It's almost like the development team started out with the design document for an entire, full-length shooter, and then decided to only made the first five levels. Thankfully, those five levels are exciting, twitchy arcade fun with Level 5's trademark of polish and Suda 51's sense of style. One hundred years in the future, the nation of Japan is annexed by a country called "the Dominion," which aims to eventually control the entire world. Japan's natural beauty and splendor is polluted and destroyed by the Dominion's technological influence, and in order to purify the nation, the country's parliament is dissolved in favor of a presidency with greater authority to retaliate. Said president is subsequently assassinated, however, with his daughter elected as his successor.
Liberation Maiden's premise sounds like the backdrop of a taut dystopian political thriller, until you learn that the president's main job is to pilot a flying humanoid robot into gloriously laser-filled battles. It's about as anime as you can get, but the top-notch voice acting and beautifully animated cutscenes make the absurd premise a charming plus, rather than an awkward impairment.
Madame President's missions primarily consist of locating Minor and Major Spikes – massive energy conduits essentially nailed into the Earth's crust at various locations around Japan. All Minor Spikes must be destroyed before their corresponding Major Spike can be accessed, and eradicating all Spikes in a zone purifies that area, returning it to its original splendor.
Eradicating Spikes, as one might imagine, is a process that involves a lot of explosions and also makes up nearly 100 percent of Liberation Maiden's actual gameplay, though the player is occasionally tasked with destroying a secondary target, such as a pair of ICBMs or fleet or submarines. Each stage is progressively more difficult than the last, with the player having to perform increasingly complex tasks to locate and destroy each Minor Spike. Major Spike fights, which serve as a stage's final boss encounter, also up the complexity with each iteration – though they also highlight how short the overall experience is.
Not everything in Liberation Maiden, however, is as polished as its fantastic soundtrack or boss encounter design, and getting proficiently comfortable with the mech takes a bit of doing. Despite its appearance, the game isn't really three dimensional, at least not all at once. During normal play and Minor Spike battles, the player's movement is restricted to the X and Z axes, whereas Major Spike encounters occur on X and Y. The mech doesn't just fly in the direction you point it, either, it has to be rotated and then propelled like a jet-powered Jill Valentine. It's awkward and inelegant, but also entirely functional after some battle experience.
On the other hand, the three available weapons (lock-on missiles, directed energy laser and occasional super-bomb) are exciting to use and function in a logical way, though a bit more variety wouldn't have hurt anything. I always felt one level away from earning a new weapon that never came, which is systemic of the game's overall experience.
Liberation Maiden's multiple difficulty levels, score attack mode and gallery of unlockables help maximize those five stage's replayability factor, but nothing can offset the fact that this is basically the first third of a full game that doesn't exist. It's still a blast and absolutely worth the time of any 3DS owner looking for a little less conversation and a little more action – it just takes up less time than it should.
This review is based on an eShop download of Liberation Maiden, provided by Nintendo. Liberation Maiden is available now on the eShop for $8.