Over the last few months I've been indulging in my passion for pixel-art games on handheld, kicked off by the rather lovely Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth on the Switch. Nintendo's handheld, especially the lovely OLED version, has proven to be a great home to indie developers, and with the Steam Deck now sat alongside, I'm finding an even bigger library of talented indie titles is now open to me. Happily Chenso Club is available on both (as well as PS4, and Xbox).
I was minded to review the title based on the trailer that found its way into my inbox - there's a very distinctive Japanese influence here, despite the developer, Pixadome, hailing from Sweden. As such, the promo artwork has that "inspired by" look that most non-Japanese art has, but it's attractive in and of itself so that's no reason to decry as any way "inauthentic".
In fact, the game has all the best elements of classic arcade games of yesteryear, and a few quirks that make the game stand out.
The game sets out a pretty standard stall - aliens are invading, and by chance one of the little blobs awakens "Blue", a cyborg girl designed as the last line of defence for humanity. Wielding a humble chainsaw, she is tasked with wiping out the alien menace. As she progresses through randomly-generated single screens of carnage, she'll encounter and recruit a bevy of other violent cuties who together form the titular "Chenso Club".
The inventive bosses put me in mind of Konami's classic Parodius
Each character has a completely different attack style and movement type, with witches, firefighters and ninjas added to your roster, it really does add some much needed variety to the game, and I had tremendous fun switching things up and approaching things from different angles.
Controls are standard arcade fair - jump up to (and down) through platforms, avoid perils and take out all the on-screen enemies that dare to show themselves. What surprised me here was the number of times the game would through curveballs at me - from the TARDIS like appearance of shops onto levels through to baddies offering additional challenges (such as having a time-limit that must be topped up by felling enemies and stealing precious seconds to stay alive) - it all feels very lively.
Graphics are very cute and inventive - in terms of fidelity it has a very "Amiga" look to it, the sort of game I might have played at a friend's house back in the 90's. I love some of the imagination on show, such as filling a blender with the blood of defeated enemies. Macabre. The story is relayed through comic panels shown between levels, which feature some cute artwork and humour.
The story is relayed through comic panels between levels
There are 5 main stages in all, split into two phases featuring 3 levels, each of which contains 3 screens. So that's 90 screens to get through to finish the game (which should take around 2 hours). As you make your way through each kill-box, you'll earn power-ups and can even buy them from those TARDIS style shops I mentioned earlier - however these come at a cost of your current HP, so this is a strategic choice you shouldn't make lightly.
Yet another mechanic are "followers". Of course in this day and age, influence is the currency of our time, so the more you accomplish, the more adoration you'll gain, and this leads to more power-ups. It's a nice inclusion and certainly adds more spice to proceedings.
With 4 difficulty levels, the ability to attack any level that you've worked your way up to and multiple characters to experiment with, you're getting plenty for your money here. I'm not a very experience "roguelike" player, but I found the arcade-style challenge here to be a thoroughly enjoyable experience and absolutely perfect for handheld play.