely regarded as one of the best PC-exclusive shoot ’em ups — and with good reason: it’s absolutely fantastic, and age hasn’t dulled it a single bit.

Kamui’s story is weird and borderline indecipherable, but it’s something to do with psychic weapons and a man turning himself into an orbital satellite laser, only for the transplanted brain of his daughter who is now a spaceship to blast off in the hope of preventing him obliterating humanity for the second time in its history. All you need to know is that you take the role of that daughter-brain-spaceship combo and your aim is to blow up everything in your path.

Kamui is often compared to Taito’s RayStorm series owing to its multi-layered gameplay. In contrast to most shoot ’em ups, where your shots can hit enemies both on the ground and in the air, Kamui unfolds on two distinct planes. Enemies that are on the same plane as your ship can be hit with your regular shots, but enemies that are “deeper into” the screen — i.e. below your ship in most cases — must be attacked using a lock-on lightning attack.

Your basic attack is an upgradeable rapid-firing shot ahead, and there are no limitations on using this. Powering it up increases the intensity and spread of the barrage, but it’s still a relatively narrow area of coverage compared to some other shoot ’em ups, so accuracy is vital.

By holding down both the regular fire button and the lightning attack button, you can fire out a powerful lightning laser in front of you for a limited period. This not only deals heavy damage to enemies on the same plane as you, it also cancels most bullets, and is particularly useful for carving a save path for yourself through particularly intense attack patterns.

Kamui

The lightning laser is limited by a gauge in the corner of the screen, which fills up from right to left with a red colour while the laser is in use. When the red gauge reaches maximum, the laser cannot be fired again until it cools off a little — but you also need to bear in mind that this affects your other lightning attack, too.

The lock-on lightning attack uses the same gauge, this time filling from left to right with a blue colour. The higher the blue gauge is when you use the lock-on lightning attack, the more targets will be locked on to simultaneously, and the gauge can be charged more quickly by holding the lightning attack button by itself. This also has the effect of cooling the lightning laser.

In other words, the lightning gauge is pretty critical to Kamui’s mechanics, as both “ends” of it are useful under particular circumstances. The game is designed in such a way that enemies in the “background” which require the lock-on lightning are quite frequent — and also your main source of big points — while the lightning laser is useful for quickly clearing out powerful enemies and cancelling dangerous bullet patterns.

Kamui

The boss battles in Kamui take full advantage of all these mechanics, with boss enemies often swooping in and out of the background as part of their attack patterns. This adds an interesting twist on a common shoot ’em up formula — during sequences where, in other shoot ’em ups, the boss would become untargetable, Kamui allows you to continue the assault while they’re lurking in the background.

It takes a bit of getting used to — particularly getting your head around the fact that you can safely move over the top of the boss while it’s in the background! — but it really makes for battles with an interesting sense of pace and rhythm to them.

In contrast to the other two The Tale of ALLTYNEX games, which used polygonal visuals to varying degrees, Kamui is entirely bitmap-based, and thus runs at a maximum resolution of 800×600 — make sure to set your monitor or TV’s aspect ratio to 4:3 for the best experience if you have the option. Despite this low resolution, it looks absolutely fantastic, though, with imaginative enemy design, distinctive and clear visual cues, and varied stage design.

Kamui

In keeping with the rest of the Tale of ALLTYNEX games, Kamui has something of a cinematic feel to it in terms of how the backgrounds move; there’s lots of swooping around, flying inside things and descending into dark, scary tunnels. There’s a particularly interesting boss fight late in the game where you battle a variant of the ALLTYNEX computer that summons holograms of a couple of bosses from the previous games, too, which provides a nice feeling of finality to this sequence.

The music, too, is great. While there’s a bit of a “’90s MIDI” sound to it — understandably, given its release date — it’s well-composed, featuring catchy and recognisable themes plus a real sense of drama. From start to finish, Kamui feels like you’re in a desperate fight for survival, and that energy is relentless right up until the final boss encounter.

In terms of difficulty, Kamui isn’t the easiest shoot ’em up out there, particularly while you’re getting to grips with its unusual mechanics, but it’s also fairly short and generously provides you with infinite continues to use as you see fit — though only the score from your first credit is recorded in the high score table. Your ship can also take multiple hits per life, giving it a much less punishing feel than some other games in the genre.

Kamui

Thanks to these generous inclusions, you can easily battle through the whole game to enjoy the entire experience as a spectacle, then get working on your skills on individual stages in order to improve your game. And, when you’re confident with a 1CC on the default Easy difficulty level, ramp it up to Normal or Maniac for a stiffer challenge!

Despite its age, Kamui is an absolutely magnificent shoot ’em up that every enthusiast should have in their collection alongside the other two The Tale of ALLTYNEX titles. Following the closure of Nyu Media a few weeks back, the ALLTYNEX games have been picked up by prolific doujin publisher Henteko Doujin, so it seems like they’re in good hands for now. So if you’re in the mood for some top-tier 32-bit-style blasting, nab yourself a copy of Kamui now — you won’t be disappointed!

Kamui is available now for PC via Steam.

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Pete Davison
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