Drainus is the new surprise release from the makers of Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth. It has just about the most unfortunate name of any game I’ve seen this year (sounding like a combination of “drain” and “anus”). That’s really saying something, too, in the month that brought us Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters. And yet… Hoo boy. I’m only a few levels deep, but this is the first time I’ve truly clicked with a shoot-em-up since playing Raiden IV with my little brother on the PlayStation 1. Most of which comes down to one key mechanic: the parry.
The game doesn’t call it a parry, of course. It’s just “guarding.” Drainus otherwise plays more-or-less like any sidescrolling shooter — with your tiny ship flitting from left to right as foes fly toward you. The A button fires a piddly peashooter to knock them out of the sky. At least until a boss appears and forces you to dodge an incoming hail of bullets in complex patterns. Think Darius: the classic shmup from which “Drainus” almost certainly borrows its name. The rub is that, at any point, you can hold down B on your controller to erect a bubble shield. This is guarding. Except it doesn’t just protect you; it stores and redirects enemy bullets in a death blossom of omnidirectional homing lasers. You’re actually encouraged to take hits in Drainus. The more damage you absorb, the more you fire back at every enemy on the screen.
You can only take so much, of course. Your guard meter depletes very quickly. But it refills just as fast: encouraging you to play super aggressive and allowing the designers to hit you with puzzle-like enemies that demand slick use of the defensive skill.
The second boss, for instance, windmills at you with massive tentacles. Physical attacks like that can’t be blocked normally. However, every tentacle has a “safe” point in the form of arcing lightning bolts, which you can pass through while guarding. As the battle progresses, the tentacles begin to move faster and faster, forcing you to find the safe points and shield your way through more quickly as well. You only get a split second to shoot your standard cannons at the enemy core — meaning most of your damage actually comes from the feedback burst of your guard. It never feels like you’re not doing something in Drainus.
All this probably sounds more complicated than it is. So far, the ability to eat bullets and spit them back out actually makes the game pretty easy. At least on the standard difficulty. Besides which you can quickly upgrade your ship with energy tanks that fill as you kill. That includes things like auto-guarding a few shots, shooting backwards, or just dealing more damage. All of which simplify the game even further. It’s not hard. Even for me: someone who hasn’t gelled with a sidescrolling shooter in 20 years. But that just means you get more time to enjoy the spectacle.
Drainus hits you with all the classic sensory overload right out of the gate. Bosses get a big “warning” klaxon; planets get Death Star’d in the background; your ship’s mechanic is an anime frog. Well… Maybe that last one isn’t quite so “classic,” but it should be. For a surprise release that costs less than $15, Drainus still feels big and bombastic. Even if I suspect I can blow through its bosses rather easily on my first playthrough.
With not much else coming out right now, it’s a perfect time for a bite-sized popcorn ball of a game like Drainus to pop off. Definitely give it a shot if you’re looking for something fast and fun to try in these summer doldrums.