Akane’s job is not to be envied. As gunner on the airborne Pink Aurora gunship, it’s his duty to operate its four cannons simultaneously, each one pointing in a different cardinal direction and functioning completely differently from the rest. At the nose of the ship is a focused laser beam; at its rear, a rapid-firing spray; from its roof comes a series of arcing projectiles; and from the floor emerges a surprisingly powerful water cannon. He’s not alone though: Aoba joins Akane aboard the Pink Aurora as navigator. The two of them —high school students turned unwitting evildoers and eventually heroes— are the protagonists of Dezatopia, determined to thwart their schoolmate’s plan to combine the human and demon worlds via a colossal tower.
In time-honoured videogame tradition, saving the world is a battle these two will fight in the form of a 2D space shooter. However, progressing through the game’s dozens of scrolling stages quickly makes one thing clear: Dezatopia is not a typical shoot ‘em up. Every stage shuffles the proverbial deck by combining enemies, stage components and hazards in ways that make level changes far more significant than a mere re-painting of the backdrop. On top of this, there’s the multi-directional firepower of the Pink Aurora, necessary because of how enemies are liable to approach from any part of the screen. Each weapon builds power when not in use, making the first in a series of shots super sized, mega powerful and intensely gratifying. Imagine squeezing a hosepipe, letting the water build up and finally releasing the spray of water all at once: it’s sort of like that, except with more explosions. Mid-level shops allow for frequent upgrading of weapons too, meaning that each subsequent level leaves the Pink Aurora yet more powerful and more fun to fly.
When it comes to content, Dezatopia dwarfs other games in its genre. 24 stages, each with unique enemies, bosses and interactive components; a surprisingly well-written little story that doesn’t impose itself upon more action-orientated players; and hundreds of unlocks including artwork, character profiles and story vignettes make for a game that provides a seriously compelling reason to come back time after time. With that said, no single playthrough will reveal more than about five levels or last longer than half an hour thanks to the various ‘routes’ that offer a different mix of levels, complete with a unique overarching task. These tasks aren’t exactly inspired, often requiring the player to reach a certain score or finish a specified stage within a time limit, but they do further increase the game’s longevity. Plus, fulfilment of them is required to unlock the final Tower stage and reach the ending —a word I use lightly, considering how a dedicated player could see ‘the ending’ dozens of times without any sense of monotony.
Rattling off a list of weapons, enemies and stages as individual —back of the box style— components doesn’t quite capture what’s most striking about Dezatopia: the jaw-dropping, unrestrained chaos of its moment to moment gameplay. With all manner of projectiles flying in from every which way, looking more like a pixel art firework display than an enemy force, the game is a workout for the eyes in —mostly— the best possible way.
Only when it comes time to read some in-game text does that workout become a slog. On the Switch at least, text suffers from a strangely ‘fuzzy’ effect that makes it genuinely difficult to read. It’s a shame too, for as much as story and dialogue isn’t the main appeal of this genre, Dezatopia has some charming mini-dialogues that add some real personality where there needn’t have been any.
It’d be impossible to discuss the game’s chaotic style without touching upon its soundtrack. Composed in-house by HEY, the game’s developer, its 52 chiptune tracks overlay the mayhem perfectly. While not exactly the kind of music likely to entertain many dinner parties, it succeeds in amplifying the action and adding yet more personality to an already irresistible title.
Dezatopia is a spectacle that gets more impressive the better it’s played. With the most satisfying-to-use weapons this side of DOOM and a seemingly endless variety of enemies to use them on, there aren’t many stronger cases to be made for the return of the 2D scrolling shooter. Some niggles regarding unclear dialogue are a shame, although the game doesn’t provide much mandatory reading so it’s hardly an issue.
Dezatopia (Reviewed on Nintendo Switch)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
Dezatopia is a spectacle that gets more impressive the better it’s played. With the most satisfying-to-use weapons this side of DOOM and a seemingly endless variety of enemies to use them on, there aren’t many stronger cases to be made for the return of the 2D scrolling shooter.