While there are plenty of Western developed shoot-em-ups (shmups) coming out these days, it's still pretty rare that many of them boast high production values. In comes Pawarumi, a French-developed game that takes many of inspiration from the great STG's of the past including Ikaruga and even non-shooters like Treasure Super Gunstar Heroes in its approach to accessing different story content. The end result is a shooter that's well-made, very difficult, and not for everyone; even for fans of the genre.
Pawarumi takes place in a fictional version of pre-Columbian era Aztec culture, but with highly advanced technology. The protagonist is a vengeful and rebellious soldier named Axo, fighting against what appear to be personifications of Aztec deities. While most of that is unclear, you get the gist that Axo can no longer tolerate the injustices committed by the Empire. I'd tell you more but 1) that'd be spoilers, and 2) the game's too hard for me to attempt to glean more from the story. To add to that, each difficulty setting reveals a bit more of the story each time, so it's worth it to play from easy to hard, one mode at a time.
The gameplay might seem familiar to shmup fans at first, but there are a few things to keep things interesting. Using a three weapon system called Trinity, Pawarumi takes on a more Rock/Paper/Scissors approach to combat. Your weapons are color-coded, and each not only has a different function, but also manage your super and shield gauges. Spirit Attacks are done with the green Serpent Gatling Gun, drain attacks with the Red Jaguar Missiles, and Crush Attacks with the Blue Condor Laser.
Enemies are also color-coded, and defeating the color appropriate ships with the same colored attacks will fill the meter of the weapon gauge your weapons are tied to. The red missile attacks fill your super weapon gauge, while the green one fills your shield. Blue crush attacks can also contribute to your score multiplier. Not only that, but certain weapons work better on certain colors, even if it doesn't fill your gauge. So the player has a large risk versus reward balancing act to choose between surviving, filling your gauges, or going for a high score.
It's a lot to take in, and Pawarumi is still very difficult. While the Shield gauge essentially lets you take three hits before you die, it replaces a traditional life system, so maintaining it to have levels high enough to endure extra hits is something to consider (especially since the game has made a very brutal system of not having continues). So if you want to experience all three story paths, you'll need to get really good and essentially do a 1-Credit-Clear three times on increasing difficulty. That is something that's a bit of a sore point for players like me!
Other than that one design decision, the game is well made. The soundtrack is great, and it's visually stunning on even the Switch version, with 60 frames performance in both docked and portable modes. But at the end of the day, Pawarumi is an experience that can only be heartily recommended for the hardcore crowd. More casual fans should look to something else like Rolling Gunner.
The Good: The game is well-made with good performance and visuals on the Switch.
The Bad: The lack of an actual tutorial might leave on confused on the gameplay mechanics.
The Ugly: No continues in a tough game that needs to be beaten on the higher difficulties to explore everything in the story, make it a game where only the hardcore need apply.
SUMMARY: Pawarumi is a well-made, but very difficult shmup that makes it more recommendable for skilled veterans of the genre.
Eric is a freelance writer and has a podcast called RPGrinders, and you can support their Patreon page here.