Goichi Suda is a man who gets sidetracked by his own frothing cortex. Give him a wrestling game and it'll end with the protagonist's suicide. Give him Grand Theft Auto and he'll make something so postmodern that it's as if western culture had a brain haemorrhage and gave birth to itself.
No one - especially publishers - ever asks for a Suda game, you're just given one and left to make sense of it while he runs, nude and whistling, into his next project. It's not a perfect strategy - Grasshopper games often fall foul of their own unhinged intentions, sacrificing truly enjoyable gameplay for something loftier.
Which is why, within the context of Suda's work, among the mutable assassins, screaming, horse-riding goat-demons and slightly worrying focus on female extremities, Liberation Maiden could be his weirdest game yet. Because someone else could have made it.
It might feature the president of New Japan in a mech suit taking off from a flying city to fight an empire that's taken over her country and turned it into a wasteland, but even that's been covered before (Metal Wolf Chaos). No, this is Goichi Suda under control for once and it's great.
Mech It So
Maiden is a very simple game with an interesting concept at its heart. You shoot all the people shooting at you, all their structures and bosses (most often a combination of the first two) when they appear. The only proviso is that your means of shooting is also your means of defence. The primary weapon, a lock-on missile(ish) system controlled by running your stylus over targets and taking it off to fire, is a huge amount of fun, but each simultaneous shot fired represents a portion of your rechargeable shields.
It's a constant back and forth between risk and reward and in large battles, where the potential for lighting up the sky with your pretty green murder-arcs is all too tempting, one or two extra locks can make all the difference - you just have to establish whether it'll be a good or bad one. There are some extraneous additions. Combat is widened with a secondary laser weapon and a javelin-like special attack that are less fun to use. And while score hounds might be attracted by modifiers including a countdown timer and a 'purification' level (the percentage of a level you manage to clear), the game lacks the frantic drive needed to succeed as a pure score attack game.
Little gripes abound: the five levels are too short to justify the £7-odd price, leaderboards aren't online-enabled (further harming the potential for score attack play) and the action rarely strays from the 'go here, blow this up' objective style. We did have fun with it, though. In the short time it took to complete, we bumped elbows with angry, suited London commuters as we used the Sacrifice Drive (a stylus-spinning final flourish to end boss fights), demolished a hailstorm of rockets (and the battleship they came from) in one gleeful move and gawped lovingly at the gorgeous animé sequences that bookend the story mode.
Sitting back and thinking about this game is probably the worst way to experience it - just play until it's done and you'll have a great time. It feels unusual to say it, but Suda's swung almost entirely to the other end of the spectrum and, despite the game's issues, we love him for it.