[Review] Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo – Nintendo Switch

Written by Richard Strachan
  • Developer: CITY CONNECTION
  • Publisher: NIS America
  • Release date: 21/2/2020
  • Price: £35.99 / $39.99
  • Review code provided by NIS America

Intro

Ahh, the good old Shmup. Maybe the most polarising genre? Some people love the challenge of walking the tightrope between glory and coin guzzling defeat, for others the genre can be a bit too intimidating. Growing up in Scotland in the 90’s I didn’t have much opportunity to play these games, other than a mythical copy of Raiden Densetsu for the Super Famicom. One of my mates somehow managed to acquire this along with a converter to play it on the SNES. I have fond memories of that game, but I never really started to enjoy a good Shmup until I was a fair bit older. Perhaps the lack of access to the best Japanese stuff was part of the problem, but thanks to the advent of digital distribution we can now get a hold of some of the classics for less than the price of a takeaway!

Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo is the second release from NIS America in their two-part series which curates some of the best stuff from the legendary Japanese developer. Our very own Brett Hill took a look at Shooting Stars Alpha a few weeks ago and came away somewhat impressed. So how does Bravo hold up? The truth is this is a bit of a mixed bag.

The collection is basically split into two halves, one being the trio of Samurai Aces games and the other the Gunbird games. Both represent the more off the wall side of Psikyo when compared to some of the less esoteric stuff like the Strikers 1945 series!

Samurai Aces

The first game on the collection is actually the first game Psikyo developed. It was released in Arcades in 1993, but despite its age it is still absolutely magic!

The game plays as a vertical scrolling shooter and laid the groundwork for the formula repeated in the Gunbird and Strikers 1945 series, but it shows that Psikyo absolutely nailed it on their first attempt.

You have access to an auto shot, charge shot and a screen clearing bomb. The charge shot function allows the player to take a riskier approach, with the payoff of a lingering high damage attack, and adds a tactical element to each battle. Each of the playable characters in the game has a slightly different shot spread and a slight variation on their smart bomb attack. Some have a more condensed area of fire allowing for concentrated damage, whilst others have a very wide firing arc at the expense of DPS.

Unlike your typical military or mecha centric Shmup, Samurai Aces (as the name suggests) takes place in Feudal Japan during the Sengoku era. Enemies are pretty unusual, made up of reimagined imagery typical of the era, such as laser blasting Japanese lanterns, giant robotic Koi carp and crazy looking Yo-Kai as well as various Ninjas and Samurai. As you progress through the game, the designs get stranger and stranger, culminating in a brilliant boss fight with an enemy akin to Ammortan Joe from Mad Max Fury Road. The sprite work in the game is brilliant and everything really does pop off the screen. As the first game in the package it makes a great impression. As a vertical scrolling shooter it includes the now obligatory option to rotate the display, which works brilliantly when combined with a Flipgrip.

The additional options included with the game are pretty bare bones, with some options to add scanlines and change the borders if you are playing with a screen that’s in landscape orientation. This is a recurring theme with the package unfortunately. Most of the games have already been released on the eShop in the past. The collection basically bundles these together and adds a main menu to select each game before launching into the same version that is already available (although not every game has been released on the eShop so far).

There are no online scoreboards available in Samurai Aces (or any of the other games in the collection), so longevity really comes from working your way through the game and the various difficulty settings (starting from Monkey – which is still extremely hard!).

Tengai

The second game in the collection is a sequel of sorts to Samurai Aces, taking much of the same inspiration but rotating the action to a horizontal scrolling display. The game released a few years later and clearly benefits from the additional power available at the time. The artwork is beautiful and probably the highlight of the entire package (although the Gunbird games are pretty unique, but we’ll get to that!).

Tengai plays wonderfully and offers up some really unique enemies and environments. Features wise it is very similar to the first game, but the perspective shift and improved level of detail help the game feel distinct enough to make it worth playing. Much like Samurai Aces it is brutally unforgiving, but provides a huge amount of satisfaction if you persist with it!

Samurai Aces 3: Sengoku Cannon

Samurai Aces 3 is a real standout for me. When I launched the game I expected something very similar to the previous two games (which it certainly is gameplay wise). Where the third game differentiates itself is in its graphical presentation. The game originally launched on the PSP (and wasn’t actually developed by Psikyo despite the name association), so it tried to combine some of the signature pixel art with more modern 3D elements.

The game plays out in the same horizontal scrolling manner as Tengai, but uses polygonal backgrounds and spite-based enemies. The look is really unique, although it doesn’t seem to have been well received at the time of the game’s initial launch. As a historical work, I find the graphical style fascinating and found the game an absolute visual feast. It combines PS1-esque backgrounds with really nice pixel art enemies and ends up feeling like a unique snapshot of a particular era.

The game itself plays slightly differently with your usual auto shot as well as a more powerful option to shoot at a higher firing rate at the expense of some movement speed. The game also includes a cannon shot, which is a high-power attack with an extremely low rate of fire. Cannon attacks allow you to build a multiplier and spawn coins which give additional points. The different combat options mean that Aces 3 feels quite distinct from its predecessors, but I do feel that it ends up being a little more clunky as a result.

Aces 3 is probably the weakest of the traditional shooters in the package, but is still worth a few runs through. It’s also the only game in the package that can’t actually be bought separately on the eShop.

Gunbird and Gunbird 2

Gunbird and Gunbird 2 both play as vertical scrolling shooters and both play very similarly to Samurai Aces. Mechanically they are both very similar with a few subtle differences to the way they play. Whilst the Samurai Aces games represent the weirder side of the Psikyo catalogue, the Gunbird games take it a step further.

Gunbird initially released in the arcade, before being ported to the Saturn and PS1 so it doesn’t quite have the visual clout of the second game, but it offers a really unique take on the genre. The game includes a range of unusual playable characters from a witch on a broomstick, to a carpenter with a homemade wooden helicopter propelled by pedal power. Enemies range from giant Medieval Knights floating on jetpacks, to militarised mechs and Steampunk influenced enemies.

The Gunbird games are balanced a little easier than the others in the collection, so it’s very easy to see everything these games have to offer before dialling the difficulty up to bring on the challenge.

Gunbird 2 really ramps up the crazy factor with its enemies. The steampunk aesthetic is still felt sparsely, but some of the enemies get really crazy, with the final boss being particularly bizarre. Part of the joy is in seeing what will crop up next. Graphically the designs look gorgeous, drawing on the power of the era. The game was released on the Dreamcast and the power available to a 2D based game at that time really shows!

I picked up Gunbird 2 back when it was initially released on the Switch and I cannot recommend it highly enough! The balance of the gameplay is perfect and the range of enemies is so unique that I’ve made many a run through it in the past year or so. This is definitely the highlight of the package and even if you don’t pick up the collection, you should give Gunbird 2 a look!

It expands on the gameplay of the first game by including a three-tier super meter which can be built up by damaging enemies. This opens up access to a charged attack which unleashes a barrage of hellfire upon your enemies. A good run involves balancing on the knife edge to build your meter on time for a boss battle, as a fully charged attack can sometimes wipe out a boss in one go. In doing so you run the risk of dying before you use it and losing all your power and your super meter. Each charge of the meter can also be used to fire off a close-range melee type attack which does huge damage but carries an additional risk as you close the distance on an enemy.

The new gameplay mechanics in Gunbird 2 really build on everything in the other games mentioned and feel like the perfect culmination of everything Psikyo built on to that point!

Gunbarich

Gunbarich is the odd one out in this package. It plays as a cross between Breakout and Pinball, with some very light shooting mechanics included at times. The game is set in the same universe as the Gunbird games and includes familiar characters, but sees you controlling a paddle as you attempt to destroy all the blocks in a vertical play field. Chances are you’ve played some variation on this over the years, but Gunbarich manages to stand out as it adds in enemies, boss battles and a range of power ups. Power ups change the properties of your ball to affect the speed at which it moves and add explosive effects or can cause it to pass straight through blocks, allowing for huge combos. Your paddle also includes pinball flippers which can allow you to fire off more powerful shots.

The game is great fun but feels a little out of place in a package of shooters. That said, it’s great fun to see a different take on the Gunbird universe. The game also deserves an honourable mention for the most aggressive use of HD rumble!

Final thoughts

The overall package includes six really fun games, each managing to provide something unique. With some other collections it feels like the earlier games in a series are included for completeness rather than because they are fun to play, but that is absolutely not the case here.

The collection is very bare bones, offering nothing like the bonus books which were included in the recent Konami collections, but the quality of the games is so high that they can stand on their own.

There isn’t a great saving to be had purchasing the collection compared to buying the games individually. If you were to pick up the five games which are available in the eShop it would set you back £33.95. The collection is £35.99, so you are essentially getting Samurai Aces 3 for just over 2 quid. It isn’t available separately, so there is some merit in buying the collection.

If you own any of the other games from their separate releases then purchasing the games individually is perhaps a better option. For anyone else, I wholeheartedly recommend the collection as a unique bunch of Shmups which offer something a bit different from the legions of futuristic looking titles available in the genre (provided you can see past the barebones presentation).

Most of the games seem to include local coop play, but I didn’t get the chance to test this during my time with the package.

Pros

  • A solid collection of games
  • Gunbird 2 is an all time classic!
  • Flipgrip support

Cons

  • A very barebones package
  • No online leaderboards
  • Not great value

Verdict
Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo includes some amazing shooters – most notably the inimitable Gunbird 2. The collection lacks additional features, but the quality of the games really allows the package to shine based purely on the gameplay! A must for shooter fans.

3.5/5

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