Review: Lewjmele (Microsoft Xbox 360 Indie)

Developer: Prodigy
Publisher: Microsoft
Genre: Vertical Shmup
Release Date: 04/01/2010

We’re known to not ignore the Xbox LIVE Indies service when we can and today’s quick look comes in the form of Prodigy’s Lewjmele, a vertical shmup that hit the service recently. The chosen genre pits Lewjmele against some classic shmup titles on Xbox LIVE Arcade such as Ikaruga, Triggerheart Exlica and 1942, and even other Indie efforts such as Shoot 1Up. Against these titles, Prodigy gives the genre an honest go but, in the end, some much-needed polish is needed to make Lewjmele a contender.

The game’s $5 price point puts it in a better position to appeal to gamers over most of the titles on the Arcade service. As such, though, the title doesn’t come packed with a large amount of features, leaving players with a story mode and a score attack mode. The story mode does offer players the choice of experiencing a cycle of five stages from the unique perspectives of three different characters, which extends the playability of the title a little bit. Otherwise, the score attack mode merely allows the player to choose a specific stage and go for broke. Both modes provide three different difficulty levels, though, so bullet hell veterans can pump up the challenge if they wish. Finally, while character-driven shmups can be acceptable single-player endeavors, it would have been nice to allow a local buddy jump in to add more value to the game modes.

Even though the title is a shmup, Lewjmele actually makes somewhat of an effort to tell a story, which is contrary to many titles in the genre. An ancient weapon “Lewjmele” was discovered by civilization and, over time, it was discovered it could give people the power of necromancy. The weapon was hidden because people began to abuse its powers and, in typical gaming fashion, this weapon gets into the wrong hands once again. As the struggle for power tears the land apart, three heroes from differing nations depart to bring peace to the land. Each character has his or her own story that accompanies the story mode at the beginning of each chapter. Unfortunately, while this should make the game’s characters and world interesting, some of the text is awkwardly translated and it disappears from the screen far too fast for most people to actually read it.

For an Indie title, Lewjmele actually sports some solid presentation. The attempted anime stylings should appeal to those interested in the artform and while a lot of character models aren’t too detailed and can be too small for comfort, they are certainly colorful. The game’s projectiles are also fairly vivid, which allows them to play into Lewjmele’s gem mechanic, which I will detail in just a bit. While the characters are 2-D, they are placed over a generally well-done 3-D background. These backgrounds sport some fair detail and the scrolling is spot on, making transitions such as traversing down a hollow spire in stage five memorable.

Lewjmele’s sound gets the job done without being spectacular. The game’s music provides some energy and drives most of the stages along well enough, but many of the title’s sound effects are meek and it seems certain situations such as boss explosions demand a lot more effects. The title does have some Japanese voiceovers to give the sound its biggest punch, but it could have definitely used some more effects to flesh out the audible experience.

Unfortunately, the gameplay in Lewjmele, doesn’t hold up as well. That’s not to say the title is downright horrible, but some nagging issues, steep difficulty and lack of gameplay explanations really show the title needed some more polish before being unleashed.

Lewjmele shows some innovation in its gem slot mechanic, allowing players to capture gem pieces in one of three slots to dictate the style of their firepower. If the player captures three of the same-colored gem, their aura then turns that color, making them impervious to enemy fire of that color. It’s an intriguing concept that is used fairly well in-game, but this is explained nowhere in the game and it took two to three playthroughs before I understood what exactly the gems did outside of increasing the number of projectiles I shot.

Outside of that mechanic, Lewjmele brings nothing new to the table for the genre, which isn’t exactly bad news for those that love the genre, but you’ll get a share of game issues in tow. The hit detection in some instances, especially for bosses, seemed a tad spotty and there were a number of instances where I felt I shouldn’t have taken a hit, which, coupled with occasional lag, made for a frustrating experience. The bosses also have a number of uninspired bullet patterns, with some cheap ones keeping you from attacking it thanks to the extremely narrow range of your character’s projectiles. The decision to frame the playfield is confusing as there is no arcade monitor aspect ratio to obtain and this results in a very narrow playfield with a lot of wasted space. Lastly, nothing really interesting seems to happen outside of the boss battles, which is a shame, especially considering how short each level is.

With these issues, it’s hard to call Lewjmele addictive and if it weren’t for the roster of different character stories, there would essentially be zero replayability in the title, sans leaderboards. The difficult nature of the title (filling the screen as soon as the first stage, even on easy) won’t do much for casual players and, unfortunately, the options of playing better shmup titles doesn’t bode well for appeal from fans of the genre. There are some options to change factors such as health to your advantage, but given the game gives the player no direction whatsoever, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see someone move on quickly after they fail to grasp some of the game’s mechanics. Ultimately, while the title does have some noticeable high points, it’s hard to say it gives the player value, even at $5.

The Scores
Story/Modes: MEDIOCRE
Graphics: VERY GOOD
Control/Gameplay: DECENT
Replayabiity: POOR
Balance: BAD
Originality: BELOW AVERAGE
Addictiveness: PRETTY POOR
Appeal Factor: POOR
Miscellaneous: POOR

Short Attention Span Summary
Lewjmele is far from the worst game I’ve ever played, but it is disappointing to see its flaws, considering, with a little more polish, it could have been a great addition to a shmup fan’s library. The title has favorable presentation, it actually attempts to give a player a full story and there are some unique stylings to its gameplay. However, its lack of interesting game modes, uninspired stage design, poor hit detection and more really dampen the title’s gameplay and replayability. When you stack the difficulty on top of these issues, the appeal really starts to wane and gamers will most likely move on with their $5. With a solid foundation, though, if Prodigy can move on and remedy these issues, a Lewjmele sequel would likely deliver a lot more value to the player.



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