Judgement Silversword: Rebirth Edition
Platform(s): WonderSwan Color
Release Date: February 2nd 2003 (Japan exclusive)
The tale of the WonderSwan is a curious one. Released exclusively in Japan by Bandai and worked on by the legendary Gunpei Yokoi, the man credited for designing many much-loved Nintendo systems such as the Game Boy, the system was well-designed from a technical standpoint, offering a lower price point and longer battery life than its competition. However, despite gaining a height of 8% of the Japanese handheld market, the system’s three iterations were ultimately unable to topple Nintendo from their perch, fading into obscurity thanks to the release of the Game Boy Advance.
Judgement Silversword: Rebirth Edition is a game that came into being courtesy of one of the many unique aspects that make the WonderSwan such an interesting system. A mail order service run by Bandai allowed for regular fans of the system to buy the ‘WonderWitch‘, a hobbyist development kit and re-writeable cartridge for programming homebrew WonderSwan games. Regular design competitions were held, occasionally with the winning software seeing a full published retail release; Judgement Silversword is just one of a handful of games created and released through this method (many of the other entries to the competitions can be freely downloaded from Qute’s website).
The game plays like your average vertical shoot ’em up, but the control scheme, which makes use of the WonderSwan’s unique but ingenious dual d-pad interface, assigns movement and various shot types to each of the pairs of d-pads, makes it a seamless and very comfortable experience for a portable shooter. The control is tight and accurate, making this an ideal title for anyone wanting their STG fix on the go.
Your ship is equipped with three basic abilities from the get-go; two types of fire, a conventional straight burst and a spreader shot that you would more commonly find as a power-up in a conventional shooter. This offers a nice level of variation without the need for upgrades and sacrifice on other ship statistics, but only appears deceptively simple; making the decision between concentrating heavy fire on one particular enemy or providing wide coverage to pick off smaller enemies and rack up a higher score.
The third option available to you is a ‘shield’, which allows you to absorb energy projectile hits. This gives you some breathing room during the brief sections in which you are rained with heavy fire, but careful navigation is still required in order to avoid running straight into enemies and other obstacles. As well as this, the percentage in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen informs you how much of your ‘shield’ remains, depleting every time a shot is absorbed; once this hits zero, you’ll be forced to take hits head on, but luckily this can be restored by firing regular shots, but a careful balance is required that once again suggests there’s more than meets the eye to this supposedly simple shooter.
Visually, the game is as simple as its bare-bones HUD would suggest. There are some nice graphical effects used for projectiles and explosions (be it that caused by the demise of your or your enemies), as well as appealing designs for the wide variety of ships that appear; bosses are imaginative, both in name and visually, using unique attack patterns that require careful maneuvering, all highly reminiscent of mecha anime from the 80s and 90s. There’s also something quite appealing about the background of the early stages, a seemingly photographic image of the earth that slowly slips out of view as you draw further and further away from it; perhaps a deep metaphor about the future of space warfare, perhaps simply something that looks cool.
It’s easy to tell from playing Judgement Silversword: Rebirth Edition that you’re playing a homebrew game; it lacks the decidedly flashy and chaotic nature you’d come to expect from arcade shoot ’em ups, but makes up for it in remarkably fun and accessible gameplay and a unique and well thought out control interface that makes the best use of its console. This title, along with its other WonderWitch counterparts, are understandably incredibly hard to track down for an affordable price in their original cartridge form; luckily, a Steam release means you can get some pocket-sized shoot ’em up action for under a fiver, making this title well worth a look.