The internet has given many things to the modern world, but for gamers one of the best is these little bundles of awesome that pop up on various e-stores every so often. Sometimes indie hits, sometimes one-off experiments from established studios, these are the games that come out of nowhere and somehow or another manage to just get everything right. Liberation Maiden had all the marks of such a title the moment it hit the Nintendo eShop, and unsurprisingly the telltale signs don’t lie.
Liberation Maiden comes from Japanese game studios Level 5 and Grasshopper Manufacture and creator Goichi Suda, aka Suda51. Grasshopper Manufacture is famous for telling oddball stories, and Liberation Maiden is no exception, although it actually falls on the sensible side of the developers’ usual work. Japan has been laid waste by a growing force bent on world domination known as The Dominion. But never fear, for on a massive ship serving as the Japanese’ place of residence for the time being a new government is formed and a president is chosen to lead New Japan to victory against The Dominion. That is, until he is shortly assassinated, once again putting the future of Japan up in the air. Thankfully his daughter, Shoko Ozora, steps up to the plate and is voted in as the second president of New Japan. And what exactly is a president to do in such circumstances? Why, hop on a flying mech named Komoe and take down the bad guys yourself, of course, spreading peace and greenery wherever you go! It’s the sort of odd premise you’ll probably only find in Japan, and yet it is executed in such a way that the result is not puzzling in the least, but rather just plain good fun.
Not only does Liberation Maiden boast a unique story, but also unique gameplay that does one of the best jobs I’ve seen at utilizing the Nintendo 3DS’s touchscreen. Your left hand will be occupied with the D-pad and L trigger as usual, but rather than operate the face buttons your right hand will use the 3DS’ stylus to paint around the touchscreen to target enemies. If such aiming mechanics sound too precise to be challenging, you are sorely mistaken. Enemies take many forms, and come at you constantly. Oh, and there’s one other little detail I forgot to mention: your shields are your ammunition. Fire off your heat-seeking missiles or laser beam uncontrollably and you’ll quickly find yourself vulnerable to attack, and once your shields are out your health won’t last you long. Of course your energy recharges, but the limitations are plenty severe enough to keep your attacks in check.
Missions in the game take a small variety of forms, but mostly boil down to search-and-destroy objectives that lead you along the path of taking down several energy-harvesting machines called “Lesser Spikes” to render a giant “Greater Spike” vulnerable to attack. Greater Spike battles play out as mini boss fights of dramatically increasing difficulty, each culminating in the use of Komoe’s “Sacrifice Drive”, a weapon with the power to destroy a Greater Spike, or if used too slowly, Komoe and Madam President themselves.
Liberation Maiden is fast and furious arcade shoot’em-up fun, topped with a pretty terrific J-Pop soundtrack and great voice acting, but sadly the developers only saw fit to include four missions and a boss fight in the game. While there are a number of unlockables that explain the game’s story and being an arcade game you can always go back to try and beat your own high score, there’s no getting around that the game feels short. Skilled players will easily be able to push through in an hour, and that includes tackling some of the optional mission objectives. The style and gameplay are plenty to keep you coming back for more, so it would’ve been nice to see at least 10 missions or even randomly generate the whole thing to keep the same four levels fresh. At $7.99 you’re not exactly getting bang for your buck—just a whole lotta bang. If you own a 3DS and have any interest at all in Japanese-style games, you owe it to yourself to make the splurge and give Liberation Maiden a go. Despite its literal shortcoming, it is still one of the best titles the Nintendo eShop currently has to offer.