CYGNI: All Guns Blazing is a family-made modern bullet hell SHMUP

The debut effort from KeelWorks reimagines a lost genre for a new generation.


The last time Shacknews checked out CYGNI: All Guns Blazing, there was a certain expectation in place. We looked at it as a new entry into the bullet hell shoot 'em up genre from publisher Konami, which has a history with this type of game. However, that's not the whole story. CYGNI is more of a labor of love from indie developer KeelWorks with Konami offering its publishing services, not unlike what EA has done for games like Tales of Kenzera: ZAU and what Take-Two does with its Private Division label. CYGNI isn't just a modern twist on an old genre, it's one that's built by a family of old-school SHMUP fans.

Avoiding fire from air and ground units in CYGNI: All Guns Blazing

Source: Konami

Developer KeelWorks was founded by a team of brothers from Scotland, Meher and Nareg Kalenderian. Bringing a pedigree from the world of filmmaking and animation, the duo did a bulk of the development on CYGNI and crafted it with the goal of creating an atmosphere reminiscent of sci-fi properties like Star Wars and Starship Troopers. There's a certain lightheartedness to its opening, as players watch main character Ava rocking out to the music of her headphones from the safety of her barracks. That's when duty calls and it comes time to jump into the cockpit of the Orca, an advanced fighter ship capable of taking on dozens of incoming alien aircraft at once.

CYGNI may be part of a genre that peaked in the 80s and 90s, but its visual flair, artistic detail, and eye-opening design give it a distinct 2024 flavor. However, the level of detail on the ground hundreds of miles below isn't just for show. Ground units will fire on the flying Orca overhead and can cause damage, which leads to CYGNI's most interesting feature. It's possible to switch between firing straight ahead at incoming air units and aiming at the ground and blowing up any hostile ground units.

Switching back and forth between shooting straight and shooting low gives this game a far more cerebral angle than even hardened SHMUP veterans may not expect. It also extends to boss fights, where players must recognize the boss patterns and fire away whenever an opening presents itself. On top of that, the boss may sometimes start flying low in an effort to hide or strike from below. That means players must be able to effectively fire their shots to targets below, as well as ones right in front of them.

Facing a massive warship taking up a full screen in CYGNI: All Guns Blazing

Source: Konami

Whether it's confronting a powerful boss or flying across the skies of the human CYGNI colony, players are immersed with a beautifully detailed world and a soundtrack worthy of it. Meher and Nareg Kalenderian aren't just tapping into their own background to bring life to this game. The game's score is composed by their uncle, Vatche Kalenderian, further making this project feel like a family affair.

One other thing to note about CYGNI is that levels can last from 15-20 minutes and they're not easy. Nobody writing this is going to do anything wacky like call this the Dark Souls of bullet hell. With that said, this is tough. Players get one life and if their Orca gets blown up, they go back to the start. It's possible to collect resources and upgrade the ship in different ways, but enemies are relentless, attacking in numbers both in the sky and on the ground. The Kalenderians hope that players will notice the sophisticated AI of the game's various enemies, which will adapt to player actions and attack with different movements. However, with enemies flying on-screen nonstop every few seconds and filling nearly every inch of the screen with bullets and missiles, it's honestly hard to notice. At one point during development, the Kalenderians took note of the brutal difficulty and added an Easy mode that gives players three lives with slightly slower enemy patterns. Don't let that "Easy" label fool you, though, because CYGNI is still quite a challenge, even with three cracks at a stage.

Whether trying to save the colony alone or with a friend in local co-op, CYGNI is shaping up to be one of the most pleasant surprises of the year. It's a feat made all the more remarkable by a development team largely comprised of blood relatives who are determined to bring a cinematic flair to a classic genre. Look for CYGNI: All Guns Blazing to come PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X|S on Tuesday, August 6.

This preview is based on a pre-release Steam version provided by the publisher. The final product is subject to change.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

From The Chatty
  • reply
    July 8, 2024 1:00 AM

    Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, CYGNI: All Guns Blazing is a family-made modern bullet hell SHMUP

    • reply
      July 8, 2024 1:34 AM

      While I like the looks and there are some interesting attack patterns, there are WAY too many things entering low from the sides for a Horizontal Aspect Vertical Shooter.
      If you were mostly a Turret which also had vertical shot, or a twin stick, I could see it.

      • reply
        July 8, 2024 11:37 PM

        Kinda need that rotated screen action

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          July 8, 2024 11:59 PM

          Yeah I was thinking it'd be OK (not great, but OK) vertically oriented. I mean that specific 'enemy coming in low on the screen' thing. I still hate shooters where there's a lot of shit behind me I can't shoot at AT ALL. Except bosses. And I hate it during the bosses; I get it there though.

    • reply
      July 8, 2024 11:08 PM

      This game looks cool.

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