This title was reviewed on Nintendo Switch, but is also available on Xbox One and PC.
It’s always really cool to see a new take on an old classic genre. Let’s face it – mainstream gaming, bolstered by the indie market, have pretty much covered everything (as my recent personal playthrough of Genital Jousting drove home). Pawarumi is a vertical scrolling shmup with a “Neo-Aztec” theme, partly funded by the French National Centre for Cinema and the Moving Image.
Pawarumi is a looker, that’s for sure. The detailing of ancient Aztec architecture and art are an absolutely perfect match for the bright hues of colour that permeate through the entire game. Stylistically, think of the temples and watchers in Breath of the Wild. With the core mechanic being around colour, this clean but detailed approach is fantastic and makes it easy to pick out targets, threats, and most importantly, gaps in the swathes of projectiles chucked at your ship!
Whilst the gameplay is 2D, the 3D graphics add a great depth to the carnage and sense of perspective, and real-time cutscenes make you feel closer to the action. There’s some great artwork as well – it’s a tidy overall package.
Performance-wise, we’re looking at 30fps on Switch, which may come as a disappointment to some, but we all know that prettiness does come at a price.
For a shoot em up, Pawarumi puts in the legwork to build a decent story!
You play as Axo, pilot of the sacred artifact Chukaru…which is conveniently an attack craft, too. You’re looking to wright to wrongs of your former peers and spiritual advisors in the fairest way possible – exploding them in combat! Your quest for vengeance takes place in an alternate future, where humans have mastered gravity and light to build huge stone civilizations. In fact, the title Pawarumi is made up of the Quechua language words of ‘to fly’ and ‘rocks’!
Whilst the effort is duly noted, there’s only so much you can do over the space of five levels; as mentioned before, it’s a pretty unique and well-conceived setting, but you’re not going to get the sort of depth from a 10+ hour adventure! Pawarumi still stands ahead of other titles in the genre.
Shmups, arguably more than any other genre, live or die by their mechanics, be they tight and simple powerup trees like Gradius, or have a more significant ‘gimmick’ such as Psyvariar‘s grazing system or Mars Matrix‘s black hole. Pawarumi introduces the ‘Trinity Mechanic’ – your three core weapons of a rapid-fire blaster, laser, and homing missiles each have a coloured element. Enemies are also powered by these colours.
“But Ikaruga did that!” I hear you cry! Well, true, but things get a lot more in-depth here. Your weapons not only output damage, but have different effects based on what colour you’re using. Matching colours causes ‘boost’, recharging your shield but buffing the enemy at the same time. Using one of the different elements will use ‘crush’ or ‘drain’, which deal double-damage or charge up the superweapon respectively. Whilst the stakes aren’t quite as high as Ikaruga in that the wrong colour will kill you, it gives the game a fantastic depth and real flexibility, depending on if you want to play defensively and slurp up shield power or go all-out on the damage and supers.
It’s such a joy to play that one of the biggest frustrations is that the game is relatively short. The game is only five levels long max (although the plot changes slightly between difficulties). It gets insanely hard on later levels, which is great, but high-scores are really all there is to shoot for (which is lucky, as the scoring system is very deep too!)
Manufacture 43 describe Pawarumi as having a “Peruvian Electro Metal Soundtrack”. If like me you have no idea what to expect, it’s full of bassy beats and electronica twang – perfect for the setting. If you’re curious, the game’s website has a music player to check it out!
Sound effects are good too, with each of your weapons having a distinct audio profile to help you in the mental gymnastics needed to master the blasting/trinity system!
The Nintendo Switch is becoming somewhat of a hit for shoot em’ ups new and old. If you’re not scared of a challenge and want something that feels fresh, definitely grab Pawarumi if you can. It might not have many levels, bells, or whistles, but it is just so great to play at its core and is so pretty that it definitely deserves a place in the library of anyone who loves blasting stuff. It’s also available on Xbox One, and PC, but you cant beat a shmup on the go.