The real bummer about Sisters Royale: Five Sisters Under Fire is that it has a much better subtitle in Japan. The vertical shmup – inspired by the cult Castle of Shikigami series – goes by the illustrious name Sisters Royale: I’m Being Harassed by Five Sisters and It Sucks. Brilliant. It all plays into the plot, which sees a band of siblings battling for the affection of a strapping young bachelor named Yashin. Our recommendation: turn off the cut-scenes.

Once you get beyond the weeaboo pandering narrative, you’re left with a likeable bullet hell bonanza which is strangely moreish. This is a stripped back experience in every sense of the sentence: there are five stages and five characters, but the longevity comes from high score chasing and unique abilities. Each hero can fire in different patterns, but it’s their Shikigami attack which sets them apart. In the case of one character, this serves as a homing projectile – but at the expense of mobility.

The experience gets even more interesting when you factor in that both your score and effectiveness in combat are altered by your proximity to enemy projectiles. In other words: the closer that you stand to the epilepsy-inducing action on-screen, the better your performance will be. It’s a neat risk-reward mechanic that encourages dangerous play, and with each sister playing slightly differently it’s going to take you some time to master each one.

Unfortunately, the game introduces some random variables which detract from the overall experience. The ice level, for example, sports slippery surfaces, which are infuriating in a precision shooter such as this. We’re not overly keen on a stage which takes place primarily in the dark either, as it adds a layer of unpredictability that can make the action feel unfair. With just five stages on offer, you’ll soon tire of these poorly conceived novelties.

When the shooting’s in full swing, though, it’s entertaining stuff. The patterns are fun to dance through, and the visuals are busy yet readable. Aside from some high-quality anime portraits, the visuals aren’t really worth writing home about, and the audio’s particularly forgettable, too. But the controller response is good, and the title’s able to induce that trance-like status which all good shmups demand.

Conclusion

Sisters Royale: Five Sisters Under Fire doesn’t reinvent the shmup rulebook, but it leverages some interesting wrinkles first introduced by the Castle of Shikigami series to excellent effect. The presentation – aside from its epilepsy-inducing patterns – leaves a lot to be desired, but the unique gameplay attributes of its protagonists makes for a surprisingly replayable arcade affair.