With its monochrome, ultra-widescreen display, simplistic controls and signature crank, Playdate offers an interface which is quite unlike anything else on the market at present – and while that's undoubtedly a positive, it means that the bright yellow handheld isn't as well-suited to every genre of game as it perhaps could be.

That's what makes Gun Trails such a pleasant surprise; this is a hardcore shmup inspired by the likes of Cave's Mushihimesama and DoDonPachi, and it pushes the hardware to its absolute limit in a dazzling explosion of visuals and sound. It's also insanely challenging, but more on that in a second.

In Gun Trails, you have a main standard shot and a secondary charge blast. The idea is that you charge up the secondary weapon by successfully shooting down enemies, and holding down the B button unleashes the blast, which makes short work of standard 'grunt' enemies. This gameplay loop is thoroughly engaging and is instrumental in overcoming the hostile waves which swoop down the screen.

Your craft has four hit points; once all of these are gone, it's game over. Taking a hit triggers a protective shield around your craft, and during this brief period of invincibility, you can ram into enemies to cause damage and rack up bonus points.

It's an intriguing setup that gives you the basic tools for triumph – but Gun Trails is a bullet-hell blaster that really pushes your skills to the max. The first few times you play it, you'll almost certainly succumb to enemy fire before reaching the first mid-boss, which might cause frustration for casual players.

Some of this is down to the fact that the play area feels claustrophobic, as dictated by the Playdate's widescreen display. There's not much room to manoeuvre vertically, and your ship feels too large (its actual hitbox is just the cockpit, but this takes some getting used to).

However, if you keep pushing yourself, you'll find that you eventually develop the skills to progress further and further into the game. This is a title which is designed to be played repeatedly, over and over, as a restart after 'game over' takes seconds, encouraging you to immediately return to the fray.

A new 'novice' mode, introduced in version 1.2, reduces the challenge and makes bosses slightly easier to take down. Think of it as a training mode to set you up for the standard difficulty level. The previously lengthy load times are also reduced to nothing in this update, too.

Gun Trails isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea, thanks to its stern difficulty level and the punishing demands it places on your reactions. However, if you're a fan of shmups, then this is an interesting and challenging take on the genre for a handheld that feels like it really shouldn't be able to run something this impressive – and the new 'novice' mode means it's now even more accessible.