If you’re feeling sleepy and need a quick jolt to wake you up, a quick round of Crimzon Clover: World EXplosion is a good way to go. It’s an assault on the senses even by bullet hell standards, with so much brightly-coloured plasma and so many shiny gold medals filling the screen at any given time that it could almost get away with not having any backgrounds. It’s as manic as manic gets—but built with such finesse and precision that, despite there being so much stuff flying around the screen, it never loses focus or clarity. Bullet hells are all about controlled chaos, and few demonstrate that quite like Crimzon Clover.
I said as much when World EXplosion made its debut: “a game that is hectic without being overwhelming, where the mesmerising quality of an intricate bullet pattern can always shine through.” Everything in that review remains true of the PC release, which is mostly a direct port, but revisiting now it has given me a chance to reflect on some of its finer points.
Chief among them: Novice Mode. Such modes are becoming increasingly common, as developers working in a fairly niche genre with a reputation for being impenetrable look for ways to broaden their appeal, but the results can be hit or miss. A novice mode that’s easier but still too tough for a complete beginner risks failing in its aim of being a good starting point, but over-simplify and risk creating something that, while approachable and fun, doesn’t really teach you anything that translates to other game modes.
Crimzon Clover’s Novice Mode avoids both traps, delivering one of the most instructive bullet hell lessons I’ve seen this side of Mushihimesama. Even with reduced bullet density slower enemy shots, novice mode still manages to create patterns that are interesting and require a bit of thought to navigate safely. They also look a lot tougher than they actually are, and tend to herd you in the right direction—giving you clues on how to manage their harder-mode equivalents, but also more broadly introducing and reinforcing the techniques needed to deal with different types of attack patterns, enemy layouts and challenges.
By extension of a power-up system that makes bombs technically unlimited (if not freely available at will), Crimzon Clover also teaches a skill that can be a struggle to master even for intermediate plays: how to bomb. The common wisdom is that bombs are a last resort that should only be used in an emergency. That is true, but as a new player, it’s assume to take that as “don’t ever bomb”, or to treat bombs as something you only ever use when you find trapped behind a wall of bullets, when really, a well-placed pre-emptive bomb is one of the most useful survival tools in your kit—there’ll be time to chase the spectre of no-miss, no-bomb runs later.
With bombs built into the scoring systems rather than being a separate, finite resource, Crimzon Clover reminds players that bombs are there to be used. Use them sparingly, because repeated use makes them slower to recharge, but learn to use them when you need to—it’s a vital shmup skill.
Novice mode isn’t new to World EXplosion, but the PC release does introduce another helpful training tool: superplay replays. For each combination of ship and standard game mode (excluding Novice or the new Arrange mode), you can watch a replay of a pro run. They’re impressive and awe-inspiring in the way that superplays always are, but also a useful point of reference to see how the best players approach the game. Alongside these, the game includes guides from said pros, giving some general tips alongside a more detailed, per-stage breakdown of their strategies. These guides are invaluable, and though aimed primarily at more experienced players trying to optimise their scores, the advice is useful for rookies just trying to get their first all-clear, too.
In other words, Crimzon Clover: World EXplosion —and the PC release in particular—is one of the best ways for a newbie shmupper to jump into the world of bullet hells. Its novice mode approachable and instructive without being dumbed-down, making it a fantastic way of learning the ropes, with superplays and the included guides being a great resource when you want to dig deeper. At the other end of the scale, Crimzon Clover’s other modes and layered scoring systems provide ample challenge for vets, with a level of craftsmanship, finesse, and energy to rival the lofty heights of Cave’s body of work.
Beyond superplays and some rudimentary graphics settings, the PC version of Crimzon Clover: World EXplosion is mostly the same as what landed in Switch in 2020—which is another way of saying it’s the best version of one of the finest doujin shmups around.
Crimzon Clover: World EXplosion
Publisher: Degica Games
Genre: Shoot-’em-up, bullet hell
Platforms: PC (reviewed), Nintendo Switch
Release date: 6 December 2021 (PC); 29 October 2020 (Switch)
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.