Pawarumi is a Sci-Fi action arcade game with a focus on shooting and dodging enemy attacks. The aim of the game is to take fans of this genre back to the glory days of 80s arcades when games like Galaga reigned supreme. The problem with modern games recreating old styles of gaming is that sometimes nostalgia isn’t enough. You need to somehow elevate your game to the next level or it just won’t have longevity.
One of the first downfalls of arcade games is their lack of story. The developers of Pawarumi try to remedy this by adding short cut scenes before and after each mission with some dialogue in-between. Unfortunately, the story isn’t much to experience. You play as Axo, a former member of the council’s elite fighters that control its army. She has chosen to rebel against the empire and turns against her former comrades using her ship, the Chukaru.
That is the extent of the story as each general only curses your name for destroying them, but it doesn’t seem like the story really progresses much. This is most likely due to how the game functions, which I will get to later on. I understand fully what kind of game this is meant to be. Shoot-em-ups aren’t known for their grand stories, but that was mostly because they came at a time when most video games didn’t have much lore. That has grown and evolved over time, and although the dev team attempted to give some kind of story to their game I feel like it was an after-thought.
Axo – The only character in the game that is named. She is a former general in the council’s armor who has rebelled against them. Her goal is to take down the other generals in order to stop the council.
The only other shown characters are the bosses of each stage, and none of them are named. I have included their pictures in the gallery below, but I won’t write out a description for each since they don’t have names and, as stated previously, don’t have much to say to Axo except for being upset that she is able to defeat them.
Here’s the real saving grace of Pawarumi. The gameplay is actually fun and interesting. For those who have played old arcade games like Galaga you will be familiar with how it works. It also reminded me a lot of the N64 Star Fox game, just with less freedom. You face an onslaught of enemy fighter ships that throw everything they have at you. You have three main weapons at your disposal: the Serpent Gatling, the Jaguar Missiles, and the Condor Laser. Each ability is color-coded as green, red, and blue, respectively. Each enemy you face on the field will also be one of those colors.
You also have a super meter that gradually fills up, depending on your actions, and once it is initiated it will unleash a giant area of effect move that destroys most ships surrounding you. Now, what separates this game from others is that your moves are like an advanced game of rock paper scissors. If you hit enemies that are the same color as the weapon you’re using then you heal your shield. Hit enemies with the color that precedes it in the color wheel (Red, Green, Blue) and you’ll fill up your super meter. Finally, if you hit it with a color in the third sequence then it does double damage.
Now I don’t know if it’s just because there’s too much going on during gameplay, but I found the latter two actions to be confusing. “The same color = healing” is easy enough to remember, but in the middle of the hectic stages, it was hard for me to remember which other colors do what. It was mostly through just blasting enemies with what I could and dodging that I made it through. Fortunately, any of your attacks will eventually kill an enemy.
A downside to all of this color coding is that there aren’t many varieties of enemies that you’ll face. This made me look forward to the boss fights because they were both thrilling and a break from the monotony.
Speaking of the bosses, the biggest difference in difficulties seemed to be what order you fought which bosses, and the number of stages in said difficulty level. I’m guessing this is why it made telling an elaborate story difficult. However, looking back at games like Star Fox, which had branching stories, I can’t help but wonder why this was something that would have interfered with that.
This game is definitely for hardcore arcade gamers because you will die, a lot. Unfortunately, that means you will have to start over from the beginning. However, you at least get to show off your score by recording it, old-school style, on the arcade board.
The music for Pawarumi was okay. It wasn’t bad, I just didn’t feel like it fit the theme of the game. It’s all heavy metal and, to me, that doesn’t have a science-fiction feel to it. Fans of heavy metal will most likely love the soundtrack, but others might not be so fond of it.
The visuals of this game are great! They have a very modern aesthetic to them and this is probably one of the biggest highlights for me. The artwork for the characters is phenomenal, which I guess is why I felt so let down by the lack of story. You have these beautifully drawn characters with no depth or substance to them. The same could be said about the backgrounds of the stages. There’s so much going on as you make your way through the stages that it’s a shame we get such few moments to take it in and appreciate it.
Overall, I think Pawarumi was headed in the right direction, but somehow they got lost. A lot of the pieces are present, I just feel like most of them don’t go together. The Mayan influence is super interesting and unique. Heavy metal works very well in action game such as Devil May Cry. Sci-Fi is a classic backdrop for these sorts of arcade shooters. However, take these pieces of great ideas for a game and trying to shove them together doesn’t make for a great game. Looking at the Steam description, it’s said to be “set in a retro-futuristic sci-fi pre-Columbian universe.” Yikes! That is a nightmare of a description to sit down and actually think about.
However, I will say that what is present makes for a fun game. The gameplay is challenging, and the boss battles are enjoyable. Fans that enjoy shoot-em-ups and classic arcade games will feel right at home. Gamers that want more depth and substance out of a video game may not enjoy it so much. If you’re eager to check out Pawarumi it’s out now on Steam, Xbox One, and the Nintendo e-shop for $14.99.
*This Pawarumi review was completed on the Nintendo Switch for the new release.