By Anthony L. Cuaycong
Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo
NIPPON ICHI Software America has released Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo, the second of two anthologies of classic shoot ‘em ups produced by Kyoto, Japan-based Psikyo, a videogame development company established in the early 1990s, and, not surprisingly, it winds up approximating the quality of its predecessor. As with Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha, the collection is made up of six shooters that preserve the look and feel of their arcade source material. And, as with Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha, it boasts of an overall gameplay experience that, with updated graphics and sounds, exceeds expectations.
Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo makes a decent attempt at sense and sensibility. It isn’t merely a haphazard stab at compiling titles. Rather, it’s a well-thought-out collection, with three contributions each from the Samurai Aces and GUNBIRD series. That said, there is a glaring lack of homogeneity. There are five traditional shooters — three with vertical, and two with horizontal, orientations — and one brick breaker. Moreover, four can be enjoyed in TATE mode using the third-party Flip Grip, which allows for control precision with the Switch tablet rotated 90 degrees.
Samurai Aces was a hit when it first made its way to arcades in 1993. As the first title ever produced by Psikyo under the tutelage of company founder Shin Nakamura, it shows both its roots and its age. Homages to Japan are evident in both the story and the game design. Six characters from the feudal Sengoku era venture on a deadly and potentially fatal mission to rescue Princess Tsukihime, the Shogun’s kidnapped daughter, prior to her death as a prerequisite to the resurrection of the demon god. There is need for significant suspension of disbelief in negotiating the top-down shooter, but gamers’ investment of time will otherwise be rewarded despite its outdated audio-visual presentation.
Forget about originality. TENGAI’s story is practically the same as that of Samurai Aces. Princess Futsu, the Shogun’s daughter, is taken for the purpose of resurrecting the demon god, and it’s up to five playable characters to stop the shadowy cult behind the abduction. Thankfully, the sequel, which shifts to a horizontal orientation, boasts of superior gameplay in bringing the melding of feudal Japan and steam-highlighted technology. And though, as with its predecessor, it offers multiple endings and branching levels, it amps up difficulty considerably, the challenges mitigated only by unlimited replays.
Samurai Aces III: SENGOKU CANNON sticks out as the only title in the collection without arcade roots. Originally released on the PlayStation Portable in 2005, it suffers from programming quirks that undoubtedly stem from the limitations of the hardware for which it was made. The fact that X-Nauts took over development likewise didn’t help. In any case, the result leaves a lot to be desired; the attempt at modernizing the presentation by way of three-dimensional backgrounds is stunted — negated, even — by stunning slowdowns. The choice of any of four (with two more ready to be unlocked) characters becomes moot; none do well in the final analysis. The platform simply fails to translate the vision of a Steampunk-injected Sengoku period in a manner that does justice to the series.
GUNBIRD first hit Japanese arcades in 1994, and has, since then, been re-released on various consoles, with ample reason. As a vertical shooter, it features unique mechanics that incorporate randomized stages with outstanding level design — and aided by anime-inspired visuals and immersive soundtracks. It even makes use of humorous cutscenes, not uncommon with Psikyo titles, but, in this case, especially effective in offsetting unusual hitboxes which would have otherwise led to frustration.
GUNBIRD 2, released in 1998, is similar to its predecessor, but superior in all the aspects that matter. The level designs and audio-visual presentation are even better, but what makes it truly worth the time of gamers is its intrinsic fairness. Make no mistake: It’s very hard (make that very, very hard), and not simply because of the absence of a level-select option; dodging enemy fire is especially a chore, with input lags a given and the speed of projectiles rising on second pass of the seven levels on tap. That said, rage-quitting doesn’t become an option; the improved power-up meter and storage level the playing field and make beating it a function of familiarity and choice.
Lastly, Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo includes GUNBARICH, a Breakout clone decked in shooter clothing. Its uniqueness is a come-on at the outset: Traditional shmup dodging and power-up mechanics combine with modified Arkanoid-like objectives. Instead of a paddle, flippers attached to the top of gamers’ ships are used to force back a ball and break a barricade of bricks within a fixed time frame. Two characters are on offer, with the choice of GUNBIRD series regular Marion or new addition Grutan presenting distinct handling options through 22 levels of bright, colorful backgrounds and catchy tunes. It becomes progressively harder to the point of chagrin, albeit offset by the benefit of increasing the number of lives to nine from the default three topped up with unlimited continues.
In sum, Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo is a decided steal at $39.99, never mind the dearth of any extras to round out the experience. Lumping Samurai Aces III: SENGOKU CANNON with titles that can be purchased separately on the Nintendo eShop, it gives gamers a complementary compilation of shooters designed to provide hours upon hours of fun. Standing out as a superior companion piece to Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha, it’s a boon for fans of retro shooters in general, and followers of Psikyo’s arcade releases in particular. Highly recommended.
• Offers Samurai Aces III: SENGOKU CANNON for the first time
• Extremely challenging but addictive
• Uncomplicated controls
• Visually and aurally pleasing remasters
• TATE option a decided plus
• No Extras at all
• Unavoidable input lags raise difficulty
POSTSCRIPT: The onset of community quarantine for COVID-19 containment has made things difficult for gamers who prefer physical copies. With videogame stores closed and mobility hampered, they’re forced to turn to digital options. For instance, they wound up heading to the Nintendo eShop to purchase Animal Crossing: New Horizons on the first day of its availability over the weekend. Even as a good number of them already had standing preorders for the highly anticipated title, they were effectively compelled to double dip in light of the uncertainty of the immediate future and their inability to wait.
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