Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha
SHOOT ‘EM UPS have retained their popularity in arcades for a variety of reasons. In large measure, they hold universal appeal because of the relative ease with which gamers can start enjoying them; the objectives are clear and uncomplicated, with little to no backstories required to set them up. Certainly, it was what moved Psikyo, a videogame development company established in the early nineties, to keep producing titles in the genre. And it was no coincidence that chief executive officer Shinsuke Nakamura’s resume included the design of the hugely popular Sonic Wings (Aero Fighters in the West).
Psikyo would go on to produce classic shmups. It dabbled in other gaming categories, including mahjong, fighting, and sports, but it found its greatest successes in exploring concepts involving protagonists shooting out of seemingly impossible situations. And, each time, the gamers’ focus is pretty much the same; hordes upon hordes of enemies would appear on screen, and their sole purpose is to survive. Needless to say, it gained a loyal following, with the ensuing demand even resulting in its intellectual properties getting home console versions.
Fast forward nearly 30 years, and Psikyo’s titles remain among the top-of-mind responses when it comes to shmups. And, given the unique properties of the Nintendo Switch, it’s no surprise to see them thriving still. Nippon Ichi Software America’s just-released compilations of ports to the hybrid console are nothing short of excellent. Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha, the first of the two anthologies, contains six shooters — four in vertical configuration — that preserve the look and feel of their arcade lineage. The gameplay experience is replicated, arguably even surpassed, with updated graphics and sounds.
STRIKERS 1945 is a top-down shmup that has gamers taking on the role of an ace pilot from the ranks of Strikers taking on C.A.N.Y., a shadowy organization out to conquer the world through the use of sophisticated weaponry. Suspension of disbelief is required in processing the melding of reality and science fiction: Six World War II-era planes, presented with accuracy albeit carrying technologically advanced ordnance, are on tap. In any case, the eight stages are a blast, featuring progressive difficulty as manifested in seemingly unending targets all the way to the final boss.
STRIKERS 1945 II offers largely the same: Although the Strikers are up against the FGR this time around, gamers still have six ships from the time frame (of which four make their first appearance) providing three distinct attack options. The audio-visual presentation is much improved vis-a-vis its predecessor’s, and its interface is enhanced by the introduction of a charge bar at the bottom of the screen to better represent the leveling system. Overall, it’s a superior offering on the Switch, especially if the third-party Flip Grip is utilized to enter TATE (or portrait) mode.
STRIKERS 1945 III is the best of the lot. For this release, the series abandons its WWII setting and presents aircraft and equipment attuned to its far more modern backdrop. And just as graphics and sounds are once again a step up, so does the action flow faster and freer. Over-the-top transformations of the final bosses continue to be a big draw, complementing the originality of the challenges they present and represent.
Dragon Blaze abandons reality and goes for fantasy by replacing planes with dragons, and Strikers for knights. The Demon King stands in the way of triumph, and proper harnessing of magic is critical to finishing the campaign. The gameplay adds two interesting twists. First, powerups can be stacked to allow for the desired increase in weapon number in efficacy. And, second, gamers can choose to dismount their dragons and, while risking exposure, have the latter go after enemies with close-range bites.
SOL DIVIDE is likewise steeped in fantasy, but presented horizontally. Gamers are called to action against evil emperor Ifter using melee and ranged attacks, as well as magic spells made available over time. The controllable character, chosen from a set of three, has a life gauge that can be replenished via dropped items from vanquished foes. A handful of role-playing-game elements are on offer, but, the apparent freedom notwithstanding, the denouement is the same: a potentially backbreaking — and immensely frustrating — final-boss tiff that cannot be continued midstream.
ZERO GUNNER 2 is a three-dimensional shooter that pits gamers against the Asian conglomerate Igem, bent on furthering evil designs through the use of ONI, a machine powered by a unique energy source and capable of controlling the weather. Zero gunners have three helicopters to choose from in order to navigate seven stages. In presenting the title as part of Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha, developer Zerodiv needed to redo most of the Sega Dreamcast version. The result is an homage to the source material, which features multidirectional firing and a randomized presentation of the first four stages.
In sum, Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha makes good on its promise. The upgraded visuals and audio tracks are a blast, with nary a lag or frame drop. Controls are smooth and free of delay, even in handheld mode. Gamers will be particularly pleased that it offers cloud saves, as well as Flip Grip support for its four offerings in vertical orientation. If there’s any bane, it’s the absence of online leaderboards; part of the thrill of plunking down quarter after quarter on coin-op machines lay in the quest to be the best of the best. That said, it nails just about everything else in delivering a nostalgic experience. At $39.99, it’s a decided steal, and provides incentive for the purchase of its Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo, its partner compilation.
• Cooperative play
• Superb TATE mode
• High replay value
• Extremely challenging to the point of frustration
• Menus fail to match chosen orientation
POSTSCRIPT: NIS America will be in PAX East at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center late this month. In the latest staging of the gaming culture festival, the game publisher will have playable setups of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III, Langrisser I and II, LA-MULANA 1 and 2, Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories, and an as-yet-unannounced title. Giveaways can be had at each demo station. Merchandise will also be on sale, and up for grabs at the Prize Station.
THE LAST WORD: PlatinumGames has hit $1.5 million in its crowdfunding effort for The Wonderful 101: Remastered. The success of its Kickstarter project ensures that the two-dimensional action sidescroller, previously released on the Nintendo Wii U, will be on store shelves for owners of latest-generation consoles with an entirely different first mission. It’s currently aiming for $1.75-million and $2-million stretch goals for a “remix soundtrack” and a “brand new adventure” representing the second mission. The original goal of $50,000 was for its release on the Switch.