Bullet Hell Shooters are something of a niche genre. Although first conceived in the 80’s, Japan in the 90’s hit heavy with this concept of ‘you are one person with one gun, your enemy has more, get ready to dodge’. From the top down classics like DonPachi and Ikaruga to more modern versions like Jamestown and even Geometry Wars. Project Root from OPQAM looks to join the small list of western developers trying to make it big with the Shmup genre.
Normally Bullet Hell Shooters follow a formula, you are a small ship of some kind and you scroll vertically or horizontally shooting enemies in front of you whilst hundreds of pixel bullets fly around requiring you to pull of brave manoeuvres to out fly the enemy ships and munitions. Project Root takes this concept and flips it. Instead of the usual permanently scrolling screen of most Shmups you are now given an open area for you to fly 360 degrees around. On the face of it this is an interesting concept; complete objectives in this open map whilst avoiding enemy fire, the problem is that there is a difference between a Shmup and a twin stick shooter, and at its core this game seems to have gone with Shmup where it would have benefitted from being a twin stick shooter.
You can fly your ship around a huge map, taking on primary and secondary objectives ranging from destroy this building to destroy this other building. In your arsenal you have ground and air attacks and from pick-ups you gain a super screen wipe attack picking off all enemies around. There is no ammo limit for the ground or air attacks, as such you may as well just hold down the shoot buttons permanently and spin in a circle. To be blunt, this needs to be your main form of attack in this game. With normal Shmups you know that the enemies are coming from the front, they may wave around the screen but generally you know where to look, making Project Root a 360 degree open map means that enemies can shoot you from behind. On the face of it that may sound reasonable, but when your ship is so low down the screen at all times and the radar being wonky at best it means most of your deaths will come from being shot in the back. On top of that you’ll find yourself flying for long periods of time not really feeling like your achieving anything. Most of the missions will have you fly from one side of the map to another repeatedly, and that’s before secondary objectives, long haul flights are not this games strong point.
There are parts of Project Root that look great, the explosions, the bullets, parts of the landscape, but then you see the art on the Xbox and Playstation Store. There’s an overall feel of the 90’s in this game. The UI on the menus, although functional, aren’t exactly inspired, the audio is an overly repetitive heavy beat techno/dance track. Everything just looks a bit too shiny, everything just looks a bit too ‘budget’. Putting aside potential snobbishness there are basic design issues that should have been ironed out in the beta tests. All fonts in the game are tiny and the layout is awful. There is a story hiding behind the game somewhere but with giant text boxes being shown on the screen but the font size being tiny and only using a third of the space available you have to wonder why no one pointed out issues with this layout. In game text appears in a small speech field in the lower right of the screen, but reading whilst playing a Shmup is hard enough, add to that a font so small it reminds me of the old issues Dead Rising had when that first came out on 360.
The real problem is with Project Root that it has a lot of potential, there’s a core concept there that in small bursts is fun and can be exciting, but then you realise that after you get a couple of levels in the game is cruel in its difficulty and not all that interesting. In short form quick sessions Project Root could be a game you could have fun with, there’s a concept here that on paper sounds fun and to some individuals it may stick, but for the vast majority the overall presentation and flaws in the gameplay will cause stress and, at times, boredom. The game had and has potential to be something awesome and something fun, it’s just a shame that a number of design decisions made during production are somewhat uninspired.