★★★★☆

Cave has done something kind of strange with Bug Princess 2, its latest bullet hell transplant from arcade to iOS. It has made the game accessible. Sort of. Known as Mushihimesama in Japan, this series is dementedly hardcore even by Cave’s fairly exacting standards; but now, the conversion team has come to the (not unreasonable) conclusion that not all iPhone owners grew up playing the likes of DonPachi and Guwange until their fingers and eyes bled. Some of us had paper rounds to finish, for heavens sake.

In Bug Princess 2, then, there are four difficulty levels, ranging from Novice to the accurately named Hell, which is essentially the coin-op version. At the lower end, it’s more bullet purgatory, really. It’s tough, but the pathway is always obvious. Players are also helped by the excellent touch controls, which allow you to navigate with thumb moves on the screen, while an auto-fire handles the, erm, firing. As a final touch, the game exhumes the Xbox 360 version’s ‘Arrange Mode’ which automatically fires off a smart bomb whenever you’re fatally injured, giving you a sort of unofficial continue.

There’s also a little tutorial slideshow explaining the scoring mechanism, which revolves around grabbing the gems exploding from defeated foes. This has a colour mechanic, so when your score goes green you earn more by using your laser; when it’s blue, you get more points using your shot weapon. It’s easy to switch between these via a couple of virtual buttons at the base of the screen, though keeping an eye on that score indicator adds yet another layer of visual complexity to what is already an utter and unapologetic orgy of gun fire and insectoid monster blasting.

Which looks something like this:

There’s no getting away from it – Bug Princess 2 is about shooting stuff. Zooming over a lush forest filled with crumbling temples and deserted castles, lead characters Reco and Palm (you select one at the start) pummel giant beetles and hideous winged bug things with explosions, as enemy bullets turn the screen into a swirling polka dot light lightshow of death. There are two shot formations to opt for at the outset – normal or abnormal – and these dictate the firing patterns of your sidearms. Abnormal is messy but more powerful sending wavering lines of fire all over the screen, like pissing lasers into a strong breeze.

At the close of each level, there are huge boss creatures, ranging from a rampaging dinosaur to a flying squid and a sort of stag beetle; as their sectioned health bars deplete, chunks fly off them, revealing their skulls and skeletons – a nice little horror touch amid the garden themed antics.

It’s brutal and intense, especially when you complete Original Mode and move on to the self-evidently more challenging Maniac mode. I wasn’t entirely surprised to find that I don’t quite cut it as a maniac, so I have yet to sample the subsequent Ultra mode – likely to be a sort of bullet hell version of black metal. Still, this is a game about scores and multipliers and I can now work through the skill levels at my leisure before returning to prove my status as a truly maniacal ultra bug killer.

Bug Princess 2 is slightly messy, very silly and bears its arcade heritage like a great studded badge stuck onto its lapel with an enormous gothic dagger. It’s not subtle and it hurts. If you’re not in tune with the conventions and inner workings of the bullet hell genre, there’s still plenty of fun to be had, swooping over the densely detailed landscapes, trying to pick the gems from the bullets and the enemies – a visual swamp that keen players learn to divide into layers.

At the close of the original mode, there’s a dialogue sequence that completes the plot of love and revenge opened in the first game. One line goes, “I knew that my mother didnt think much of me, but now I think I shouldn’t have killed her. I am so alone.” That this seems a reasonably sane utterance at the close of this frantic, enthralling game, says it all about Cave and about bullet hell. The studio has done what it can do bring in newcomers with well-crafted smartphone translations of both this and the Dodonpachi titles, but you have to accept that it’s all quite mad in the end.