Virtual reality (VR) developers have never been shy when embracing the industry’s heritage, either bringing back titles from yesteryear or reimaging retro genres. Side and vertical scrolling videogames like R-Type or Ikaruga were some of the most brutal and unforgiving, a continual onslaught of enemies and screen-filling projectiles. These “bullet-hell” titles have made their way into VR in various forms, the latest being the anime-inspired YUKI, an energetic and physical gameplay experience from the studio behind Pixel Ripped.
YUKI is a roguelike shooter in a similar vein to Until You Fall or In Death: Unchained where the aim of the game is to get as far as possible without dying, because if you do then you’ll have to restart all the way back at the beginning. These types of videogames sit on the line between highly repetitive and frustrating or that addictive, you can’t quite give up just yet. Thankfully, YUKI sits in the latter camp, but only just.
Backstory and narrative really isn’t a major concern here, YUKI is all about killing swarms of floating enemies, avoiding everything they throw at you and hopefully making it to the final boss fight, all on one life. YUKI is an anime character with the bold and colourful styling you’d usually expect, generous lashings of neon pink and orange are a feast for the eyes.
The control scheme is one you may have seen before in other VR titles of this ilk, grabbing YUKI with your dominant hand to then fly him around the levels. Which generally makes for a fairly comfortable experience as the levels automatically scroll through at a steady pace. As mentioned this does mean you need to move, in fact, it’s actually essential and makes survival a whole lot easier. All the enemies concentrate their fire on Yuki, so if you can make maximum use of your play space then you’ve got plenty of freedom to dodge.
So having a nice clear area is essential as it’s very easy to forget where you are – even with boundaries setup – because YUKI’s gameplay can get quite engrossing. However, this does mean YUKI isn’t really suited to being played seated. You can, it’s just without that ability to duck down or quickly step to one side the later stages can be almost impossible to navigate as your view is filled with brightly coloured orbs and squares.
You’re not a sitting duck, of course, YUKI has a few tricks up his sleeve to achieve success. There are two fixed abilities that gradually charge on each controller, a shield for when shit really gets crazy and the Freeze Bomb to stop enemies in their tracks enabling you to clear up. This does mean that on the Oculus Quest version, the Yuki controller is doing all the work whilst the other is largely useless apart from that single trigger function. It would’ve been nice to amalgamate all of it onto one.
There are plenty of other ways to juice Yuki up, some permanent others temporary. The in-game currency is blue “Creative Drive” orbs which you mostly pick up by killing enemies. These can then be spent in the workshop once you die – so dying is useful – either buying new power-ups which appear in level to provide those single-life bonuses (Magnetic orb, firing rate, health expansion, drones…) or spent on Charms. These alter your base stats permanently which makes them expensive, so building up enough can take a little grinding.
The big bonuses really come when you complete specific levels, unlocking four new Bladewings – Yuki’s cool looking flight suit. These all have their own unique stats and attributes making life a whole lot easier. For instance, all the dodging and weaving makes it very difficult to aim continual fire at a target, so the second Bladewing you unlock has homing projectiles which make the process a whole lot easier.
But that does mean completing the videogame to unlock them all, so you’ll want to head back through for another round. This is fine because they’re procedurally generated levels so it’s always different, well yes and no. This is possibly YUKI’s biggest flaw. Those other roguelike titles previously mentioned alter their entire level so each run is very different. Due to the nature of the forward scrolling gameplay YUKI’s main level design always remains the same, it’s the enemies, obstacles and projectile designs that change.
So the enemies are a variety of Japanese-themed animal heads which generally get bigger the more dangerous they are. Projectiles, on the other hand, come in a myriad of colours and designs which look stunning, almost mesmerising. There’s such a visual array going on – which you’re trying to kill or avoid – that it’s very difficult to notice the procedural changes, thus each run barely differentiates from the next. Which does kill the roguelike replay value somewhat. An “Endless Mode” is listed as coming soon but can’t be counted towards the review.
So is YUKI a fitting portrayal of bullet hell nostalgia that’ll keep you coming back for more? Even with the lacklustre procedurally generated levels, YUKI is still a blast to play, easy to pick up and great to look at. You get so involved with the levels that a couple of hours go by in an instant and it’s only when you die and take a breather that you realise how much the gameplay makes you move. If you’re looking for a highly polished bullet hell shooter, give YUKI a try.