A century in the future, Japan's teenage president must protect the country from harm by fighting enemies in her giant flying robot suit. Or something like that. The premise of Liberation Maiden, a recently released iOS shooter from Level 5, doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but the absurd story works well with the frantic, explosion-heavy gameplay. You don't really know why you're blowing up everything in sight, you just need to do it.
You don't really know why you're blowing up everything in sight
Liberation Maiden is, at its heart, an arcade game. The goals are simple: go here, destroy this, then go there and destroy that. Enemies range from simple tanks and submarines to giant, multi-level towers and massive dragons, and you'll earn points for taking them all out. There isn't really any downtime as the game feeds you a steady stream of missions to tackle. There's a virtual joystick for movement and you simply need to tap on bad guys to fire, which means that your attacks feel precise, but you have slightly less control over your movement. It definitely takes some getting used to. But for a game that started life as a downloadable title on the Nintendo 3DS, it feels surprisingly at home on an iPad.
Aside from the controls, the visuals also had to be adapted for the new platform — and it's a bit more than just an HD upgrade. "We put a lot of care into notching up the graphics for the Retina display, but we also had to focus quite a bit on converting two screens of gameplay into a single screen of touch-based controls that would be comfortable on iOS devices," Level 5 CEO Akihiro Hino and producer Takeshi Ogura told The Verge in an email.
Level 5 is the same studio that partnered with Studio Ghibli on Ni No Kuni, and Liberation Maiden is also a collaboration of sorts. It was directed by enigmatic game creator Suda 51 (No More Heroes, Killer 7) and features cutscenes by animation studio Bones (Fullmetal Alchemist), sounds from Akira Yamaoka (the Silent Hill series), and its title was designed by Hiroshi Hirata, who did design work on the Akira manga. "The project originated from the idea of giving creators the ability to produce games where they could run free with their ideas," Hino and Ogura explain.
While it lasts, 'Liberation Maiden' is quite a bit of mindless fun
It's an all star team that unfortunately didn't seem to have enough time to work together — Liberation Maiden's biggest failing is that it's just five levels long, and can be completed in around two hours. Just as it feels like it's really getting going, it's all over. This is especially disappointing because, while it lasts, Liberation Maiden is quite a bit of mindless fun. Aside from some of the boss encounters, there isn't a whole lot of strategy involved other than being fast and efficient with your trigger finger, but the combat is satisfying and the game never really slows down. It also looks superb on a Retina display — the animated cut scenes are crisp and the in-game 3D is fluid. Sadly, this doesn't extend to the entire experience, as most of the menus and text are disappointingly blurry. It's not a deal breaker, but it adds some rough edges to an otherwise beautiful package.
While the short length is by far the most disappointing thing about Liberation Maiden, this is tempered somewhat by a high score mode, multiple difficulty levels, and the ability to unlock content like cutscenes and character histories. And on a platform like iOS, the ability to pick up the game and blow stuff up for 20 minutes or so works very well. It's also just great to be able to play this kind of game on your iPad, where 3D Japanese mech shooters aren't exactly common. And for Level 5, it could represent just the first step towards a bigger focus on mobile gaming. "Our approach to design as a game company is to make great games, regardless of the platform," say Hino and Ogura. "In other words, we consider the mobile platforms just as viable as consoles for our products."