I don’t often get the chance to play shoot ‘em ups, especially modern ones, but Pawarumi caught my eye last year and I knew I had to try it out. It released on Steam on the 30th January at $16.99 USD (£12.99 GBP) and there is an Xbox One release planned in the future.

Pawarumi is a vertical scrolling shoot ‘em up set in what the developers, Manufacture43, describe as a retro futuristic sci-fi pre-Columbian universe. Now you may be thinking “that’s a lot of words, Kemp, but what does it mean” and, let me tell you, you wouldn’t be the first person to think that. The simplest explanation is that this is the world we could be living in if ancient civilisations didn’t die out but instead developed technologies based on light and gravity. Oh, and harnessed the power of actual gods in their weapons. That too.

Pawarumi
Pawarumi delivers some gorgeous level designs

My mental model of a vertical scrolling shoot ‘em up always involved trying to find the best weapon pickup to deal with the seemingly endless waves of enemies. Typically the background would be fairly plain—maybe an ocean or a desert—and the player and enemy graphics would be either military or cartoonish. This is perhaps an outdated view, but it is where I was coming from. Pawarumi turned this model on its head. From the detailed backgrounds to the bright neon colours of the ships and weapons it is a visual treat. Being a modern game built in a 3D engine certainly helps in the visual department as well, with short in-engine cutscenes bookending each level showing your ship and the scenery from new and interesting angles.

Pawarumi desert
Pawarumi levels are bookended by in-engine cutscenes showing the world from a new angle

Your ship, Chukaru, is equipped with three different weapons granted by the aforementioned gods. There is the Serpent’s weapon, firing a narrowing cone of shots that swirl around each other, the Condor’s weapon, a piercing laser that can penetrate through multiple enemy ships, and the Jaguar’s weapon, a barrage of homing missiles. While these don’t push any boundaries in terms of basic weapon types, the developers have gone all in on filling them with a sense of raw power. The three weapons each have a distinct look and feel, leaving no confusion as to which is being used, and the visual effects associated with them could never be described as subtle.

Pawarumi Lava map
The Condor weapon is a blue beam weapon that will smash through anything in its way

There are no upgrades for these weapons, but the way they interact with enemies is where the player has the opportunity to deploy some tactics. The enemies also come in three flavours based on the same gods as your weapons. Each weapon can have three effects depending on the colour of the enemy ship: Crush, which will double the damage caused, Drain, which charges your super attack, and Boost, which recharges your shield but also causes the enemy ship to attack faster with stronger shots. Which combination makes the most sense will change from moment to moment, leading to some quick decision making at times. Beginner players may find some difficulty in remembering the colour combinations, but that is resolved with practice.

Each level is rounded off with a boss battle making clever use of constructs consisting of multiple independently moving objects. The first boss, for example, has a central platform along with two additional side platforms, all of which shoot at you in various combinations. For this one you’ll want to get the central platform down to low health and then destroy the side ones, allowing you to quickly finish off the centre. This allows you to rack up the most points, while avoiding the interesting (read: very dangerous) behaviour change that occurs if you allow a single part of the boss to survive long past the others.

Pawarumi spoopy boss
Each level ends with a fight against a boss much larger than the player ship

I’ll be honest, I picked up this game for the colourful weapons and the big explosions. If you’re interested in the backstory, though, then that is provided in the form of brief character-based cutscenes explaining how you came to be fighting your way through endless waves of ships. The story involves a war, betrayal, and the player setting out to right some wrongs. The game’s Steam page describes it briefly as:

IN A WORLD where the Council rules the nations with an iron fist, you play as Axo, pilot of the legendary ship Chukaru. Experience her fight with the limitless armies of the Council, become the master of Chukaru’s power and find the true meaning behind all your actions. A dark secret is yet to be revealed!

There is possibly more depth here than your typical shoot ‘em up, so put a tick in that box if you’re keeping score.

Overall, Pawarumi is a challenging and fun game. It may start out with a more difficult learning curve than your average shoot ‘em up due to the colour coded weapons and enemies, but with some practice you’ll soon be juggling all three effects without a second thought. Oh, and I don’t think I’m allowed to finish a review of this game without referencing a certain other well-known game with three options. *ahem* It’s like sci-fi rock-paper-scissors with lasers. Nailed it.