That's just the tip of the iceberg in Akai Katana Shin. Load up Slash mode and a whole heap of new features adds a huge amount of depth. Here, your ship has two modes, attack and defence, which are activated by holding down the attack button or by pressing it repeatedly. This affects which pickups you receive, as well as the speed of your ship. In attack mode, you gather energy and move more slowly, and in defence mode, you gather steel and move faster.
Gather enough steel, and you can launch it at enemies in Phantom mode. Time it just right and move in close enough, and you can net a huge score bonus, which is represented by hundreds of spinning golden coins that fill the screen in a frenzy of sparkles. When playing as your phantom, you also have the option of collecting Katana Shins that are dropped by enemies when you shoot them in defence mode. Once you've gathered enough, you can unleash them upon unsuspecting enemies for a gratuitous, neon-blast of an attack that nets you an even bigger score bonus.
You're encouraged to strategize and plan out where flipping back and forth between defence and attack modes, and between the phantom and your fighter, nets you the highest scores. It's an addictive and entertaining experience that keeps you wanting just one more go until you get it spot-on. It's enough to make you forget that Akai Katana Shin is otherwise a very short game; with just six stages and a handful of bosses to battle, you can whiz through it in under an hour.
Bullet streams create devilishly difficult mazes for you to navigate.
You'll want to go back after finishing it, though, thanks to integrated online leaderboards that remind you of just how many points you could be getting. And if you're wondering just how to reach the really high scores, you can replay other players' games in their entirety, as well as upload your own runs for others.
If you find yourself hitting the top of the leaderboards too often and fancy more of a challenge, check out Climax mode. It's a variation of Origin mode, except there are more-complex bullet patterns to avoid, and a lot more of them. It's fiendishly difficult, but a great challenge for those with the requisite skills. Whichever mode you play in, a friend can jump in for some offline two-player action, and there are separate sets of leaderboards dedicated to two-player runs to try to reach the top of.
And that's what Akai Katana Shin is all about really, the never-ending chase of that elusive number one spot on the leaderboards. Sure, there's nothing in the game that pushes the genre forward in any significant way, and its release at retail rather than as a downloadable game feels like a way to charge a little more cash than it's short length is worth. But the shooting is so tight and the stages so well designed that it reminds you that sometimes you don't need a revolution in game design to have a great time.