After Wave: Downfall
After Wave Downfall is an interesting game in the many shmup games that are currently available in 2022. With the many titles I've reviewed this year alone, the genre is currently going through a bit of a revival period. I've discussed modern entries for classics including Cotton Fantasy to the doujin shmup arcade port such as Rolling Gunner. I'd like to say that I'm not a "spring chicken" when it comes to the genre that requires hair-trigger reactions and impressive visuals to pair well with the chaos.
So when I had the chance to review After Wave Downfall, I didn't know what to expect. Going into the game blind, I was actually impressed with the cute chibi-like character models and the enemy design. Due to the nature of the game's story, the enemies are all mutated versions of common animals. Bears, sea turtles, basses, catfishes, and killer plants are all poised to ruin the main characters' days. Why has the wildlife suddenly gone mad? I'll share a screenshot of the story as it is explained to the player following the opening cutscene.
Yeah, so there is definitely a lot to unpack here. Who is the "Megacat?" The "Deathrix" that we're supposed to know for "its cruelty?" The group that apparently had recently "seized another planet" and "changed it to a bad condition to suit their living?" Now they dropped a random purple meteorite that turned all the animals into a rampage? And they now have the powers of bullet hell enemies? There are a lot of questions that sadly I can't say are answered. This is a shame because After Wave Downfall's intro and story are the epitomai of throwing things at a wall and seeing what sticks. Why are these kids piloting watercraft and fighting animals? There's your answer. No further explanation given.
There are cutscenes during parts of story mode but they are used to introduce the end of the level's boss as well as tell the player the aftermath of their efforts. Story mode, which is the meat of the game, is as unconventional as the game's presentation from first impressions. Usually, in shmups, the player has the chance to choose the "normal difficulty" as it provides a full experience. The "easy mode" or "practice mode" depending on the game is used to ease the player in, giving them a handful of levels and encouraging them to try a harder difficulty.
How does After Wave Downfall handle the Story mode? By forcing the player to play on the Easy difficulty. Clearing Easy mode will unlock the Normal mode, and clearing that unlocks the Hard difficulty. The story is split into three parts with "Hard difficulty" tying everything together. The only problem is that on Normal difficulty, there's no variation between the first four levels played on Easy mode save for enemy density and the bosses having higher health pools.
I hate that higher difficulty is locked by playing the other difficulties if the other difficulties are exactly the same save for three exclusive levels. In hard difficulty, you have to replay all 7 levels from the previous difficulty only to THEN experience the hard exclusive levels. This doesn't offer any "replayability," it feels more like padding. I'm getting way ahead of myself, first, let's look at our starting cast of characters. Conall is the standard character meant for those familiar with shoot-em-ups. Tana is more for advanced characters who wish to defeat waves of enemies in an AOE. Lastly, there's Thomas who I feel is for beginners or those who want the least hassle as he has the most health.
There are three bonus characters that the player can unlock with points earned through stages. These points can also be used to upgrade characters, which can make or break runs as it is a necessity. After selecting a character, the player has the option to run the tutorial if it's their first time playing. After Wave Downfall is a behind-the-back perspective shmup, controlling characters on hovercrafts. The aesthetic is similar to G-Darius as it's very "marine" like with aquatic enemies as the default if you ignore the bear as one of the bosses.
Each character has two skills that act as alternate ways to fire at enemies. To use skills, players need to have energy in their meter. Depending on the character, each skill costs a certain number of energy and it's replenished slowly by defeating enemies or collecting energy cells. There are enough energy cells to generously use a character's skills and they are used to clear out waves of enemies, so don't be afraid to use them. There's also a bomb that recovers over time and deals massive damage.
The structure for each level is generally the same. You fight waves of enemies, reach the first mid-boss, defeat it, fight more waves, maybe fight another mid-boss, then finally the level's boss. There are no checkpoints in the game, making it similar to that of Horgihugh And Friends. If you lose all of your health, you are taken to the results screen and the main menu. You must start the level again, with one exception only.
Clearing the first mid-boss of a level serves as a "soft checkpoint," allowing the player to spend five upgrade points to "repair" their craft. This is great as it acts as the game's continue so long as you have enough credits, but it perplexed me that I had to beat the first mid-boss in order to unlock it in each level. Later levels are absolutely brutal with their enemy placement and bullet patterns. Four health points aren't enough to ensure survivability, leaving it to trial and error. In the later stages, you will die a lot and you will wish you had the opportunity to purchase a repair kit. You could have 90 points and yet it wouldn't matter if you didn't make it past a certain point in the level.
After Wave Downfall is a clunky mess at times but it is within earnest as there was love put into the game, however after a certain point many of its players will stop playing. That's because it is one of the easiest games to achieve 1000 gamerscore or platinum (if you're on PlayStation). I am aware there are players who don't care about achievements and trophies, but in the first level alone the player will be showered with half of the game's achievements. No exaggeration, a player can potentially 1000/1000 the game in a single Easy mode playthrough. At that point, what's keeping the player engaged?
Hence why giving the game a "2-Star" may seem harsh, but in its current price tag there are better shoot-em-ups within that price range, most I have already covered. The story wasn't enough to keep me interested despite its quirky premise, the characters are cute but their biographies leave a lot to be desired. There's also a mini-game mode but it requires playing through Normal mode to unlock most of them. The default one available requires you to avoid the monsters and obstacles present. These are the monsters and obstacles present.
Lastly, the gameplay is frustrating at times when I am unaware of where I took damage from as some enemies and bullets are so tiny I couldn't see as they blended in the environment. It's hard for me to recommend After Wave Downfall which is a shame because it's a fun experience when everything works in its favor. Maybe waiting for a sale discount after is the wave, unless you wish for your wallet to achieve downfall.
After Wave Downfall is available on the Nintendo Switch, Sony PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.