Gal Gun Returns is a return to the first game from the franchise. The primary issue is that the solid mechanics strewn throughout the game’s story mode clash with one another. Fortunately, the new Gal Gun Returns Doki Doki Carnival mode isolates and improves Doki Doki Mode. The result is a game with a mode that isn’t marred by clashing concepts.
The core conceit in Gal Gun Returns’ story mode is that the incompetence of the cupid-in-training Patako led to a situation in which the normally unpopular protagonist, Tenzou, is overwhelmingly alluring to most of the women he’ll encounter. As such, they roam the game world like frenzied zombies to try to sate their thirst. They have weak points that the player can exploit with “Euphoria Shots.” Unlike zombies, this weak point is very rarely their head. If they aren’t successfully dealt with, they will steal Tenzou’s attention and prevent him from meeting the love of his life. Due to Patako’s interference, he only has one day to find true love.
The story mode consists of multiple routes, each built atop three types of gameplay. Dialogue sections inject a dating sim element, rail-shooting areas carry the player between story scenes, and there are shooting gallery segments. The shooting gallery sections involve route-specific challenges that reflect the main love interest’s distinct personality and Doki Doki Mode, a finite resource that creates a surge of euphoria in any character the player targets. Once Doki Doki Mode is activated, the screen switches to focus on the targeted character. The player can pan the camera around them to stare and shoot at different parts of their body.
The goal here is to zoom in on different parts, which fill a gauge at different rates. If the player zooms in for too long, the girls will respond by covering themselves up, often even asking Tenzou to stop what he’s doing. Once the gauge is full, the girl responds with over-the-top cries of pleasure. The euphoria then radiates from her, infecting every character on the screen at the time.
Doki Doki Mode’s primary function, mechanically, is to help the player manage crowds in overwhelming situations. These are few and far between, though, and it is possible and faster to complete the rail-shooting sections without using it. Players who find the ability breaks up the flow of the game or feel uncomfortable with its inherent role reversal can nearly eliminate its presence in the story.
On the other hand, players who prefer Doki Doki Mode’s general vibe and want more of it, can dive into the Gal Gun Returns Doki Doki Carnival. Doki Doki Carnival is set after Gal Gun Returns’ main story. Like the main story, it also offers multiple routes. The biggest distinction between the two modes is that Doki Doki Mode is the primary form of gameplay. Beyond that, the mode challenges the player to fill multiple character gauges at once, which offers a frantic feel and increase in overall difficulty.
While Doki Doki Carnival represents an opportunity for a subset of players, it isn’t isolated from rail-shooting entirely. Doki Doki Carnival isn’t available until the player earns a “True Ending” in one of the four main storylines. This makes sense, though, as Doki Doki Carnival functions as an epilogue that explores main story’s aftermath in a tale that features the angel Ekoro. However, earning the best ending to unlock it can be difficult and easy to mess up. As such, I feel it might have been better to also include Doki Doki Carnival’s gameplay in a separate mode that doesn’t rely on the main game. Especially for players who don’t want binge on the story until they manage to unlock a true ending.
Doki Doki Carnival is a Gal Gun Returns mode with potential. The decision to lock the mode behind story progression means players won’t be able to enjoy the Doki Doki Mode-centric gameplay without playing through the main story, where Doki Doki Mode feels more like an unnecessary detractor, but that’s the price of tying the mode to an epilogue. But if fans enjoy the story, then Doki Doki Carnival will serve them well on multiple levels. Fanservice might be the proverbial best foot that Inti Creates is putting forward here, and iterative changes to the initial formula demonstrate their ability to design a quality experience. Doki Doki Carnival demonstrates what that experience could look like without disparate, clashing elements. Hopefully future iterations can accomplish a similar thing with the game’s shooting gallery sections.