My demo impressions of Ketsui: Death Label were more spot on than I realized. Arika did not port Ketsui to the Nintendo DS. Ketsui: Death Label cuts out the stages and gets straight to boss fights. The game starts with only three modes novice, normal, and doom mode. Normal mode throws four giant ships for you to shoot down. Two of them are actual EVAC bosses from the arcade game Ketsui. The other two are mid-bosses. Clearing normal mode shouldn’t be a problem and it unlocks Hard A, an extended boss rush with a few planes and battleships leading up to a large boss battle. You get the illusion of playing part of a stage here, but make no mistake Ketsui: Death Label is mostly boss fights. There is a cool surprise in Ketsui: Death Label that I won’t spoil here.
Even though you’re not getting a full arcade port Ketsui: Death Label is a blast to play. Arika did a fantastic job scaling the experience of a bullet hell boss battle on one tiny DS screen. Arika could have stretched Ketsui: Death Label to both screens, but that would be annoying when bullets linger in the hinge. The team did a fine job compressing everything to a single screen anyway. Ketsui: Death Label is fast and there isn’t slowdown to worry about. Bullets blaze by you and you have to dodge them or die. Well, Ketsui: Death Label is pretty forgiving. If you get hit once your bombs automatically explode clearing the bullets from the screen and saving you from losing a life. But this doesn’t make you invincible. Once you’re out of bombs the next hit kills you and using the bomb save consumes your entire stock of bombs. Don’t like this feature? You can turn it off in the options menu.
Dodging waves of flashing bullets is a critical skill for any shooter, but Ketsui is a different beast. Your ship comes equipped with gunpods that lock on to a boss. The missiles aren’t as powerful as a direct laser blast, but once you’re locked on you can shift your attention towards dodging. This system also allows bosses in Ketsui: Death Label to force you into a corner where you wouldn’t be able to shoot back if you didn’t have your missile launchers. When you whittle the ship in the second fight in Hard A mode down to its final bar it throws bullets in a loop. You have to stay ahead of it by following the loop around the boss. At more than one point, like when the boss is behind you, your laser is out of range. The only way you can shoot the boss is it with the missiles.
The reason why you still want to use the laser instead of cowering in a corner is to earn more points. Shooting a ship directly makes it drop multipliers which greatly increase your score. The bottom screen has an inventory of all the multipliers you snagged to increase your score. Blasting bosses with the laser is the main way to boost your multiplier, but you can also wait for the screen to fill with bullets then use a bomb to change the stray bullets to multipliers. Getting high scores remove panels from EVAC reports to reveal pictures, Ketsui: Death Label’s internal reward system.
That’s about all there is to Ketsui: Death Label. It’s a simple concept to understand and a tough game to master. However, with enough practice you can “learn” about the shooting genre and master bullet patterns. Arika’s game has a helpful training mode so you can select a single boss to practice on. Shooter enthusiasts will want to practice with something more difficult like Doom mode where you face the difficult boss over and over until you run out of lives. Cave fans will get a kick out of a comic book style developer chat – if they can read Japanese. Ketsui: Death Label is extremely import friendly if you don’t care about the special Ask IKD-san series of comics. All of the other key text in the game, like the menus, is in English.
Most of the challenge modes can be beat in under ten minutes. This makes Ketsui: Death Label a great time killer for short car rides.
Images courtesy of Arika.