Low-key PlayStation 2 budget title Mobile Light Force 2 wasn’t quite what it seemed. The box art suggested an explosion-packed shooter starring third-rate Charlie’s Angels, when in fact it was a heavily butchered version of the hardcore Japanese shooter Castle of Shikigami. When word began to spread – this being a time when arcade shooters rarely left Japan – fans of the genre quickly descended upon supermarkets, petrol stations, and convenience stores to track down the crudely rebranded delight.  

Some twenty years later, the very thought of a publisher trying to disguise a game’s roots seems absurd. Modern-day digital marketplaces cater for all tastes – a free-for-all where visual novels can rub shoulders with AAA-titles with million-dollar marketing campaigns. This, for better or worse, means fans of niche genres no longer need to rummage through bargain bins to find smaller titles that pique their fancy. Simply load up PSN or the eShop, and you’ll instantly find something to suit.

Handled by Alfa System, the team behind Castle of Shikigami III, this vertical shooter is a spiritual successor, even featuring a returning role for one of the original cast. It’s colourful, bold and brash and it couldn’t be prouder of its roots, being unashamedly twee. The story entails five feuding sisters who come together on common ground – they all have a crush on Yashin, a blonde-haired silver-tongued cavalier. Sibling rivalry then ensues, as the five sisters set about battling one another to win Yashin’s affections, with plenty of arguing and petty name-calling along the way.

It borrows ideas from its spiritual predecessor, including the ‘tension system’ – the ability to increase firepower by flying close to incoming bullets. It’s a satisfying mechanic, prompting players to dice with death in return for notably increase damage. The five playable characters each have their own bullet formation, ranging from spread shots to homing bullets. Unique summon abilities set them further apart, such as a large crucifix which can be spun around by rotating the analogue stick, and a red fiery demon that whizzes around the screen.

Proficient use racks up large combos, sending countless coins your way. Throw stockpile of bombs into the mix, and there’s plenty to experiment with while focusing on high scores and one credit runs.

Visually it’s rather pleasing, favouring bright colours, but there are telling signs that the developers didn’t have the biggest budget to work with. As soon as the second stage pallet swapped enemies appear, including the blob-like creatures present in each world. More significantly, the five mid-level bosses are nothing more than rotating 3D cubes of varying size. The lack of variety here makes for an experience that isn’t as imaginative as it could have been.

Each stage ends with a confrontation with a love rival, ergo playable character models are reused here once again. Adding to this, the girls are pitted against themselves in a ‘mirror match’, disguised as a battle with their subconscious. If you were expecting outlandish bosses, you’ll have to settle for girl-on-girl scraps instead. No hair pulling or nails; just hypnotic waves of projectiles.

The five stages – which last around 5-6 minutes each – are at least remarkably different from one another due to featuring unique environmental hazards. The snow world has slippery pools of ice, for instance, while a later stage includes bellowing turbines. Learning how to overcome these hazards while trying to memorise enemy attack patterns puts a subtle twist on things. Incidentally, head to the options menu and you’ll find ways to tinker with bullet sizes and speed settings, as well as the ability to flip the screen horizontally.

With a typical runtime of around 20 minutes, Sisters Royale is an experience all too fleeting. That said, this is par for the course for the genre. Continues are infinite, even on hard mode, allowing even novices to see the ending screens with minimal effort. Within two hours we were able to complete the game on all three difficulties with all five characters. However, our score rankings were terrible, and Sisters Royale is a thoroughbred score chaser.

It wants to see you do better, encouraging you to play smarter and improve by tracking scores for each stage and featuring a list of stats at the end of each run. Go for ‘SS Rank’ and it’ll serve you well; aim for a one credit run and you’re in for the long haul. This is an experience fixated on replay value, with a long list of trophies to prove it.

Despite being more a straightforward example of the genre, it’s no less satisfying and it’s also more accessible as a result of its simplicity. If you’re keen to rise to the challenge of perfecting a shooter, retrying and learning by mistakes to master a perfect run, this is a good place to start. It isn’t too overwhelming, and it always provides the tools to emerge victorious, rising up the high score tables in the process. The delightfully silly premise finishes off this small package perfectly.  

SCORE
7