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CYGNI: All Guns Blazing Preview: An Intense Shoot ‘Em Up That’s Big On Visuals

Though not always smooth sailing, this sci-fi shoot 'em up holds some seriously impressive visuals in its bullet-filled gameplay.
CYGNI: All Guns Blazing Preview: An Intense Shoot ‘Em Up That’s Big On Visuals

From developer KeelWorks and publisher Konami comes a new face to the world of arcade shoot-em ups. In CYGNI: All Guns Blazing, you’ll find yourself in control of a high-tech fighter ship having been sent to combat the threat of a once-dormant alien race. To do so, you’ll be utilizing guns and missiles, adjusting the spread of your attack pattern, and allocating energy to your shields in order to survive the onslaught. CYGNI holds a refreshingly simple premise that’s dressed in stunning visuals. However, the execution leads to a few hurdles in the game’s early state.

(Picture: KeelWorks)

Gameplay takes the form of a vertical side-scroller, where you’ll face waves of enemies that are relentlessly firing their own attacks at you. To counter this, you’ll need to maintain your ship’s shields and fire back with your own weapons. To fuel your shields, you’ll be relying on energy pick-ups that drop from fallen enemies. This energy will automatically be assigned to your shield reserves, which you can then choose to relocate to your missiles, a more powerful but limited weaponry. Now, you have to manually allocate energy to your missiles from your shield reserves as there’s no overflow. This also means that if you’re sitting on full shields and happen to pick up more energy, it won’t automatically fill your missiles and instead the energy heads to your upgrade point reserve which isn’t as handy as it might sound (more on that in a moment). It becomes an aspect of resource management that you’ll be wishing you could do without, especially given how busy your screen will be when you’re in the thick of it.

If you’re a fan of the bullet-hell genre, then CYGNI’s levels will certainly scratch that particular itch. But be prepared for a lot of bullets, and a lot of hell. CYGNI is in no way an easy game. In its normal mode, you have one life. Once your shield is depleted, you’ll fail the stage and be sent straight back to the start. No checkpoints, even if you fall at the level boss.I respect the commitment to being a challenging shooter, though at times it feels as though it surpasses challenge in favor of being unfair. With the amount of enemy attacks that come at you, and the formation of them all, some bullets are nigh on impossible to dodge. It seems as though you’re expected to take the hit and hope that one of the aliens drops some energy should you survive and take it down. You’re relying less on your dodge ability, or finding a rhythm through attacks, and instead just brute forcing your way through to the final encounter. Combat is alleviated slightly in the game’s Easy Mode, however, where you’re given three lives per run. Though that in itself comes with some major caveats. 

(Picture: KeelWorks, screenshot: Alexandra Hobbs)

CYGNI utilizes some roguelike elements, too, in that after completing a run you would have earned some upgrade points which can be spent on upgrades for your guns, increasing the spread of your missiles or attaching additional drones to your ship. But, if you’re playing in Easy Mode and find yourself relying on the extra lives, know that any upgrade points you’ve earned throughout the level will reset whenever you die and respawn. Which means if you’ve fought your way through the entire level, properly allocated your shields and missiles and successfully fought off every enemy without losing a life, only to lose one at the final boss, expect your upgrade point return to be near-useless. Because of this, you’re unable to upgrade your ship effectively without rerunning the same level or an earlier one over and over again. Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a drag, though I wouldn’t mind this as much if the levels were a little bit shorter.

668b2eae6a2c5-cygni boss.jpg
(Picture: KeelWorks)

CYGNI: All Guns Blazing does have its merits, and they absolutely deserve to be talked about. I found its level design, and particularly its creature design, to be extremely impressive, managing to convey a huge sense of scale in its vertical layout. The mechanical alien designs are a science-fiction dream, as if combining War of the Worlds with that of The Mist with a dressing that calls for high-speed intergalactic combat. The small development team largely comes from a film and animation background, and it shows wholeheartedly in the presentation. An undeniable amount of care has been put into the game’s visuals, enough for this indie studio to stand against the biggest AAA in that respect. 

There is also additional depth for those that go searching for it, such as Designer Mode which allows you to customize the spread of your bullets, saving patterns into presets which you can switch between during your runs. It’s a wonderfully unique way of tailoring your combat experience, allowing you to craft attack patterns for specific situations. This mode unlocks after you hit a certain criteria in the game, which we won’t spoil, but is absolutely worth pursuing. 

My hope for CYGNI: All Guns Blazing is that its gameplay can get to a state where it stands on equal footing with its visuals, and I believe it can with a few quality of life adjustments to make the game a more thorough, satisfying experience. With a unique angle in its Designer Mode, an Arcade Mode to satisfy the hardcore fans, and memorable creature designs, CYGNI could become a modern indie classic for Arcade lovers — it just might need a few more nudges in the right direction. 

CYGNI: All Guns Blazing is currently scheduled to launch on August 6, 2024 on PS5, Xbox Series X|S, PC via Steam, Epic Games Store, Blacknut.