Saturday, February 29, 2020

Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo (Switch) Review

Complimenting last month's release, NIS America releases Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo, another collection of six retro shoot-em'up games, frequently called "shmups."  Okay, one of them isn't a shmup, but we will get to that.  Last time had the three Strikers games and three others, while this time the collection is mostly centered around Samurai Aces and Gunbird.

The first game in the collection is Samurai Aces.  Like most of the games last month, it is a top-down shooter.  Choosing one of six planes, you get an auto shot (fires continuously), a normal shot that can be charged, and a bomb.  Unlike some of the other shmups in the collections, the charge shot in Samurai Aces doesn't require a portion of an energy meter.  The exchange is that it takes longer to charge.  This really limits its effectiveness, since you can't shoot while charging.  It just leaves you too vulnerable to be very effective for me.

You fly through each stage, blasting enemies and mid-bosses until the boss shows up.  Whittle down its health, and it will be defeated, moving you on to the next stage.  Like too many shmups, the power-ups hate going down to the player's section of the screen.  They bounce around with the enemies.  It's dangerous to try and pick them up, but too necessary to pass up.  At least they are plentiful.  Sadly, they need to be.  Making matters worse is the highest level of power-up is only temporary.  After a bit, it drops you back down a level.  It's hard enough to get there, let alone keep.  Still, it's not a game mechanic that I like.  Of course, the game back then just wanted you to keep putting quarters in it, balance be damned.  Setting the continues to infinite helps take the sting out of that old-school "balance".

Next up is Tengai and Samurai Aces 3Tengai is pretty much Samurai Aces 2, just with a different name.  Unlike the first, these two are side-scrolling shooters.  If you remember Sol Divide from my previous review, then you will know the basic gist of these.  However, instead of the early 90s CGI graphics, these two games feature sprite artwork for the characters.  Tengai also has sprites for the backgrounds, which looks better to me.  Samurai Aces 3 has fancy 3-D graphics for the stage backdrops, but they are too distracting.

Tengai features 5 characters, each with an automatic shot, a charge shot, and a screen-clearing bomb attack.  It's pretty fun, and unlike the vertical scrolling shmups in the collections, the power pick-ups can actually go near where the player is likely residing.  Samurai Aces 3 sports 4 characters (2 more can be added with a code), plus adds something new to the control scheme.  Each character has a cannon attack.  Now you know why the subtitle is Sengoku Cannon.  This attack is strong, but not able to be fired continuously.  Plus, killing an enemy with it makes some of their bullets disappear.  It's a nice function, and I would like that game the best, if it were nicer.  The fancy backgrounds make the bullets hard to see, which makes them harder to dodge.  If the game had more static backgrounds, or maybe just lighter in color, I think it would be better.

Next up are Gunbird 1 & 2.  While I still own Gunbird 2 on the Dreamcast, I didn't remember much of it.  Each is similar to the first Samurai Aces, but with a different character set and theme.  Both of them have 5 characters to choose from, each with different attacks.  In an interesting twist, most of the characters are different in each game, rather than the same or similar, like Samurai Aces.

There is still an auto shot, a charge-able shot, and a bomb to get you out of trouble.  Gunbird 2 also has a close-range attack that requires the built up energy meter to use.  It's...not great.  It would be more useful if it were a lot stronger, or could protect you from bullets, or even if it didn't cost energy.  Right idea, but I think the execution needed some work.  Each stage throws lots of enemies at you, some power-ups, and ends with a big boss fight before moving you to the next area.  Like the first Samurai Aces, the premise and story are simple (yes there's actually a plot), but the games can be pretty fun.  Well, until the screen fills with bullets and you have no where to go.  I completed both of the Gunbirds while playing with my favorite co-op partner (the ever popular Wife Blade), despite the numerous deaths we suffered.

The last game in the collection is Gunbarich.  It has the main girl from Gunbird and...some boy as the playable characters.  Instead of a shmup, it's more like Alleyway or other brick breaking games.  This got me excited because I love those games.  In Gunbarich, your paddle even has flippers!  That makes it much easier to hit your ball at different angles.  The power ups are really useful too.  I quickly noticed the levels are timed, which I thought would be a problem.  That didn't end up being an issue though.  After a few levels, there is a boss fight, which were a little chaotic, but fun.

However, there is a huge downside to the game.  It's flat out cheap, and stops being fun very quickly.  There are enemies that shoot paralyzing bullets.  You can reflect them back with the flippers, so it didn't start as a huge deal.  But after the next few levels, the bullets would explode when passing the area the paddle moves in.  This leaves a large burst that paralyzes you when you touch it.  You can't hit both the ball and the paralyze bullet, so you have to prioritize.  Choosing the paralyze shot means you miss the ball and lose a life.  Choosing the ball means you hit it back once, then likely hit the paralyze burst, which causes you to miss the ball.  It's definitely a lose-lose situation.  When I tried playing as the boy, there was a creature that would suck in the ball, randomly reappear close to the paddle's level, and spit the ball out.  There was very little time to react.  Levels don't seem to be random, either, so there isn't much replay value.  As much fun as I thought I would have playing another brick break game, Gunbarich left me with the bitter taste of disappointment.

All in all, Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo, like Alpha, is a collection worth playing for shmup fans.  Handheld mode works well enough, but I find the games better on the big screen.  It sure helps with dodging those bullets.  These games might not be the best in the genre, but they are faithful renditions of these arcade classics.  Bring a friend, but leave the quarters aside.

The Good:
Same as last time, six shoot-em-up classics on one cartridge/download.  Tengai is my favorite.

The Bad:
The games are still very quarter-hungry.

The SaHD:
Does Gadget Gen in the first Samurai Aces have an X-wing?!  It really looks like it.

(Review copy of Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo was received from the publisher.)

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