enfrdeitptrues

Shoot 'em Up

  • Mercenary Kings Reloaded (Switch)

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    Game Info:

    Mercenary Kings Reloaded 
    Developed by: Tribute Games
    Published by: Tribute Games
    Release date: February 6, 2018
    Available on: Linux, macOS, PS4, Switch, Vita, Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Shoot ‘em up
    Number of players: Up to four online
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Violence, Blood and Gore, Comic Mischief, Mild Suggestive Themes, Use of Tobacco
    Price: $19.99

    Thank you Tribute Games for sending us this title to review!

    Mercenary Kings was successfully Kickstarted in 2012 and was released on PC and PS4 in 2014. The Xbox, Vita, and Switch didn’t receive this gem until 2018. The reloaded edition adds two new characters, additional guns, and the ability to buy crafting items without having to scavenge for them in levels.

    This 2D shoot ‘em up is a mashup of Metal Slug and Monster Hunter. The story goes as follows: scientists were creating a bio-regenerating formula on a remote island when the chief engineer was kidnapped by Baron and his CLAW forces. A team with royal sounding code names were sent to rescue him. However, only your character and another survived the attempt. The deaths of your comrades are quite gruesome and portrayed vividly in pixel styled cutscenes.

    Because of the blood, dismemberment, and decapitations of enemies, Mercenary Kings earns its Teen rating. Some soldiers are seen smoking in the opening cutscene. The blood and cigarettes are expected on the battlefield; however, I was surprised by the lack of bras for the female commandos. They jiggled quite a bit as they walked.

    Mercenary Kings Reloaded
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun missions; people actively playing online
    Weak Points: It takes a few minutes to begin online co-op missions; game crashed on me when I was online
    Moral Warnings: Violence, blood, and gore as enemies are dismembered and decapitated; female characters jiggle as they walk; soldiers are seen smoking

    When you first begin the game, you get to customize your character by naming them and selecting their appearance and color scheme. The training mission will teach you the basic controls which are shooting with the Y button, reloading with the right trigger, stabbing with X (great as a backup when you don’t have time to reload), and using the left trigger to manage your inventory. The A button will allow you to roll into some tight spaces or quickly evade enemy attacks.

    As enemies are killed, they will often drop materials which can be crafted into mods, weapon, and armor enhancements. At the base, you can store items in a chest to lighten your load since your trusty backpack does have its limits. Some of the mods make health items more effective, allow for better enemy drops or increase luck. The paratrooper mod slows down your falling speed.

    By talking to the commander, you can select a mission that’s suitable for your rank. You begin as a recruit and can work your way up to a general. Each mission is timed and offers reward money upon completion. Some missions have extra objectives to complete and they’re worth doing if you have time to spare. There’s a wide variety of mission types including destroying bombs, rescuing hostages, gathering resources, killing specific enemies, or rendezvousing with allies.

    At the beginning of each level, you’ll start with three lives and when you lose them all or run out of time, the mission will fail. For every death, your reward will decrease. Missions can be replayed as many times as needed. Some levels have infirmaries which can slowly heal you. They also serve as checkpoints and your character will respawn there if they die. Rations and first aid kits can heal you faster without losing valuable time.

    Mercenary Kings Reloaded
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 76%
    Violence - 1/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 7/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Besides healing items, it’s wise to carry other handy equipment like adrenaline shots for reviving allies, grenades, bombs, C4, and riot shields. Some levels have walls just asking to be blown up so having explosives on hand is always a good idea.

    There’s a wide variety of enemies and bosses to contend with. Some of them run around and shoot aimlessly while others have daunting attacks that require timing to avoid. The heavier armored bad guys often have a weak spot to exploit and do damage to them. If you’re having trouble taking any of the CLAW forces down, you can recruit some internet help if you’re online and set your game to public. I was able to get some online action within a few minutes of going public on my game. Sadly, I did get disconnected in one of my online skirmishes.

    The fast-paced chiptune music fits the art style nicely. Each character has a catchphrase that they use; my character said “Let’s kick some CLAW!” at the beginning of each mission. The sound effects are fitting and get the job done.

    With active multiplayer and over one hundred missions to enjoy, I think that the $19.99 asking price is reasonable for this game. The price tag is the same across all platforms so it’s good to not see a “premium” price for the Switch version. The portability is great and this game runs flawlessly on the Switch.

  • Nex Machina: Death Machine (PS4)

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    Game Info:

    Nex Machina: Death Machine
    Developed By: Housemarque
    Published By: Housemarque
    Released: June 20, 2017
    Available On: PS4, Windows (Steam)
    Genre: Shoot em Up (Twin Stick)
    ESRB Rating: T for Teen: Fantasy Violence, Blood
    Number of Players: 1-2
    Price: $19.99


    I give my sincere thanks to Housemarque for a game code.

    On a peaceful day in 2014, Housemarque wanted to make another game to fund their meatball supply. So they speed dialed Eugene Jarvis of Defender, Robotron, and Smash TV fame and asked him if he wanted to collaborate with them to make some sort of Frankenstein monster of a game. Obviously Jarvis said no so Housemarque was forced to take drastic measures and kidnap the man and made him work on a video game against his will. Out of this experience came Nex Machina.

    Nex Machina, influenced by Jarvis’s and Housemarque’s previous works, is a twin stick top down shooter with heavy arcade elements. It stars some sort of Mega Man looking astronaut guy or gal and the goal is to maybe save humanity from the robot menace. Well, the “story” (if you even want to call it that since the narrative is non-existent) is extremely vague; for all I know, I could be playing as the bad guy and committing genocide against a peaceful robotic civilization while they try their best to prevent their eventual demise. They really left it all up to the imagination.

    Anyways, once you start the game, it immediately throws you into the action with a 2-3 second scene of your character zooming down a freeway and landing into an area where three basic enemies suddenly want to end your life. There is no tutorial; the game without warning expects you to know what to do, which one would if they bothered to read the controls. The controls are actually very simple. Left stick is to move, right stick is to shoot in a direction. L1 is to dash and R1 is to use your sub weapon. Even if the control scheme is simple, the game itself is pretty complex and has a lot of depth to it. The player character even feels good to control as the character has very precise movement and stops on a dime. As you goes through the stages there are various power ups that you can pick up from defeated enemies or item boxes. These power ups range from giving you more consecutive dashes, to extending your weapons range, to even giving you a shield. Not only do each of these power ups give you better chances at survival by augmenting your character, they also augment your primary weapon by giving it more spread and damage. The sub-weapons range from a sword, to a rocket launcher to even a remote detonated bomb. The weapons all feel that they have a kick and weight to it such as when one uses the laser sub-weapon, the aiming and movement is slowed.

    Nex Machina: Death Machine
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Difficulty settings are much more than just inflated numbers; smooth, fast, and frantic; loads of secrets; insane amount of replay value.
    Weak Points: No online co-op; online arena lacks a bit more than expected of it.
    Moral Warnings: Mass destruction of robotic lifeforms; the humans you can optionally save can potentially die in a pretty violent fashion.

    Nex Machina has 6 main levels, with about 15 sub levels contained in each of them. Once all the enemies are destroyed, you are transferred to the next sub level. At the end of the level you face against a boss who does everything in its power to halt your progress. Within these levels there are humans to save and they can vary between 3 and 6 humans per sub level. You are not required to save the humans but the humans are essential if you want a high score. The humans resemble these fat looking people who aimlessly walk around, playing on some sort of handheld device, completely unaware of the danger that is right in front of them. It makes one think that if they are this stupid, are they truly worth saving? Going back to high score, Nex Machina is big on the score as each enemy nets you points, not dying in a sub level nets you points, finding the various secrets in the sub levels net you points, and running out of lives completely depletes your score. The enemy variety in Nex Machina is surprisingly well thought out and put together. There are enemies that simply try to rush and swarm you, there is another enemy that shoots lasers and missiles at a distance, and even one that has a giant drill that can potentially block off paths. Housemarque has masterfully blended these assortment of enemies together in a way that no one level feels the same as another.

    In terms of graphics, every enemy stands out from one another with a bright red color and shape. All enemy projectiles are a hot pink color. Your character has a bright blue aura around them. The humans are a mix of white and green. All of these features stand out as visual representation is a critical component of shoot em ups. Everything that is to be avoided is clear and noticeable. The game also took liberties with its graphics as well. Instead of enemies blowing up in a generic orange and grey explosion, the enemies actually explode in a multitude of voxels while if you die, you explode in a bright neon display. These death animations give the game a sense of uniqueness and flavor. The voxel explosion doesn’t only apply to the robots, it also applies to the destructible environments too.

    Throughout my many hours of play, I’ve never had the game at any point slow down on me, or witnessed a crash. It’s an extremely stable game as a constant frame rate and visual stability is crucial for a game such as this. The sound in this game is crisp and distinct, with a female voice announcing certain things in a sub-level such as if a special enemy spawned or if you picked up a powerup, among other things. She isn’t completely needed, and one probably wouldn’t notice if she disappeared, but it's a nice little thing to have. The enemies also have notable audio queues as you can almost tell what enemy is on a stage if it's even off screen. The soundtrack is based on synthwave, which complements the game very well with it being a futuristic setting. I liked the beats that are showcased, but in my opinion, outside of the catchy credits song, none of it really stuck out to me which for the type of game it is, that’s actually a good thing. This will lead into my next point.

    Nex Machina: Death Machine
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 92%
    Gameplay - 19/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 93%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Nex Machina is not an easy game. It is mean, cruel, punishing and even at times unforgiving. Sure there are multiple difficulty settings, but if you only play this game on beginner, you’re doing yourself a disservice as it is not a good or clear representative of the game at all, and the fact that the game won’t even let you play the last level if you play on beginner. The game starts off easy enough, teaching you the mechanics and what it expects of you, but after the second level, the game quickly ramps up in its brutality with so much effects on the screen and so many things trying to kill you at once it can be overwhelming to the point of mental exhaustion. The game is fast paced and demands your attention 100% of the time, especially against the later bosses who throw so much pink at you, that you need precision and finesse to get through them. There are actually 5 difficulty settings with two of them being unlockable. Each difficulty setting progresses in a good rate as well. The harder settings do not only just inflate numbers, it also makes enemies faster, more aggressive, and even gives them special attributes upon death which is what I love to see in difficulty settings.

    There are some morality warnings to be noted of in this game. It is violent first of all. Many robots were harmed in the making of this game. They explode a lot, and you also explode, a lot. There is also a certain enemy that targets the humans scattered throughout the levels and the way they kill the humans is pretty graphic. If you fail to save the human in time, the robot claws away at them and blood pours on the ground, and the blood itself looks fairly realistic, which is pretty unsettling in a game filled with neon lights and voxels. Unless you’re really trying to look for it like I did one may not even notice the blood as they are simply trying to survive.

    If you’re a one-and-done kind of game player, you may want to look elsewhere for video games. Nex Machina is extremely short, clocking in just about an hour to see the credits. It is also a game for people who like and crave a challenge and I wouldn’t recommend it to casual players either as they might get too frustrated and rage quit. For people who replay games, Nex Machina has a crazy amount of replay value with its own built in achievement system called “feats”, leaderboards, the online arena, secret sub-levels on every level (as well as enemies), a local co-op mode, and even a bonus final boss for people who are tough enough to 1CC (Credit Clear) the entire game. There is just so much to come back to and every play through is just as exciting as the first. I wished there was a few more things added like an online co-op portion or that the online arena mode had some sort of survival mode but these issues are minuscule to the amount of good Nex Machina did.

    Nex Machina is easily one of the best games I have played this year and one of the best shoot em ups I have ever played in general. It's like the developers looked through the history of shoot em ups and combined all the good parts of all the popular and critically acclaimed ones and blended them into such a pristine work of art. It oozes with so much style and passion that I fell in love within the first minute, and made me go though so many emotions: anger from dying against the standard final boss, locking me out of the bonus boss, happiness from actually completing a 1CC play-through, and excitement from playing such an adrenaline pumping game. Just be wary of kids or others playing this game as the blood shown in the game is pretty realistic compared to everything else and the game possibly being too hard for the average player. If you like shoot 'em ups in any sense, you owe it to yourself to buy Nex Machina. A game like this deserves to be played.

    -Cinque Pierre

  • Nova Drift (PC) (Preview)

     

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    Game Info:

    Nova Drift
    Developed By: Chimeric
    Published By: Pixeljam
    Released: March 17, 2019 (early access)
    Available On: Windows; MacOS
    Genre: Top down shooter; arcade
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: Single-player
    Price: $15

    Thanks to Pixeljam for the Steam Early Access key for review!

    Nova Drift is a top down shooter that wonders if it would be a good idea to take Asteroids and let it have a ton of upgrade choices and glowy visuals. It is in Early Access as of writing but already has a good chunk of content to offer and almost no miscellaneous issues. The future for Nova Drift can only get better with an already solid core gameplay loop.

    You pilot a blue glowy ship whose only form of acceleration is a thruster on the back. Movement is done by rotating the ship and using the thruster while being careful with slippery momentum. Controlling the ship is one of the core parts differentiating Nova Drift from other titles. It takes some getting used to but surprisingly feels completely natural. Shooting your weapon is also restricted to one angle. At the front of your ship you can see a faint blue streak, and that’s where your bullets will come from. The angle restrictions on weapons adds to the difficulty of controlling the ship, but not in a way that can’t be mastered. It all feels smooth and the game is designed around these movement mechanics perfectly.

    Nova Drift
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Decent run variety; fantastic graphics
    Weak Points: Awkward UI; No online leaderboards
    Moral Warnings: Exploding ships and asteroids

    Currently, there is only one mode with some difficulty modifiers. The goal of the endless mode is to simply get as far as possible and rack up as much score as possible to beat your best. Unfortunately, there aren’t online leaderboards so you are your only competition. Interestingly, killing enemies alone isn’t how you gain score. Enemies drop small white orbs that act as both score and experience points used to level up and get upgrades. These orbs can disappear after some time, and while you can attract them from pretty far away, you still need to pay some attention to grabbing them off the ground.

    There’s quite a large variety of enemies to destroy, with most of them having unique bullet patterns and elite versions that are larger and more powerful. Enemies spawn in preset waves that you can learn to prepare for despite the order of waves being randomized. There are boss fights every 20 waves or so that are all well designed, but I wish there was more oomph to hitting them and that their order was randomized. Seeing the giant purple circle ship every time I hit wave 40 makes things a tad repetitive.

    After you collect enough white orbs, you level up and get to choose one upgrade from a handful of choices. There is a pretty wide variety of upgrades. There are several weapons to choose from such as a salvo of missiles to a flak cannon. One upgrade changes the way you shoot like having the bullets come from the sides of the ship and another adds more bullets per shot with some spread. There are also familiars you can use that provide a number of advantages, most of the time simply being more fire power. I found that while there are several upgrades that significantly change how you fire a weapon, most of the other upgrades are statistical. Your fire-rate, damage, and bullet velocity will constantly be changing during a run. There are also upgrades for health and speed that will be necessary for a successful attempt. Run variety in Nova Drift is very strong despite not being a finished product, and it can only get better from here.

    Nova Drift
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay 16/20
    Graphics 9/10
    Sound 8/10
    Stability 5/5
    Controls 5/5

    Morality Score - 93%
    Violence 6.5/10
    Language 10/10
    Sexual Content 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical 10/10

    Nova Drift’s spacey backgrounds and bright glowy ships that shoot vibrant bullets work together very well. There’s only one piece of music currently that is more ambient and out of the way than anything, but it works to keep you immersed. There’s a good amount of oomph to almost everything, the bigger the ship the louder and larger the explosion. On the other hand, most of my issues with the game are from the audio-visual side. Until bosses die, they don’t really react to the barrage of bullets you spray at them. The UI has several issues with not quite perfect controller support and a lack of controller prompts. These issues are minor and sure to be fixed at some point in development, but they are something you consistently notice.

    There are a constant barrage of exploding ships on screen at almost all times. Fortunately there are no visible pilots since the ships themselves seem to be sentient. There's no bad language to see and with no online leaderboard you don't need to worry about random usernames.

    I think Nova Drift is one of the better top-down shooter arcade games. The variety within the upgrade system and enemy waves is fun and the visual and audio work is high quality. The improvements I’d want are minor things that if not changed don’t hinder the overall product enough for me to not recommend the game. The Early Access tag simply means more content coming for an already good game.

  • Pawarumi (Switch)

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    Game Info:

    Pawarumi
    Developed by: Manufacture 43
    Published by: Manufacture 43
    Release date: July 24, 2019
    Available on: Linux, macOS, Switch, Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Arcade
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for fantasy violence
    Price: $14.99

    Thank you Manufacture 43 for sending us this game to review!

    Pawarumi‘s story is nothing special, but it’s serviceable. The Council is ruling the world with an iron fist and it’s up to Axo, the pilot of the best ship in the world, Chukaru, to make things right again. Along the way, a dark secret will be revealed, but how will Axo respond?

    To separate Pawarumi from other shoot 'em ups, it uses an interesting trinity mechanic that’s very similar to Rock-Paper-Scissors. Chukaru has three deity infused weapons: Serpent (green), Condor (blue), and Jaguar (red). There is also an ultimate attack that is quite devastating, but requires charging up before use.

    The enemies are equipped with red, green, and blue paint jobs and depending on what you color weapon you fire at them, different things will happen. The tough part is keeping it all straight since there are no on-screen legends to guide you. There is an indicator on the bottom of which color weapon you should use, but it changes quite often.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Interesting combination of Rock-Paper-Scissors and shoot 'em ups; good music
    Weak Points: No on-screen reminders of what the weapons do; only four levels
    Moral Warnings: Spaceship violence; Axo wears skintight clothing that shows off her figure; references to deities 

    The controls remain consistent with the A button launching the red missiles, B shooting the green gun, and the Y button firing the blue laser. If you have enough energy, you can press X to launch the super attack.

    If you fire the same color weapon as the enemy, your ship’s shield will recharge. Not only is this the easiest to memorize, but it’s also probably the most useful as you only have one life in this game and no ability to resume your progress across the four levels. When your shield is depleted, it’s game over and you get to enter your name on the Switch’s (local only!) leaderboard.

    To do extra damage (crush) to the enemies you have to use the green weapon on red enemies, red on blue foes, and blue on green adversaries. To recharge your super attack (drain) you’ll want to use this combination: red on green enemies, green on blue foes, and blue on red adversaries. You can charge your super weapon up to three levels.

    Pawarumi
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 81%
    Violence - 5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

     

    The levels are colorful and nicely detailed. There’s plenty of variety between them to keep things interesting. There are both large and small enemies to shoot at and many of them fire back at you. It’s in your best interest to avoid their pink bullets. The bosses are intimidating and often have several targets to fire at.

    The background music varies and is well done. If you fall in love with the music and want to own it, it’s available for purchase on Steam for $5.99. The other sound effects are fitting and sound good.

    Since this game is a shooter, ship explosions and violence is a given. Although not seen, violent acts like beheading enemies are described in the dialogue. There are references to other deities, but not our Lord.

    If you’re good at shoot 'em ups, Pawarumi won’t keep you occupied very long with its four levels. As you beat a level, the next one becomes available in a training mode to hone your skills on. All in all, this is a fun game, but you may need to keep a cheat sheet handy until you get the hang of the trinity mechanics.

  • Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha (Switch)

     

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    Game Info:

    Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha
    Developed By: Psikyo
    Published By: NIS America
    Release Date: January 21, 2020 (Switch)
    Available On: Nintendo Switch
    Genre: Shoot 'em Up
    Number of Players: 1-2
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for Fantasy Violence, Mild Language
    MSRP: $39.99

    Thank you NIS America for sending us this game to review!

    My very first video game was Space Invaders, and I've had a soft spot for the shoot 'em up genre ever since. With that said, the genre itself has gotten far more complex and difficult over the years, to where my skills no longer measure up. I still enjoy myself until I hit that wall, though. While I have heard and played many of the more famous shoot 'em up entries of the 1980s, I never really had a chance to play many of the late 1990s entries. Once I realized that's what these were, I was excited to give them a whirl for review.

    Psikyo was a popular shoot 'em up game maker who was really active from the mid 1990s through the early 2000s, especially in Japan. (The Psikyo brand still lives, but they don't develop new games anymore, instead working with external developers.) Most of their titles came to the arcade first, and five out of six of the games included here did as well.

    Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha is the first of two packs of games, with Bravo coming soon. This first pack is dominated by military-style shoot 'em ups, with two fantasy ones also included. The games are:

    Strikers 1945
    Strikers 1945 II
    Strikers 1945 III
    Sol Divide: Sword of Darkness
    Dragon Blaze
    Zero Gunner 2

    Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Compilation of six fun games for less than buying them individually; optional portrait mode so you can rotate your Switch and see more of the game; good emulation; variable difficulty level
    Weak Points: No save state support; even the easiest difficulty is challenging on some games; dialogue is serviceable at best on some of the games
    Moral Warnings: Violence, with bullets or knives/magic shooting down ships or mystical creatures; some creatures show large amounts of cleavage (harpies); ‘Hell Island’ is a place, and you fight against the army of Satan

    Zero Gunner 2 was originally released for home consoles, in this case the Dreamcast. You can tell for two reasons; for one, it's graphically much more advanced, being 3D rendered. Secondly, it's much easier on the Normal difficulty level. The other five games on Normal are quite insane, and clearly meant to chew through quarters. While these games are technically not part of the 'bullet heck' genre, on higher difficulties they're close enough that they might as well be. Those shots come through fast and furious, with much of the screen covered by bullets at once.

    Strikers 1945 and its sequels are pretty standard shooters where you fly a fighter plane and blow up loads of enemies as the level scrolls behind you. These are vertical shooters, where the levels scroll from top to bottom. You can move your plane anywhere on the screen to avoid those bad guys, or pickup power-ups that include improved guns or bombs. Bombs are screen-clearing attacks that should be used when you otherwise will not survive the encounter, but getting timing right can be a challenge. Power-ups give your plane's guns more shots, or give you little automatons that help you shoot your enemies. Bullets end up being everywhere, both yours and your enemies', as you bring down the many opponents you fight against. The levels are interesting, and the enemies pretty varied. These games are very good representatives of the genre.

    Dragon Blaze is basically a fantasy version of Strikers 1945. Enemy bullets are pink instead of orange, and enemies are fantasy instead of technological, but gameplay-wise it's very, very similar. You can also hop off of your dragon if you want it to keep shooting at something while you get out of the way. While artistically different to Strikers 1945, it feels very similar to play.

    Sol Divide: Sword of Darkness is a side-scrolling shooter that feels quite different from the others. You have your standard 'pew pew' attacks, as well as a melee attack and magic spells you can use. While the pixel art is not really as good as the other games, I really like the change of pace that this offers; not just because it's side scrolling, but the focus is different. The characters are large, and you collect magic points and health instead of one-time use bombs and instant death like the others. I enjoy it a lot.

    Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 80%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 9/10
    Sexual Content - 7/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The final game is certainly the most technically advanced, and definitely looks the best. That would be Zero Gunner 2. This was originally a home console game, and you can tell because of the much more accessible difficulty level. It also has an interesting twist on the shooter; rather than being straight up and down, or take a more modern twin stick approach, you instead have to re-aim your ship with a separate button to change the angle and direction that you are facing. If the enemies start to come at you from an angle or from the bottom of the screen, you should probably turn around first! It has a much different feel, and it's probably my favorite game of the bunch.

    From a technical perspective, all of the games run perfectly, which you would expect from emulation of 20+ year old games. The four vertical shooters use a vertical aspect ratio - the screen is taller than it is wide. Most televisions (and the Switch screen itself) are usually the opposite - wider than they are tall, so only a small portion of the screen is used at a time. What you can do, if you wish, is to rotate your Switch and go into the options and rotate the screen ninety degrees. It supports this, and works really well. The other two games do not offer or require rotation, as they have a wider screen ratio. The sound effects and music are serviceable, but nothing special. I feel like the chiptunes could have been rendered at a higher quality, but I never heard the originals so I might be wrong.

    From an appropriateness standpoint, there isn't too much to talk about. You shoot other planes, tanks, magical creatures, and so on, depending on the game's setting. Some of the mystical creatures are things like harpies, which look female and expose a lot of cleavage. One game has an area called 'Hell Island', and it talks about fighting against the army of Satan.

    Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha is a pretty good collection, especially for fans of the shoot 'em up genre. Many of the games are available standalone for $7.99 each through a different publisher, but not all of them. I do wish that it supported save states, but the games are fairly short, so it's not a huge loss. I admit I was spoiled by the SNK collection with their save states + rewind features, but what can you do. If you think you will enjoy these games, then it's an easy recommendation! I can certainly see the charm and enjoyed my time with it (when I swallowed my pride and lowered the difficulty level).

  • Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo (Switch)

     

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    Game Info:

    Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo
    Developed By: Psikyo
    Published By: NIS America
    Release Date: February 18, 2020 (Switch)
    Available On: Nintendo Switch
    Genre: Shoot 'em Up, Arcade
    Number of Players: 1-2
    ESRB Rating: T for Fantasy Violence, Suggestive Themes
    MSRP: $39.99

    Thank you NIS America for sending us this game to review!

    We recently reviewed the Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha collection, where there are six games, of mostly the military variety, where you get to shoot bad guys out of the sky. These six are both similar and different; similar, in that several of them are vertical shooters, and different, because they are quite different thematically. This collection also represents an interesting group historically, as it includes Psikyo's first ever game, Samurai Aces Episode I. The full list of games is:

    Samurai Aces Episode I
    Samurai Aces Episode II: TENGAI
    Samurai Aces Episode III: SENGOKU CANNON
    GUNBIRD
    GUNBIRD2
    GUNBARICH

    Samurai Aces Episode one is a vertical shooter, as is their second ever shooter, GUNBIRD (they had a fighting game in between). The foundation of this collection is their early non-military shooters, as both Samurai Aces and GUNBIRD are hybrid magic and technology. GUNBIRD2 is also fairly similar, though it's slightly newer, and you can tell that it has some of the improvements also noted from Strikers 1945 II from the Alpha collection.

    Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Compilation of six fun games for less than buying them individually; optional portrait mode so you can rotate your Switch and see more of the game; good emulation; variable difficulty level; more game and character variety than the recent Alpha collection
    Weak Points: No save state support; even the easiest difficulty has challenge on some games; dialogue is serviceable at best
    Moral Warnings: Violence, with bullets or knives/magic shooting down ships or mystical creatures; some characters show large amounts of cleavage, with another wearing skin-tight clothing with nipples massively protruding; one game has an area that is 'where God lives'; suggestive themes (I didn't run into this, but I didn't play every possible character combination on all six games)

    Samurai Aces Episode II: TENGAI is a side-scrolling shooter, also mostly magical, with several returning characters. (This series of games features a woman wearing a partly opened karate gi with no bra and little left to the imagination.) It's most similar to the game Sol Divide from the other collection, except this one does not feature melee attacks. It has the same standard shooting attacks (though what is shot varies depending on the character chose) as well as bombs.

    Samurai Aces Episode III: SENGOKU CANNON is the only game here that is not an arcade release, but rather a port of a PSP game. It's a side-scrolling shooter, that's quite similar to Samurai Aces Episode II: TENGAI in a lot of ways. It's also notable that this one was not created by Psikyo's development team, since they had disbanded before 2005, but by a team made up partly of former members. This game has an interesting combination of 2D sprites and 3D enemies and/or backgrounds. It definitely looks different than any game from either collection. It still plays well, and there is more variety to the attacks as well, as there is a normal/weak attack, where you can move quickly, and strong attack that slows you down, as well as a super strong attack that requires a button press each time. There is also the obligatory bomb attack. It's quite fun, though it's odd how low-resolution the main characters' sprites are.

    The last but certainly not least game included in this collection is GUNBARICH. This features at least one character I recognized from GUNBIRD, but rather than being a shoot 'em up, it's a puzzle game remarkably similar to Breakout! or Arkanoid, with a mix of pinball thrown in. Basically, you have a single ball, like Breakout!, and you hit it with your paddle into bricks. However, your paddle has pinball-style paddles, so you can bump as well as redirect the ball as needed. Some levels have power-ups, enemies that shoot at you, and all kinds of crazy stuff. It's a pretty neat game, and looks great since the art is of a much higher resolution that all of the other games in this collection. I like it, and it's a very welcome change.

    Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 74%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 9/10
    Sexual Content - 5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    From a technical perspective, all of the games run perfectly, which you would expect from emulation of 15+ year old games. The three vertical shooters (and GUNBARICH) use a vertical aspect ratio - the screen is taller than it is wide. Since most televisions (and the Switch screen itself) is usually the opposite - it's wider than it is tall, only a small portion of the screen is used at a time. What you can do, if you wish, is to rotate your Switch and go into the options and rotate the screen ninety degrees. It supports this, and works really well. The other games do not offer or require rotation, as they have a wider screen ratio. The sound effects and music are serviceable, but nothing special.

    From an appropriateness standpoint, it's definitely a bit less appropriate than the Alpha collection. Both have stuff to shoot, like robots, tanks, magical creatures, and so on. What's different about this one is recurring characters that have a large amount of cleavage shown, to the point where if they shifted sideways, the cat would be out of the bag. Another enemy in one of the games has such a form-fitting outfit that her nipples are prominently popping out through her clothing. Of course some characters use magic, and at least one uses tarot cards as her weapon. A place 'where God lives' is mentioned. The ESRB notes suggestive themes, which is entirely possible, I just missed it since I haven't played every game with every possible character combination.

    Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo is an enjoyable collection, especially if you like shoot 'em ups. With more variety than the Alpha collection, it perhaps has more to offer, though again, it also has more appropriateness issues as well. Like the other collection, some games are purchasable individually on the eShop, but they are less expensive to buy as a whole with this collection. Like before, I do wish the emulation used here offered save states, but what can you do. They are certainly challenging; if you want a challenge you'll find it here. If you enjoy classic shooters, these are solid entries to the genre that are absolutely worth your time, if you don't mind the occasionally overly-generous top half of some of the women.

  • Quad Fighter K (Switch)

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    Game Info:

    Quad Fighter K
    Developed By: Happymeal, Inc.
    Published By: Aksys Games
    Released: May 31, 2018
    Available On: Switch
    Genre: Arcade, Shoot 'Em Up
    ESRB Rating: E for Mild Fantasy Violence
    Number of Players: Up to 4 offline
    Price: $7.99

    Thanks to Aksys Games for sending us this game!

    Quad Fighter K is a mix of classic and creativity. It takes a tired format and reshapes it to its own accord. Built off a sort of Space Invaders style, Quad Fighter K has a simple premise: get from point A to point B. It operates on a sort of up-scroller, with you and the level constantly traveling up. You're free to move vertically and horizontally on this traveling up world, as you dodge enemies and bullets. But QFK is different in the way it handles ships.

    In this game is something called a KYOGEKI system. The KYOGEKI system allows you to connect all four ships together. Each ship has its own special ability. Some fire lasers, some fire sphere like bombs that explode after traveling a short distance, some fire bullets, but each ship has its own different gun pattern. When you combine these ships together, the results can be pretty amazing. I once found a combination that fires 2 lasers from the front, and could also lay down heavy bullet fire from the right and left sides of it to keep my blind-spots clear. But there are so many other combinations there that you can try.

    There are two different modes, with two sub-modes. The two modes are KYOGEKI and Attack respectively. KYOGEKI mode follows 3 ships and a "VIP" ship. Your job is to clear all the stages while protecting the VIP ship. Every stage your VIP ship has 9 lives, while your 3 normal ships have infinite lives. If you manage to clear a stage without losing your VIP ship, on the next stage it will have its full 9 lives again.

    Attack mode allows you to play all levels without having to protect a VIP ship. However, all ships only have 5 lives. Now, let's talk about the sub-modes. Arcade lets you play a sort of story mode. You progress through each stage, getting harder as you go along. There's also Battle mode, where you choose which stage you want to play and go for the highest score. Both of these exist under the KYOGEKI or Attack mode, so in essence you can choose if you want to play them with the VIP ship or without. Personally, I found Attack mode more fun, but this is just my opinion.

    Quad Fighter K
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fast and fluid gameplay; interesting system of weapons that allow many combinations
    Weak Points: Can get a bit tedious; too many distracting effects
    Moral Warnings: Some light cartoon violence

    As you progress through the stages, you'll fight different enemies before reaching bosses. Each stage has 2 bosses, one mini-boss and a stronger boss. Each boss has different abilities and patterns. Enemies and bosses also can drop bombs that can be used to, well, blow things up. These bombs have different patterns for each one, although there are only 4 patterns that I've seen.

    The graphics in this game are a very simple and colorful callback to the NES era. With an 8-bit presence that feels nostalgic, QFK has a great assortment of sprites and effects. The animation feels incredibly fluid and well polished.

    The audio in this game reminds me a lot of the NES era as well. The music is a very upbeat 8-bit style, reminding you how limited technology was back then. The melodies are nice but a bit forgetful.

    Controls also feel very fluid, with no appreciable delay. It has simple back and forth, left and right movement, with other buttons for disengaging the KYOGEKI system (which breaks the ship into singular entities again), one to use bombs and one to shoot. Now, let's move into the cons.

    The only real issue I have with this game is some visual choices. In this game, some of the world itself can be blown up. These are just small tiles, but they can be blown up nonetheless. My issue is that every single time a tile or enemy is blown up, a distracting explosion effect is shown. The problem becomes evident when EVERYTHING starts to have an explosion. Below is a screenshot of said issue.

    Quad Fighter K
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 64%
    Gameplay - 12/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 96%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - -10/10

    However, there is no morally improper content in this game. The violence isn't gory, there's no sexual content or language; it's a pretty clean game. One minor bug I found was this one below, where it seems the tiles weren't linking up properly and creating that black line effect you see. I only saw it once, so either I couldn't recreate this bug or I didn't notice it again.

    But, I got a bonus game with QFK. It's called Cyber Ship Nakku (which I shall call CSN), and it is simply QFK but worse in every single way. It's easy enough to get into, as you can simply find it on the main title screen. But QFK looks like a NES game, the graphics are much sharper and more colorful. CSN however, just looks like a port of a NES game. The controls are also horrid; so bad that it feels like you're piloting a ship that's skidding on ice. The hit detection is awful, with most shots not even registering on enemies. And yet again while QFK sounded like an NES game, it still had improvements. CSN still sounds like a direct port of an NES game. There's only one or two ships in this game, the second ship being controlled by a second player.

    I could go on about why this game is bad, but I don't even have the interest in doing so. I don't know why they felt putting the bonus game in was a good idea, because it entirely ruins everything that made QFK good. Thankfully, it's just a bonus game. You still have normal QFK.

    In closing, QFK is a game designed on a format from the past, with a sprinkle of originality, but feels a bit generic and overdone.

    - Remington

  • Quantum Pilot (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Quantum Pilot
    Developed By: Quantum Productions
    Published By: Quantum Productions
    Released: October 20, 2017
    Available On: Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, Android
    Genre: Shoot ‘em up
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: Single-player, 2 player local
    Price: $0.99

    Thanks to Quantum Productions for the Steam key for review!

    Quantum Pilot has to be one of the more interesting games I have played recently. The concept it goes for is something that hasn’t really been done before, and it does it surprisingly well for what looks like a side project. The game is flawed in several ways, but I can forgive it because of its solid execution on a weird idea.

    The core mechanic in Quantum Pilot is that the enemies are all copies of your previous self. Each time you kill a wave of enemies, a new wave will spawn with one extra enemy that mirrors your movements from last time. Because of this, the game almost acts as a puzzle game. You have to make sure what you’re shooting now is possible to be dodged later. The game only gets as difficult as you make it, since you basically are making your own bullet patterns to dodge. It’s difficult to explain this mechanic well and you really have to see it in action to get it.

    Quantum Pilot
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Unique concept executed well
    Weak Points: Terrible UI and menus; boring visuals; can be repetitive
    Moral Warnings: Combat violence

    There are two game modes. The first is shuffle. In shuffle, every time you hold down the shoot button, it essentially pauses the game. This lets you shoot more careful patterns and helps you slow things down to dodge as well. For people that want to rely a little bit less on reflexes, this mode works well. The second mode is Onslaught. It’s the same thing as shuffle, except shooting doesn’t cause the game to pause. Everything in Onslaught is in real time and plays a bit quicker. Both modes have the same loop of “survive as long as possible”. There is an end to a game of Quantum Pilot, but the game is pretty difficult, so I have yet to make it that far.

    You can play in local co-op with a second player. We were able to both use controllers. When one player dies, instead of ending the run the other player can try to beat the wave of enemies themselves. If the other player beats the wave, the dead player respawns. In Onslaught, co-op mode worked perfectly and felt great. Shuffle was kind of a mess. The pausing when you shoot mechanic completely breaks with two people. Sometimes the ships will both stop moving when one person shoots, other times neither player stops, and sometimes just the player shooting will stop. The game can’t figure out what to do with itself in this mode.

    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 68%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 5/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 93%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Quantum Pilot is a mess in a lot of ways. The menus and UI are just ugly junks of text. There’s only one soundtrack that loops, and sounds are…okay. Sometimes text from menus would remain on the screen for a little while when in a run. Weirdly enough, despite all this, the game isn’t that buggy. It’s just not visually appealing for the most parts with its singular color use and bad menus. The controls are perfect and feel tight though.

    There’s nothing to say for morality. The only violence is shapes shooting other shapes with more shapes. There’s no blood, cursing, or anything to take note of. All in all, I would recommend Quantum Pilot. For a dollar you’re getting an incredibly unique and simplistic experience that has some UI issues. It’s fun and different, and I’d say worth a shot.

  • RIVE: Wreck, Hack, Die, Retry (PC)

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    Game Info:

    RIVE: Wreck, Hack, Die, Retry
    Developer: Two Tribes
    Published by: Two Tribes Publishing
    Release Date: September 13, 2016
    Available on: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, macOS X, Linux
    Genre: Action, Twin Stick Shooter, Platformer
    Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: E for Everyone, fantasy violence, mild language.
    Price: $14.99
    (Humble Store Link)

     

    Thank you Two Tribes for the review code.

    I hate it when something's short and sweet; you want more and when you find out you won't get any more of it, you just end up disappointed. Today's title, RIVE: Wreck, Hack, Die, Retry is just that, a sweet treat that is over just as quickly as it began. Lets dive right into the wreckage and see what treasures we can pull out of this game.

    RIVE puts you in the role of a simple space trucker who loves video games. During a routine mission harvesting space junk for cash he gets stuck in an abandoned factory. His only company is a witty AI butler who has control over the entire station. While not everything is as it seems, the good ol' space trucker just wants to escape with his loot and sanity intact.

    Rive
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: A well built game with quality voice acting, music and content.
    Weak Points: The game is sweet but short; anyone who spends more time with this than the average length of content is truly a hardy gamer. 
    Moral Warnings: Cartoonish explosions and mild language are all you have to worry about. The trucker will let out a damn or asshole every now and then.

     

    This game is a simple space shooter that focuses on your own reflexes and ability to think at a moment's notice. The game has some auto scrolling sections reminiscent of games like Gradius but most of the time you will be platforming and taking on enemies as a spider tank. The game is linear so don't expect a Metroidvania like experience. Aside from your regular infinite ammo machine gun you have a choice of one of four unlockable super weapons. Each of these four weapons shares one charge; once you use it you'll have to find an ammo box before you can use a super weapon again.

    As you progress through the game, you unlock new difficulty options. These include a speed runner mode where you have limited time to beat each mission as well as a single credit mode, challenging you to beat the game without dying. Aside from campaigns you can select missions you defeated individually to play again and you may set different modifiers for the mission. You also have a battle arena you can access to see how long you can last against waves of enemies.

    Rive
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 94%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 94%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 9/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The alternate modes are designed to appeal to those of a score attack mindset. If you don't like that sort of thing you probably won't play much of the game outside of the campaign, as you don't have anything to unlock except the new missions to play. The super weapons are fun but they are trivial for the purpose of progression. The average run time for most people to beat the 12 missions in campaign mode stretches between two to three hours. The music is great and catchy, reminiscent of old space shooters. The voice acting between the trucker and the cynical AI is fun and filled with video game references. Yet that sort of thing won't entertain everyone a second time. Thankfully the gameplay is solid despite the short amount of content.

    Morality problems are few and far between with this game. This game has cartoonish explosions of many robotic enemies and a bit of a gruff side to the trucker's lines. He will let a curse word slip every now and then like damn or asshole out of frustrations.

    While RIVE is a short game, it is still a game of above average quality. I highly recommend this game for anyone who wants a simple and clean 2-D twin-stick shooter.

     

     

  • Rolling Gunner (Switch)

     

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    Game Info:

    Rolling Gunner
    Developed by: Mebius
    Published by: Mebius
    Release date: June 20, 2019
    Available on: Switch, Windows
    Genre: Shooter, Arcade
    Number of players: 1
    ESRB Rating: E- Fantasy Violence
    Price: $19.99

    We want to thank Mastiff Games for sending us a copy of Rolling Gunner. Thank you so much!

    If there is one thing that I know better than most people, it is the arcade scene. Having grown up in both the ’80s and the ’90s, I can tell you that all of the great games in history came right out of the arcade. From Pac-Man to Black Tiger, the legends of the arcade have both eluded and challenged me for decades. This includes a genre of games that has recently resurfaced in popularity over the years. These are the great and incredibly fun shoot ‘em ups, or shmups, as we call them today.

    Out of all the genres represented in video games, shmups are probably my favorite. With your hand on the joystick, you must make pixel-perfect maneuvers to dodge the incoming bullets from the enemy fighters. From Galaga to Gradius, shmups have challenged players for years, and the associated “bulletheck” sub-genre (censored for those with discerning eyes) has added an artistic flair to the white-knuckle action. The indie Switch title, Rolling Gunner, fits well into this genre as it gives the players plenty to dodge, and a rather quick play through to capitalize on their lunch break.

    Most shmups have some sort of story attached to the action, even though it is hardly center stage in the content of the game. The story of Rolling Gunner is about a rare mineral called blasterium, which once helped progress mankind into the future. It has become sentient and is creating machines to eradicate humanity. The Rolling Gunner, humanity's greatest weapon against the AI menace, has been launched to single-handedly eradicate all of the enemy robots and the core blasterium piece. What follows are six stages of bullet dodging and bot blasting, and the action doesn’t stop until the core has been destroyed.

    Rolling Gunner
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Lightning fast shoot ‘em up action; responsive controls; great soundtrack; short gameplay with great replay value
    Weak Points: The intensity of the action can be hard on the eyes; no two-player mode 
    Moral Warnings: Benign destruction of robots

    This type of vague narrative is mentioned at the beginning of the game, but like most shmups, the story is explained through the environments. You can follow the Gunner through a sprawling city landscape back to your home ship, which you must now destroy. Obviously the blasterium has taken it over, even though that is not verbally stated in the game. The blasterium gets away and is holed up on a moon base and must be destroyed before fleeing again. I caught all of that through visual storytelling from the action of the game. Not too many titles do that anymore, and it is refreshing to see one bring back this classic form of storytelling within games.

    At face value, Rolling Gunner doesn’t really look like anything special. Yes, it is a 2.5D side-scrolling title that puts 3D sprites on a 2D plane, but that is being done constantly within the genre. No, this game is special, not for what it adds to the action, but for what it takes away. Normally in this genre, the player would get floating power-ups that can be used to increase the power of their ship. Those power-ups are eliminated in this game and replaced with a “duel gun” system that can be toggled to blast away from the movement of the ship or stay in a fixed place. The Rolling Gunner is actually two separate ships: the main ship that can only blast forward, and the peripheral, which can shoot in multiple directions. Mitigating the fire of the peripheral is key to mastering this game.

    You can choose from three separate ships at the beginning of the game. Each one has a different “spread” to their attack, but they are all generally the same. When playing, the Gunner will gradually build a charge which can be initiated by a trigger button. When triggered, the blast will increase in size and power, and another charge will build under that. Three separate levels of blasts can be used, and the more those are used, the more points the player receives.

    Anyone can beat this game. It takes a lot for me to say this, but with unlimited continues that bring the players to the exact place they died on any difficulty level, I can truly say that anyone can beat Rolling Gunner. That’s not the question, however. The question is this: how many points will you earn? The online scoreboard reads like a classic arcade scrolling list which features the best Rolling Gunner players in the world. The points accumulated during gameplay allow the players to have the opportunity to live in infamy among the rest of the contenders. These points are gained by playing through different difficulties without losing all lives. The combination of using power blasts and collecting the point tokens culminate to give the player a massive amount of points. Whenever a player loses all of their lives and is forced to use a continue, they lose all of their points and must start from scratch. It really is about achieving the oldest goal in gaming history: the most points!

    Rolling Gunner
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 96%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    As much as I truly enjoy these types of games, I can’t help but criticize some key components of this game, and by proxy, the genre itself. Like most shmups, this game is very short, as it should be, but the action is pretty much the same from level to level. Despite slight difficulty spikes throughout the game, nothing really changes in the title’s mechanics. “Bulletheck” games add extra variables to this same formula, and the result can be overwhelming. The sub-genre is identified by two characteristics: an artistic and uniform spread of the bullets, and a tiny hitbox on the player. Rolling Gunner uses both, but the result is rather difficult on the eyes.

    The Gunner itself is not what needs to be navigated around the bullets, but rather it is a small green dot in the center of the craft. This is the exact same mechanic used in the infamous Touhou games; the very titles that began the “bulletheck” genre. Focusing on this dot is a monumental task, and I often found my eyes straining at the pixels. I honestly could not play this game for more than an hour at a time. Good thing it is so short.

    Rolling Gunner offers very little questionable material that will sway the decision of the buyer. The only violence that occurs is implied by the destruction of robots, and we can’t be too upset over broken machines, can we? There is no foul language or sexual content, just a good old fashioned shoot ‘em up against hordes powerful enemies.

    Rolling Gunner is a new game inspired by an arcade classic. Though it is a single-player adventure that does not allow for multiple gunners on the screen, the short playthrough will lead to a controller swap to see who can get the top score. This fast “bulletheck” gameplay can be hard on the eyes, so it’s best to take frequent breaks when playing this title. If you have the Nintendo Switch Joystick Controller, that will only add to the excitement. So strap in and move to the edge of your seat, because you are not going to want to blink much when playing Rolling Gunner!

  • SEGA AGES Fantasy Zone (Switch)

     

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    Game Info:

    SEGA AGES Fantasy Zone
    Developed By: M2
    Published By: Sega
    Released: January 23, 2020
    Available On: Switch
    Genre: Action, Arcade
    ESRB Rating: Everyone
    Number of Players: Single-player
    Price: $7.99

    I would first like to thank Sega for the review key.

    It's said that the classics never die, and arcade games from the early days of gaming tend to have more staying power than most. Fantasy Zone is an arcade shoot-em-up title that has been re-released for a ton of platforms, and it hopes to entertain once more with a Switch port.

    Fantasy Zone is a game where you control a cute little spaceship called "Opa-Opa" and shoot all sorts of things on a free-scrolling screen until a boss shows up. The screen then enters a fixed-scroll mode as you trade fire with the boss until you take it down and can head to the next level. The game ends after the final level, which has a boss rush from all the previous levels and a final boss.

    SEGA AGES Fantasy Zone
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Cutesy and easy to get into arcade shooter
    Weak Points: Short, not much reason to replay
    Moral Warnings: Cartoony violence of the non-lethal variety

    It's a shooting arcade game with a mild role-playing element. You can collect money from defeated enemies and enter a shop by touching a shop balloon that floats by in levels on occasion. You can buy firing arc powerups (which are temporary) and ship powerups (permanent until you lose all your lives). You can also husband the money for later and harder levels, should you get that far.

    Being based on most of the features of the Nintendo 3DS port minus the 3DS specific features like stereoscopic view, this game has some extra modes you can unlock as well as the ability to play using the original Japanese or US version difficulty.

    Graphically, this game is quite adorable, being one of the earliest "cute-em-ups" or shoot-em-ups where everything onscreen is bright, colorful, and kid-friendly looking. This port looks crystal clear on the Switch screen, true to the original Arcade version with some mild aspect tweaks for the Switch screen resolution.

    SEGA AGES Fantasy Zone
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 96%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Sounds are nothing special but fit the cutesy mood, complete with the all the blips and bloops that are standard to the cutesy shooter genre. Controls are quite simple; one button shoots, one lets you drop bombs, and you otherwise move Opa-Opa around with the directional buttons. Stability is excellent, load times are very fast, and the frame rate is perfect.

    Morally, there isn't much to complain about. There is the shooting of living beings, but being a cutesy shooter, it's very sterile in depiction. Violence is cartoon level and while some enemies don't disappear after death, they visibly appear unconscious as opposed to dead. Aside from that, this is free of bad language, sexual content, or anything else that would be inappropriate.

    Overall, if you want a simple, no questions asked cutesy arcade shooter game for the Switch, this port is worth the asking price.

  • Sine Mora EX (Switch)

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    Game Info:

    Sine Mora EX
    Developed by: Digital Reality
    Published by: THQ Nordic
    Release date: September 26, 2017
    Available on: PS4, Switch, Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Shoot ‘em Up
    Number of players: Up to two
    ESRB rating: Mature for fantasy violence, sexual themes, strong language
    Price: $29.99

    Thank you THQ Nordic for sending us this game to review!

    Sine Mora was originally released for PC in 2012. In August, owners of the original game received a free upgrade in Sine Mora EX and the game became available on the PS4, Switch, and Xbox One. The Ex version adds many great new features including native 4K at 60FPS, improved rendering, new versus game modes as well as two-player local co-op in the story mode. The new English voice acting is a noteworthy addition too.

    This 2.5D horizontal shoot ‘em up comes with seven unique stages and a cool time mechanic. Unlike other shoot ‘em ups where you have a health bar to worry about, this one has time. Whenever your aircraft takes damage or collides with an object, you’ll lose valuable time needed to finish the level. However, you will get time added for each enemy you shoot down.

    Sine Mora EX
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Interesting time mechanic; impressive visuals; good voice acting 
    Weak Points: Switch version is the most expensive compared to the others
    Moral Warnings: Strong language and blaspheming; story includes rape, discrimination and experimentation

    Power-ups can be collected from fallen foes and they are lost just as easily through enemy contact. Most of the time you can re-collect your gun upgrades, but they can get lost during the level’s auto piloting through the story sequences.

    The game’s story is rather interesting as it is told through multiple perspectives. The first character you’ll meet is Ronotra Koss who is vowing revenge on the Empire who killed his son for refusing to nuke a race called the Enkies. Besides nuclear missiles, there’s talk of unethical experiments and rape. Between the mature themes and intense language (f bombs included) and blaspheming, Sine Mora EX earns its Mature rating from the ESRB.

    Sine Mora EX
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 59%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 0/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 2.5/10

    The mature content is a shame since the gameplay is pretty solid in this shoot ‘em up game. The levels and enemies are diverse and the multi-stage bosses are both intimidating and challenging. The visuals look and run great on the Switch. I was anticipating frame rate issues, but didn’t encounter any! I like how you get eight credits per game and can resume the game from various levels instead of having to start fresh.

    Besides the story mode you can partake in boss training, an arcade mode, challenge mode, as well as versus and co-op play. There’s plenty of replay value despite the relatively short story mode. Once you complete the game on normal difficulty, you can try doing it again at the challenging difficulty.

    The Switch version is great because of portability, however it’s the most expensive platform to buy the game on. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions are ten dollars less while the PC version is twenty dollars cheaper. If you have the other platforms available, you may want to consider it on those. If the portability is important to you and the morality isn’t, Sine Mora Ex on the Switch is a solid shoot ‘em up game to add to your library.

  • Solar Shifter EX (Xbox One)

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    Game Info:

    Solar Shifter EX
    Developed by: Elder Games
    Published by: Headup Games
    Release date: August 25, 2016
    Available on: Windows, Mac, SteamOS, Xbox One
    Genre: Shoot em’ Up
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Everyone with mild fantasy violence and mild language
    Price: $9.99

    Thank you Headup Games for providing us with a review code!

    Not long after mankind set out to colonize the solar system they ran into hostile aliens and waged war against them and lost.  As a final blow, the aliens set their sights on the sun to destroy it and annihilate us completely.  Chaos ensues as people attempt to flee the solar system and pirates emerge in hopes of robbing them on the way out.  It's your job to protect people from alien and pirate attacks. 

    Not much is known about the pilot you play as, but the ship you’re flying has the unique ability to teleport to the other side of the screen in an instant if needed.  This capability will come in handy, but it has a re-charge time so you cannot rely on it too heavily.  Most of the time you’ll be busy pixel hunting to find the safe spot to be in to avoid getting shot out of the atmosphere from the waves of enemies and bosses.

    There are forty different enemy types and they vary in size and weaponry.  Some of them shoot missiles while others are equipped with lasers or bullets to dodge to the best of your ability.  If your ship collides with them or obstacles, it’s instant death.  Fortunately, there are a generous number of check points to reload from.  Sadly, you’ll be staring at a loading screen for a while between deaths.  

    Solar Shifter EX
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Decent variety in enemies and level backgrounds
    Weak Points: Lackluster gameplay and awkward camera angles; loading screens
    Moral Warnings: Combat violence, the word "hell" is used in the achievements

    The levels and enemy movements are all choreographed and do not change whatsoever.  Pattern memorization will be essential to your survival. Sometimes the enemies simply cannot be dodged and you’ll have to locate a safe spot to be in to survive until the next check point. 

    Besides the pixel hunting for a safe place to be in, you’ll have to deal with awkward camera angles.  There is no way to adjust your ship’s shooting trajectory.  While the boss class ships move fluidly and change their angles, your ship cannot and this puts you at an extreme disadvantage.  

    Upgrading your ship’s primary and secondary weapons are done at the hangar between the eighteen levels.  Credits collected for destroying enemies are used to fund your ship’s upgrades.  The cost to upgrade raises with each enhancement.    

    Solar Shifter EX
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 58%
    Gameplay - 9/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 2/5

    Morality Score - 84%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The secondary weapons are fired automatically with the primary ones so there are no extra controls to worry about.  To mix things up a bit, you get to fly alien ships occasionally.  Those levels tended to be easier despite lacking the shifting ability.

    While the 3D graphics are not amazing, they get the job done.  There’s a wide variety of colorful landscapes and space backdrops to appreciate when you’re not busy dodging enemy laser beams and missiles.

    The story isn’t narrated, but the radio transmissions are.  I wasn’t impressed with the voice acting as it lacked emotion.  The sound effects are fitting and the background music is passable, but not memorable.

    Despite the combat violence and the word hell being used in the achievements, this game is safe for people of all ages to play.  I don’t think they’ll enjoy it as much as other bullet heck games though.   Solar Shifter Ex arrived on PC in 2015 and is half the price of the Xbox version.  Even at $4.99 I would recommend passing on this title and getting a better shoot ‘em up game instead.

     

  • Son of Scoregasm (Vita)

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    Game Info:

    Son of Scoregasm
    Developed by: Richard Knight
    Published by: Charlie’s Games
    Release date: October 10, 2017
    Available on: Linux, macOS, Vita, Windows
    Genre: Shooter
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Everyone with Mild Fantasy Violence, Mild Language
    Price: $9.99

    Thank you Charlie’s Games for sending us a review code!

    Charlie’s Games specializes in shooter games and according to their website, Son of Scoregasm appears to be their seventh game. All of their titles are available on itch.io and are free or only a couple of dollars or less. Son of Scoregasm is the first to be released on PSN and the original Scoregasm is also available on Steam for $4.99. While I’m not a fan of the title, it’s a tad better than their first game: Space Phallus.

    The tutorial will fill you in on the simple story of rescuing the king of Earth’s biscuits from the space bad guys. You’ll also learn about the twin stick controls which use the left joystick to move and the right one to fire. The triggers are used for a pulse attack which takes out nearby enemies but requires recharging by waiting or shooting foes. Mastering the pulse charge is essential for increasing your score multiplier and finishing score. If you earn enough points you’ll earn a medal for the level and get your name prominently displayed on the online leaderboards.

    Son of Scoregasm
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun and challenging shoot em’ up
    Weak Points: No easy difficulty, just normal and expert
    Moral Warnings: Sexual innuendo in the title; spaceship violence

    There are twenty-eight levels and seven different endings available in this game. When you survive a level, you’ll get to select the next one through a warp portal. If you go through the green portal you’ll be taken to an easier level while the orange portal goes to a more challenging one. To see all of the endings and bosses you’ll need to complete levels multiple times to take both routes.

    While I did earn a couple of medals, I was just happy to survive until the end. Some of the levels are so tough that I am in no hurry to complete them a second time. Many of the levels confine your ship to a bordered area and you cannot touch the walls or you’ll lose your only life. At first, you’ll have to worry about the enemy ships swarming and colliding with yours. Later on in the game you’ll have to worry about their attacks as well. There is a lot of variety in the levels and they usually have a trick to surviving and completing them.

    Son of Scoregasm
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 84%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 8.5/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

     

    The 2D visuals are simple but look pretty as the screen fills up with various enemies, bullets, bombs, and lasers. The controls are pretty responsive and I never felt cheated in my numerous deaths. The electronic background music is pleasant to listen to and not too distracting. The sound effects are fitting as well.

    If you enjoy twin stick shooters, Son of Scoregasm is a solid buy if you don’t mind the title’s innuendo. The asking price of $9.99 is reasonable and this is a fun game to pick up and play on the go. As expected, it ran great on my Vita.

  • Super Intergalactic Gang (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Super Intergalactic Gang
    Developed By: Martin Cerdeira
    Published By: Black Shell Media
    Released: January 4, 2016
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Side-scrolling shooter
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: 1-2 
    Price: $1.99

    *Advertising disclosure* Though Black Shell Media is an advertising partner, this review is not influenced by that relationship.

    Thanks to Black Shell Media for the review code!

    Aliens are plotting to attack the Earth! Thankfully for the innocent humans living there, the Super Intergalactic Gang is here to push them back! Take control of one of a few dozen of your favorite fair use-protected heroes, such as Luke Skycrawler, Rombo, and the Hoolk, and stuff those sorry aliens back into the hole they crawled out of!

    As a side-scrolling shooter, Super Intergalactic Gang is solidly playable. The action is fast-paced without becoming too overwhelming – and with the integral “time distort” ability, even the more intense parts are easily manageable. The weapons are many and varied, with most of them being unique in execution: these range from standard machine guns to piercing lasers to lightsabers to a short-ranged fist thrower that bears more than a passing resemblance to Mega Man’s Hard Knuckle. Each weapon (aside from the lightsaber) is chargeable as well, usually creating a larger, more damaging version of the basic shot.

    Super Intergalactic Gang
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Decent gameplay; good weapon and power-up variety
    Weak Points: Assaults the senses; not much content
    Moral Warnings: Violence against pixel aliens; two characters are Hell Kid and Mutant Poop

    In addition to the weapons, each boss you defeat offers you a chance to take one of two random power-ups. Passive healing, increased damage, quicker time distort recharge, and more are all on the table, ensuring that no two playthroughs are exactly alike as well as breathing some variety into the gameplay. While the luck of the draw is certainly in play, the progression of power is easily discernable and rather satisfying – throwing eight grenades a second while zipping around a near-constantly slowed bunch of enemies is quite the suitable reward for your time.

    Super Intergalactic Gang controls well enough, though it’s not completely flawless. The game shows the controls on screen as if it were an arcade game – joystick to move, button one to fire, button two to time distort – but never tells you what that translates to on keyboard or gamepad (arrow keys/Z/X and D-pad/A/B, for the record). There’s also no auto-fire, either by setting or button, meaning you’ll be mashing your relevant attack key constantly for a good half-hour. Outside of those, the game controls without any problems, responding quickly to each command, no matter how fatigued the finger that issues them is.

    Unfortunately, the gameplay is hampered by the game’s overall presentation. The 8-bit style shows glimpses of competency, but there’s really no internal consistency to it. All of the many playable characters look decent, though some are more detailed than others, but the enemies vary wildly from appealing to looking like they were whipped together in a minute in MS Paint. On top of that, the game loves to disrupt your view of the action, either by explosions that wildly shake the screen or enemies that fly toward the monitor and completely block your vision for a few moments. The bosses fire easily-seen bullets that stand out against the starry background, but the few regular enemies that shoot at you have bullets that shift and twinkle as they meander across the battlefield, making them easy to lose in the cacophony. While messing with the player’s UI can add to the experience (see Eternal Darkness), this game’s attempt is just hard on the eyes with no redeeming factor.

    Super Intergalactic Gang
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 62%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 4/10
    Sound - 5/10
    Stability - 4.5/5
    Controls - 4.5/5

    Morality Score - 92%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The sounds, sadly, don’t fare much better. The music in Super Intergalactic Gang is entirely chiptune-style, which fits the game fine – though the only time you’ll really notice it is when it’s irritating. Still, there are some pretty good songs tucked away behind the sound effects that really assault your ears. These vary as well, with each weapon type having its own firing noise, but considering you’ll be shooting off dozens of rounds a second, the repeated effects get grating fast. The worst offender is the energy disc, which has an extremely loud, high-pitched whine that completely negates its use despite being a powerful weapon. It’s not all bad, however; a robot voice announces weapon pickups and time distortion as well as compliments you upon beating a boss, adding a fair share of charm.

    Perhaps Super Intergalactic Gang’s biggest fault, however, is that there’s no incentive to keep playing. The story and boss rush modes constitute the bulk of the game, with no difficulty options or challenges to keep things going. The game keeps score, but only during your current run; there’s no apparent way to track your previous point totals at all. The stats screen offers up only enemies killed and total player deaths; total time distorts and playtime appear, but aren’t tracked at all, staying permanently at zero. In essence, once you’ve beaten the game once, you’ve beaten it for good.

    There’s not much to say morality-wise about Super Intergalactic Gang. The shooting violence is obvious, but the pixilated style as well as the fact that most aliens spin away to the bottom of the screen or poof out of existence upon defeat keep the savagery down. There are only two instances of questionable language, both in the playable cast: Hell Kid and Mutant Poop. Those are the only breaches, and rather minor ones as well; the majority of the game is clean.

    Considering Super Intergalactic Gang was, music aside, wholly created by one man, Martin Cerdeira, the smooth and enjoyable gameplay is an impressive feat. However, its 8-bit wrapper is not so much retro as cheap, coming across more frequently as annoying rather than charming. If you’re an extreme fan of the pixilated style, or feel like playing a new side-scrolling shooter, it might be worth the two dollars the game currently costs.

    -Cadogan

  • Super Star Path (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Super Star Path
    Developed By: DYA Games
    Published By: DYA Games
    Released: June 22, 2015
    Available On: Steam
    Genre: Shoot-Em-Up (“shmup”)
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: 1 offline
    Price: $1.99

    What’s one thing you take for granted in a shoot-em-up (shmup) style of game? Never. Stop. Firing. The ever-flowing avalanche of enemies requires you to hold down the A button for every level’s duration. There’s never a reason to let go of the button besides momentary muscle relief.

    Super Star Path turns that logic on its head.

    Every shot in DYA’s short, indie title literally does count. As in the old classic, Bubble Blast, and its innumerable variants, you fire at randomly-placed targets that detonate same-colored enemies that sit adjacent to it. The twist is, at the end of the line, when the color of enemies changes, surrounding targets crystallize permanently. No number of shots, no force in the galaxy, can destroy, let alone move, these frozen obstacles. I found it frustratingly common to die not due to the amount of enemies, but because of the placement of crystallized ones. You will die to enemies and their attacks, of course, though the trick is to create your own path through the waves of stationary targets.

    Super Star Path
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Ingenious concept, low price, light download, retro visual style.
    Weak Points: Short duration, controls take some getting used to, sprite boxes feel a little off.
    Moral Warnings: Mild fantasy violence.


    It’s not always your fault if you get stuck with an impossible situation. Fixed defenses like flames and lasers kill monsters as well as you, and the rules of crystallization apply just the same. Occasionally, you will find the randomly-generated level unfortunately worked against you. Restarting is not difficult; there is no lives system and you retain all of your currency upon death.

    Arguably the most positive impression I received while playing Super Star Path was the rate of fire between weaving through the level and encountering the level’s boss. Since every shot could sign your death warrant, the game is programmed to only allow semi-automatic fire: one button press, one shot. After you’ve cleared that section, however, full-automatic becomes available. Boss battles represent standard shmup fare, with a hint of bullet heck. I didn’t find the bosses terribly unique, but did not mind it; Super Star Path’s concept is innovative enough on its own that the levels’ climaxes prove a welcome reprieve and enjoyable reminder to fans of this genre. In fact, the two parts mix extremely well together.

    Progression involves unlocking new ships to purchase. Each spaceship offers a different advantage such as immunity to certain attacks or hazards, or doubling gem income. Gems drop from destroyed enemies, more so from mobile ones that fight back. Three specific monsters carry a boost to later permanently upgrade a ship; three additional specific monsters drop large emeralds for completionists. And yes, I’ve accidentally blocked myself from accessing these specific monsters in levels, or worse, shot an adjacent monster that froze the special one!

    Super Star Path
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 19/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 82%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Super Star Path’s story did not leave an impression. In all honesty, most shmups don’t. The gameplay is what you’re here for; any background information is often blitzed through regardless. The pilot’s voice-acting sometimes felt cringy, sometimes so cringy it sounded hilarious. Your ship's controls, while they work well almost all the time, very rarely sometimes felt slow or off. I attribute this to the boxy sprites and the hard unit collision they cause. I encounter this issue in older games; this aspect of the retro style I don't think needed reviving.

    Morally, Super Star Path doesn’t raise any significant alarms. The pilot mildly curses maybe once in a while ("da**"). The deaths are comical, both for your pilot and the monsters. This game plays as violently as you’d expect from an old-school arcade like Galaga. The blown-up monsters have a very small window with very mild blood and gore. No sexual content to speak of.

    In short, Galaga is a great comparison for Super Star Path. In brevity (it took me two hours to fully complete this game), innovation, and simplicity, Super Star Path shines as a sterling reminder of what indie games done right look like: fiendishly ingenious, inexpensive, and simple yet complete. Steam’s current asking price for any of DYA’s games is $2, more than fair for the straightforward fun they provide.

    - Anax

  • Tempest 4000 (Xbox One)

     

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    Game Info:

    Tempest 4000
    Developed By: Llamasoft Ltd.
    Published By: Atari Inc.
    Release Date: July 17, 2018
    Available On: Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
    Genre: Arcade Shoot ‘em up
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: E for Mild Fantasy Violence
    MSRP:$29.99 (PS4/Xbox One), $19.99 (Windows) 
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Atari for sending us this game to review!

    Tempest is one of several famous classic vector-based arcade games from the early 1980s. Vector graphics are really neat because, rather than the modern approach of placing pixels on what is essentially a square grid (not much different than graph paper - it's called rasterization), they were lines that were drawn between two points - perfectly. Modern raster-style graphics have the advantage that it's easier to display much more detail, with the downside that lines often have aliasing artifacts. Vector graphics have no aliasing, but each line drawn is computationally expensive, so everything is generally simple line graphics.

    Tempest 4000 uses a near-perfect emulation of vector graphics on modern raster graphics systems. The graphics engine does a wonderful job of making the lines look clean and crisp, and the developers did a fantastic job of making the game faithfully reproduce the iconic look of the classic game. This time, not only is there 4k support (and presumably other high resolutions on PC), but there are significant other upgrades, in the form of new enemies, power-ups, and lots and lots of graphical effects that keeps the action going nearly non-stop.

    For those who have never played it, Tempest is a shooting game where you shoot down a tube or other similar polygonal shape with your claw-like ship. The enemies are simple shapes, that, like your claw, can easily go from one column of this shape to another, all the while trying to have you killed. Sometimes, they may shoot a bullet for you to dodge. Most of the time, they simply climb up to the top where you are and try to ram you with themselves, which kills you if they touch you.

    Tempest 4000
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Nearly perfectly reproduces the classic gameplay; vector graphics look basically perfect; sound effects and music are also really fun and update the classic game well
    Weak Points: Windows version has nasty bugs on high refresh rate or variable refresh rate monitors; Windows version is barely usable without a gamepad; some control options are not explained; Windows version has a bug where certain items (including power-ups!) are invisible on Intel drivers; the three game modes, ‘classic’, ‘pure’, and ‘survival’ are basically identical unless you’re really good (or bad)
    Moral Warnings: Polygons get shot by other polygons

    The weapons at your disposal is mostly the simple gun you start with and a single shot of a superzapper that clears the screen, once per level. As you collect power-ups, you can get things like a particle beam, jumping, and the awesome AI Droid. They really come in handy, and can help you survive much longer – though sadly, you lose power-ups in between levels, so you have to earn them again each time.

    And you will often wish you did have them, because like most classic arcade games (or those based on them), it is quite hard. There are one hundred levels in Tempest 4000, and I have only seen a bit more than a tenth of them. They quickly get very difficult – only the most highly skilled (or practiced) can hope to reach the end. That’s not to say it’s not worth trying – it’s quite a bit of fun, and if you have any penchant for classic-style shoot ‘em ups, then it’s hard not to recommend Tempest 4000.

    The Xbox One version gets an easy recommendation. The only supported control scheme is the controller, and what you need to play is listed in the controls menu, though the description on how to ‘lean’, by pressing the LT button, is conspicuously absent from the instructions. But knowing about it is absolutely essential for some of the more challenging levels. It’s strange that they would leave this out. Other than that, the Xbox One version runs wonderfully.

    When Atari asked me earlier this week (as of this writing) how my review was coming along, I explained that I was out traveling on business and that I wouldn’t be able to check out the game until the weekend at the earliest. I did point out that I had my gaming laptop with me, and if they wanted to send me the Steam version, I could look at it sooner. They graciously sent me that code as well, so I am happy to say that I can compare and contrast the two now.

    On the surface, the two versions of the game are basically identical. If your PC configuration happens to match what the developer is looking for, your experience will be largely the same, and honestly, with the lower price, is an easy recommendation. But there are a few gotchas with the Windows PC version as it stands right now. I certainly hope that they fix the issues soon.

    Tempest 4000
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 2/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 98%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    I have tried it on two computers; one is my GPD Win 2, and the other is my MSI gaming laptop. Both actually ran the game really well, but also exposed different bugs. First of all, the Intel video on the GPD Win 2 does not display all items on the screen. The power-ups are a green shadow – no icons are visible. Many of the text descriptions are also not visible in the levels – the menus are fine. The scores that can be seen in the little interlude between levels also cannot be seen. It’s nothing game breaking, but it is annoying.

    On my NVIDIA GTX 1070 laptop, it was actually far worse. First of all, the Atari logo intro movie actually locked up the game. I found on a forum that renaming or deleting this file simply skips it on startup, and gets around this issue. It does, and I’m grateful. But that wasn’t enough. There is a bug where if your refresh rate is higher than 60, or if you use G-Sync or FreeSync, the game runs too fast to be playable. Even though my monitor is current a fixed-rate 60Hz, I did have fast sync on – so I had to go into my NVIDIA control panel and force the game to disable G-Sync and force V-Sync to be on. With these two things done, the game plays great – just as great as the Xbox One version.

    Having found workarounds for my issues, the only remaining issue with the PC version is absolutely no documentation for the keyboard controls. As I was poking around in the game files, you can imagine my shock when I found a Readme.txt file sitting in there! I haven’t looked through a Readme since the early 2000s! Anyway, after reading through that, the instructions for the keyboard controls are in there. Sadly, controls are not customizable at all, on either keyboard or gamepad. Thankfully, they gamepad controls are pretty reasonable, and most PC gamers are pretty used to using gamepads on their PCs nowadays.

    Tempest 4000 is a really fun remake of a retro arcade classic. If you like fast-paced arcade-style games, or ever enjoyed the classic Tempest, then it’s really a no-brainer – pick up this game; you are sure to enjoy it. With the excellent music, sometimes trippy visuals, and time-tested gameplay, I am sure even the younger crowd will find something to enjoy in Tempest 4000. I just hope that the higher price (especially on consoles) doesn’t keep too many people away from what is otherwise an excellent game.

  • The Void Rains Upon Her Heart (PC) (Preview)

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    Game Info:

    The Void Rains Upon Her Heart
    Developed by: Veyeral Games
    Published by: The Hidden Levels
    Release date: February 14, 2018
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Shoot 'em Up
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $7.99

    Thank you Veyeral Games for sending us an Early Access code for the game and soundtrack!

    The Void Rains Upon Her Heart has two story modes that revolve around two naked Zaraden/alien women who are being tormented by monsters and seclude themselves into different caves to avoid conflict with them. Instead of giving up or fighting the monsters, they choose to love them in the hopes that they will learn to love them back. Even if the monsters do come around, they’ll forget in the morning and will have to be shown love all over again.

    Upon launching the game you’re given an option to enable a fog around the non-sexual nudity. Even with the mist enabled, breasts without nipples are still shown in the conversations. The mist mostly covers below the belly button which does show hair between the legs if not enabled. Granted the nudity is not sexual in nature, but these women do live in a forest and have the resources available to cover themselves in leaves or animal skins if desired.

    The Void Rains Upon Her Heart
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun gameplay with lots of replayability; 170 Steam achievements
    Weak Points: Even with the modesty fog enabled you still see breasts (without nipples)
    Moral Warnings: Frontal nudity; firing love at unfriendly monsters

    Along with the nudity there are some dark themes involving depression, anxiety, and suicide. Like other shoot 'em ups there is combat violence, but instead of firing bullets you’re projecting your love towards these hideous monsters. Each level in the four to six chapters (the numbers of chapters change with the difficulty setting) is a boss battle. There are no lower-level enemies, only bosses. The bosses have difficulty levels that increase as you play on harder gameplay levels. While you can choose to battle against lower-level bosses, the higher-level ones give you better gifts in the end.

    Some of the gifts include health replenishment or upgrades to your shot pattern. I liked the gifts that altered my firing pattern to enable bi-directional streams or a single wavy configuration. Sadly, you only get one life per game and the gifts earned are not activated by default in the next playthrough. With that said, they are not completely lost either.

    After every battle you earn karma and points towards unlocking tetrids which can be used to purchase gifts and enemies to become available in future playthroughs and in the Quick Play mode. The more karma you earn you’ll have a better chance at unlocking more valuable gifts.

    The Void Rains Upon Her Heart
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 73%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7.5/10

    Between unlocking gifts and monsters to battle, there is plenty of replayability in The Void Rains Upon Her Heart. I look forward to future additions as this Early Access game is frequently being updated by the developers.

    The soundtrack is good and available for $3.99 on Steam if you enjoy it. The voice acting is gibberish so there’s not much to say about that.

    If you’re into Steam achievements, The Void Rains Upon Her Heart has you covered with 170 of them at the time of this preview. I earned over twenty of them on my first playthrough. The remainder of them will take a lot more work.

    In the end, The Void Rains Upon Her Heart is a solid shoot 'em up with plenty of reasons to keep playing it. The only thing holding me back is the unavoidable nudity. Hopefully that gets fixed before the final version is released.

  • Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle
    Developed By: Team Shanghai Alice/Mediascape Co., Ltd./CUBETYPE
    Published By: NIS America
    Release Date: October 10, 2017
    Available On: PS4 (PS VR included), PS Vita, Switch, Windows (Japan only, maybe coming to Steam someday?)
    Genre: 3D Shoot ‘em up Fighter
    Number of Players: 1-2, online or split screen
    ESRB Rating: T for Fantasy Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes
    MSRP: $29.99

    Thank you NIS America for sending us this game to review!

    The Touhou universe is based on a long and storied series of shoot ‘em ups out of Japan since the 1990s. Team Shanghai Alice created the series, and has a rather unique way of serving their fans – by allowing them to create fan-created works derived from the main works, with the full blessing of the creator. There are some limitations, but he’s pretty open with it. As a result, it has become the “most prolific fan-made shooter series" according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

    Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle is a spinoff game in the arena battle style. There is some visual novel-esque conversation, and then the inevitable friendly spat that leads to violence. This violence takes the form of a one-on-one 3D arena battle, where you and your opponent shoot at each other, or run up and melee with them, until their life meter depletes. Like most fighters, it’s a best out of three contest.

    Each character has three attack buttons, a jump button, a dash button, and a guard button.  The attacks also have variations where you press the dash button, or even both the dash and guard buttons.  If you get close enough to your enemy, then the attacks automatically become melee, which can be helpful – or also hurtful, as it’s not always what you intended.

    Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Decent character selection and variety; good move variation between characters; more complex than it first appears
    Weak Points: Not a lot to it; Japanese voices only
    Weak Points: Not a lot to it; Japanese voices only
    Moral Warnings: Fantasy violence, as you beat up your friends for fun; a few conversations seem sexually suggestive, though it ends up innocent; one girl called another cute; Meiling is mercilessly called China and other stereotypes related to that; magic use, by the player and enemies; one character constantly shows off hexagrams

    Each attack, as well as dash, has a regeneration meter where too much usage can require a delay before using it again – or in the case of dash, an even more dangerous forced rest where you can’t move or fight back. Managing your stamina is an important part of any fight.

    Another important meter is the charge meter. When your opponent attacks, often they will be balls of energy or something, and these attacks can usually be avoided – but sometimes you can also shoot them out of the sky. When this happens, you earn energy for your charge meter. Once this maxes out, you can activate your spell – which is a very powerful attack that can drastically turn the tide in battle. Most fights take a few minutes, because individually, attacks take off a tiny chunk of health; spells take off half of the bar or even more depending on the character.

    There are nine characters (and one paid DLC character) to choose from. Each of them, from Reimu to Cirno to Patchouli all play very differently, with some like Meiling being fantastic melee characters, with others like Patchouli being amazing at ranged attacks. I find it kind of tacky that the tenth character is sitting there with a lock over her icon (and requiring a $2.99 purchase from the eShop) but it is what it is. The characters definitely have their own personalities through the combat and dialog, and it was mildly interesting to read. Each character’s story mode can be beaten in ten to twenty minutes, so it’s a pretty short game overall.

    Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 64%
    Gameplay - 12/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 76%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 9/10
    Sexual Content - 8/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    Other than the story mode, there is arcade mode, which is an endless arena where you fight one character after another, trying to get the highest victory count. There is also the very similar score attack mode, which is an endless mode where you keep fighting one enemy after another, accumulating points until you finally die. Both give you a small amount of health back in between bouts, but not to full (unless you were close to full anyway). You can also play one-off fights against the computer, or human players either split-screen or online. I could not find players online when I checked.

    Morally, there is violence, as expected. There is no blood or gore, and no one actually dies. There is plenty of magic use. One of the characters is a fairy, another a vampire, with yet another a youkai (some kind of demon spirit). The main character is a shrine maiden, which is a common religious figure in Japan. All of them are very cute looking anime girls, and look rather young. Meiling is Chinese, and is constantly made fun of, by calling her names like ‘China’, and is lazy and sleeps while on duty as a guard. One of the girls called another cute, and there are a couple of lines that could be interpreted as being sexual in nature – but it is revealed later that nothing like that is actually going on. One mention of the word ‘boob’ is used, as a character is being pressed against them.

    Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle is... okay. That’s really the best way I can explain it. If you are a Touhou fan, or are looking for fighting games off the beaten path, then you could find some fun here if you take the time to figure out the not initially obvious fighting mechanics. The first time I played it, I thought this game was going to be completely terrible; by the time I figured everything out, I had determined it’s not terrible. Just not particularly great. It’s probably a fun diversion if the price is right on deep discount.

  • Zamarian (Mac)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Zamarian
    Developed by: Quarter Pound Studio
    Published by: Quarter Pound Studio
    Released: January 22, 2016
    Available on: Windows, macOS, SteamOS/Linux, iOS, Android
    Genre: Shooter
    Number of players: 1-4
    Price: $4.99 (Steam), $1.99 (Android, iOS – "Lite" version available for free)

    Thank you, Black Shell Media, for sending us a copy of this game to review!

    Zamarian, from Quarter Pound Studio, hearkens back to the classic arcade machines. You play the pilot of a space fighter, and you have to shoot down oncoming aliens and asteroids. As you do so, you'll unlock gems, which are currency, and the occasional power-up. You can use the gems you collect to purchase larger, more powerful ships, or weapons to help you battle the aliens. 

    This is hardly an original premise, and sadly, the one thing that does make the game a bit more innovative is awkwardly handled. You have to purchase the upgrades while battling the aliens. This can be done by using the mouse to click on the proper upgrade button, and then select which upgrade you'd like to use. Since your ship's movement is tied to the mouse controls, you are essentially a sitting duck while making your purchase in this fashion – especially since your weapons stop firing during this time as well. 

    It is possible – and even encouraged – to purchase these upgrades by hitting the appropriate key on the keyboard. However, the keys are barely defined in the game itself – only in the intro screen that pops up when you first start the game, before you even get to the title screen. And even then, the keys it chooses as the default are a bit awkwardly placed. For example, to purchase a light, medium or heavy ship, you need to hit the "l," "m" or "h" key. That makes sense, but if you're right-handed and using the mouse, you need to do a bit of dodgy work with your left hand to hit the corresponding keys (when typing, those buttons would normally be ones your right hand would hit). 

    Zamarian
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun, quick games; innovative upgrade system
    Weak Points: Very poor controls; bland soundtrack; no one to play with in multiplayer
    Moral Warnings: Ships shoot each other and explode

    This problem could be solved by using a controller. Sadly, there's no controller support for this game. Your only option is to use the mouse and keyboard. While it is possible to remap the keyboard with the initial screen, it seems like a step the developer sadly overlooked. Nothing can kill the fun of a game more than awkward controls.

    This game does have a lot of potential to be fun, too. You pilot the ship around a circle, and can advance or retreat to different rings of the circle. Your weapons fire automatically, so the main thing you need to focus on is dodging enemy attacks, picking up goodies, and trying to purchase upgrades as quickly as you can. With the relentless swarms of enemies and their deadly weapons fire, you'll have to focus on dodging a lot. Fortunately, if you die, you can resume at the starting point of the level you were last at, and it remembers your progress even when you quit the game. You will lose all of your ship upgrades and money, though. Even so, you start with 3,000 gems, so it doesn't take too much to get back into the game. 

    The enemies are colorful and well-animated, spinning or diving at you. The bosses are large, and can be a joy to take down. A health bar appears when one is on the screen, giving you a convenient way to see how far you've progressed against it. Knocking the weapons off a frigate is always a thrill, and the graphics and explosions are done quite well. The tendency for the background to rapidly shift is a bit distracting, though, and at times it's difficult to tell the difference between a gem or an enemy's weapons fire. The music is a generic rock soundtrack, and not terribly memorable. The sound effects are fine, with explosions when ships explode, and even a few useful noises when you need to purchase a new ship or manage to snag an upgrade. 

    Zamarian
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 66%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 2/5

    Morality Score - 94%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Another irritating issue I found is that every time your ship is destroyed, a screen pops up announcing that you've been added to the leaderboard. I could understand this if I had beaten my previous score, but when it occurs every single time, it gets bothersome, almost to the point where it seems like the game is taunting you. Multiplayer is an option for up to four players, but when I tried to join a multiplayer game the system found no one else playing. The game timed out and dumped me back to the menu screen. So I was unable to fully explore that option.

    On the moral front, there isn't really anything to worry about here. Your ship blasts away at other ships, and when one is destroyed, it explodes in a puff of flames and smoke. Aside from the tutorial, there are very few words on the screen, and no offensive ones that I found. 

    Zamarian certainly is a good reflection of the arcades of old, and I can see the inclination to pump quarters into a machine to play a game like this. Gameplay is quick, and it's fun to knock off a few minutes at a time blasting aliens. It's just too bad the upgrade system is handled as poorly as it is – otherwise, I could heartily recommend it. But bad controls are a real deal breaker, and even at $4.99, you may feel like you've been cheated.

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About Us:

Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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