By Anthony L. Cuaycong
WHEN BLAZING STAR was introduced in the late ’90s, arcades were already replete with shoot-em-ups. In fact, it could be reasonably argued that gamers were ready to move on to other genres, having already spent many a quarter on standout lone-assault side scrollers. Still, SNK was confident its latest release would receive a hearty welcome; coming on the heels of the well-regarded Pulstar, it boasted of unique gameplay, then-cutting-edge computer-graphics renderings, and significant replay value aided in no small measure by the less-insane scenarios it presented.
True enough, Blazing Star became a hit, pushing the boundaries of SNK’s 16-bit hardware and reflecting the advances developers made insofar as shmups were concerned. It helped, to be sure, that the release offered exactly what gamers wanted: familiarity with a rub. It was still an action-packed side scroller, unabashedly trumpeting the best traits of its contemporaries; stages would require players to navigate through countless enemies while armed with unlimited ammunition. That said, it featured an interesting twist; it did not provide an auto-fire option. Instead, it allowed for variety in strength of shot depending on the frequency and pace of the button-mashing. Normal taps would yield traditional shots. Faster taps would lead to more powerful shots. Press-and-hold taps would produce charged shots upon proper collection of powerups.
Given Blazing Star’s myriad positives and widespread appeal, it was no surprise for SNK Playmore to oversee its reintroduction on the Switch this year. Although it was also made available on the iOS and Android platforms earlier this decade, Blazing Star feels much, much more at home on Nintendo’s latest console, which offers both portability and physical button feedback. It is especially appealing when played undocked and on the go, with the six-inch screen size and 720p resolution a welcome compromise to take in all the action and render the outdated backgrounds irrelevant.
Be forewarned, however. Even as Blazing Star comes off as more forgiving than Pulstar, it remains a formidable challenge, especially for those who have neither the patience nor the stamina to replay ramped-up levels. Hand-eye coordination is crucial, although the Switch offers a benefit the arcades did not; it has a Pause button that lets players catch their breath and rest their weary hands. Moreover, it enables save states that effectively serve as unlimited credits; players can pick up immediately from where they left off. And make no mistake; this feature is invaluable because dying is not an option. It is inevitable, perhaps even a necessity in light of the steep learning curve.
Parenthetically, Blazing Star offers the High Score and Caravan modes also seen in other ACA NeoGeo titles. In these cases, there are no crutches by way of save states, and hitting the Pause button ends the game. Put simply, these are perfect for the ultra-competitive types who like to see their achievements validated via their progress in online leaderboards. And if they’re really keen on giving SNK Playmore the finger, they might want to complete the game using all six ships.
In sum, ACA NeoGeo: Blazing Star is an absolute bargain at $7.99. As with the original arcade title, the Switch port carries the same catchy soundtracks, the same funky English voiceovers courtesy of a distinctively Japanese talent, and the same gameplay-enhancing cutscenes. Even the biting text is happily retained; after a frustrating round that results in death, players will not help but be motivated by the taunting “You fail it! Your skill is not enough, see you next time, bye-bye!” message flashed on the screen. With the game telling them that they cannot beat it, they are buoyed to try again, and again, and again — to their peril, and to their heart’s content.
Video Game Review
ACA NeoGeo: Blazing Star
• One of the best retro shmups
• Provides outstanding replay value
• Offers an array of options
• Sound and voice tracks are fun and funky
• Great price point
• CGI sprites don’t stand the test of time
• Less difficult than Pulstar, but still incredibly hard to beat all seven levels