[Review] Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha – Nintendo Switch

Written by Brett Hill
  • Developer: CITY CONNECTION CO., LTD
  • Publisher:  NIS America, Inc.
  • Release Date:  24/01/2020
  • Price: £35.99 $39.99
  • Review code provided by NIS America, Inc.

Arcade Classics From Yesteryear

Last October NIS America announced that they will be bringing 12 classic arcade games to the Nintendo Switch. Split over 2 releases named Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha and Bravo, this review covers Alpha which contains 6 of the most critically acclaimed arcade shooters from back in the day. This time no quarters are required to jump into the action.

The collection includes Strikers 1945 1,2 and 3 a vertical shooter trilogy set after World War 2, Sol Divide: Sword of Darkness a side-scrolling SHMUP set in medieval times overtaken by mythical creatures, Dragon Blaze and Zero Gunner 2.

Psikyo was a Japanese video game developer from the mid-90s who were known for releasing vertical shoot-em-ups. After they gained popularity in the arcades it wasn’t long until titles like Strikers 1945 and Gunbird made it into the homes for everyone to enjoy. Thanks to NIS America we can relive the high octane shooters all over again on current-gen and it feels right at home on the Switch especially with the added vertical mode for that authentic arcade feel.

Strikers 1945 1, 2 and 3

First up is the Strikers 1945 Trilogy, Mech robots have attacked earth and it is up to the Strikers to take them down. A team built up of 6 pilots who join forces to shoot and dodge there way through 8 stages. Each fighter has a distinct plane to take to the skies. Amongst them are the iconic Spitfire, The Harrier Jumpjet and the experimental Japanese prototype, The Shinden.

I have decided to group the 3 titles together as the gameplay and features are all very similar. The main differences are each game has a different selection of planes to choose from, the 3rd game difficulty scale has been reduced from 7 down to 4 and the visuals improved throughout the series. Strikers 1945 was the first game I jumped into from the collection and boy did I forget how difficult arcade shoot-em-ups were. Game Over repeatedly flashing up on the screen it wasn’t long before I changed the difficulty setting from normal down to Monkey. Even then the gameplay was brutal and unforgiving. I had to adapt quickly and re-familiarize myself with the genre.

As you fight your way through and take down the boss at the end of each stage there is a sense of achievement which I feel is lacking in modern gaming. Even though there are only 8 stages in each title it doesn’t feel shortlived as you are always trying to better yourself and improve as you slowly increase the difficulty rating. I challenge anyone to jump straight into very hard and survive the first stage. I stupidly attempted it and was welcomed with my first continue within seconds.

Even though the visuals haven’t been polished they look great and are reminiscent of an era I loved. The soundtrack complements the theme of the game regimental with plenty of drum rolls on the snare.

Zero Gunner 2

Described as a 3D multi-directional shooter Zero Gunner 2 was the hardest game to get your head around the controls. Unlike Strikers 1945 where you only have to move left and right forwards and backwards then shoot, here you have 360-degree control of your helicopter. With enemies coming at you from every angle which was difficult at first as you had to hold down multiple buttons and the analogue stick so you can move, turn and shoot without being shot first. Visually I thought Zero Gunner 2 was the best out of the bunch with its bright colour palette and 3D graphics that gave each stage extra depth and tone, especially during Boss battles. Once you have mastered the controls I also found Zero Gunner 2 the easiest to play with generous power upgrades thrown at you it doesn’t take long till you are maxed out and feels like nothing can get in your way.

Sol Divide: Sword Of Darkness

A Horizontal shooter which tries to change the rules by adding a melee mechanic but unfortunately fails due to boring and repetitive gameplay. The art style also hasn’t aged well with the CGI rendered backdrops and 3D sprites making it look like a blurry mess. The Levels are also pretty short and predictable with the only challenge being the Boss at the end who are so huge they take up most of the screen making it difficult to dodge any incoming attacks. I feel the playable character is also sized a little on the large side again making it difficult to move and dodge enemies.

As you progress through the game you are given the choice of which route you want to take on the map giving it a roguelike feel to the gameplay which keeps the game fresh but as it is quite short all combinations can be exhausted quickly.

Dragon Blaze

Dragon Blaze plays in the same vein as Striker 1945, a vertical shooter but there is a bit more meat to the gameplay with each character having their own back story and ending meaning a few playthroughs are needed if you want to see all outcomes and scenarios. controls are similar to Striker but with the added Dragon Shoot button a move that lets you send your Dragon to the forefront while you hang back in a glider suit letting you cause double the damage pretty useful when confronting a boss. The difficulty scaling is also the same as Striker.

Conclusion

The Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha collection contains some of the greatest arcade SHMUP’s from the ’90s. The Strikers 1945 Trilogy is the real gem amongst the compilation with Sol Divide letting it down with its lacklustre gameplay and dull-looking visuals but with 5 titles to work through and master you will hardly notice it’s there. The once-popular genre has stood the test of time and with the 6 games bundled together, you are truly getting your monies worth. If you are a fan of the nearly forgotten era of arcades or shoot-em-ups then NIS America’s latest offering is a must buy.

The little extras thrown in are a nice touch with wallpapers to select to make the borders less bleak and filters to change the screening pigment but the icing on the cake is the popular TATE mode letting you rotate the screen 90 degrees giving you that authentic fullscreen display. I would fully recommend owning the flip grip though before playing in this mode as the control can be awkward, this is the mistake I made.

The Main Menu is easy to navigate and select the game you want to play and also just as easy to back to if you want to change the title by pressing + and back to the main menu. Gone are the days of having to reboot the console to change a game. Wow, I am truly showing my age now. The visuals look great but they do suffer when playing a vertical shooter horizontally due to the small display, a stretched option may have benefitted. The music and sounds are nothing special as you would expect from this genre but it does a good job at complementing the gameplay.

On the whole Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha is a strong addition to the Nintendo Switch and with 6 classics to sink your teeth into there is hours of fun to be had. Co-op mode is a blast, the perfect game to sit down and chill with a friend as you shoot down huge mech robots and beat high scores. I am now off to buy a Flip Grip so I can use TATE mode to its full advantage.

Pros

• Jam-packed full of arcade goodness with 6 titles to play
• TATE Mode (vertical mode)
• Co-Op mode is a Blast
• No quarters required

Cons

• The standard game screen is a bit on the small side especially in handheld
• Sol Divide is a bizarre choice to include in the collection
• No online features


Verdict
Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha is a great compilation of vertical SHMUPS from yesteryear containing hours of fun especially with a friend in CO-OP mode.

3.5/5


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