Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha Review (Switch)


A number of Psikyo shooters have found their way to the Switch eshop but now six of them have been collected together and released under the banner of ‘Shooting Stars Alpha’. A special physical edition is available with a number of extras but here we will be focusing on the games themselves. This collection contains three games from the Strikers 1945 series, Sol Divide, Dragon Blaze and Zero Gunner 2.

All six games are excellent action packed, adrenaline fuelled, shooters and there is also an unexpected amount of variety between them. The Strikers series are vertical scrolling shooters and the most straightforward of the games on offer. Each game has a selection of different planes (getting more modern as you progress through the series), for you to blast your way through hordes of enemies with. Each stage is wonderfully chaotic with gold bars acting as the collectibles needed to boost your score. The games follow the standard set up of being able to shoot and use a smart bomb and the key to achieving high scores is mainly about staying alive and chaining shots together.

The boss battles are suitable impressive as your little plane dives between waves of bullets from a massive foe. These tend to be in two stages with a robot often detaching to carry on the fight after the first part of the big boss has been downed. The third game offers the ability to take down a boss in one hit by waiting around for a particular spot to change from blue to red and then getting your plane close up for the killer shot and a massive points haul.

Dragon Blaze is another vertical shoot’em up but this time you are flying on the back of a dragon through a fantasy themed world. If anything, it’s even more chaotic than the 1945 games and as a result the difficulty is considerable higher. The big gimmick here is that you can separate the rider from the dragon. This gives you double the fire power and also allows you to put your dragon into sections of the screen filled with bullets and still do damage yourself. It’s an intense and rewarding game that seems fresh within a somewhat crowed market.

Zero Gunner 2 is among the more interesting shoot’em up games out there. It scrolls both vertically and horizontally and utilises a ‘lock-on’ system which is vital for moving and positioning your helicopter. When locked on players can manoeuvre their helicopter around the target to provide new angles for attack and evasion. It takes some getting used to as movement is different to most games of this type but once it clicks it is a highly enjoyable experience.

The only true horizontal scrolling game of the collection is Sol Divide. Like Dragon blaze, this is another fantasy themed game and players pick one of a handful of warriors to adventure with. This has the most complex of the combat systems in the collection with players being able to use a melee attack and a number of magic spells as well as the standard shot option. As you power up you can call on everything from fireballs to spells that slow down enemies or rain down thunder upon them. It is also crushingly hard as enemies are bullet sponges from the off. This means mastering of all the systems is vital to progression

The biggest potential issue for buyers is that the games don’t really have much in the way of extras. There are a few display options (yes, you can play with the Switch vertical), but nothing in the way of museum extras of other curio information. When you consider the detail that has gone into some of the other collections on the system then this is a noticeable omission. If you get hold of the physical release there is a ton of stuff to go through there but that does come at a premium price.

Overall, this collection is providing six excellent games together in one package. If shoot’em ups are your thing then this is really not to be missed. There is a nice mix of titles as well which showcase different elements from the genre and the games vary in base difficulty so players of all abilities will have somewhere to start. If you have enjoyed any of the games individually on the eshop then this is really a must buy.

Overall 8/10

Thursday, 9 January 2020

Nintendo Switch Retro Roundup 2: SNES Re-Releases


While the Switch has SNES games arriving via its online service it has also seen a number of physical releases that first found favour with audiences on Nintendo’s 16 bit machine. Here we will round up some of the most interesting.

Collection of Mana

Collecting three early games from the Mana series together, this collection offers good value for money. The Gameboy game being included is nice from a completion point of view but it is Secret and Trials of Mana that steal the show. Aside from a quick save option little has been changed within the games themselves (these aren’t the remade versions of either game), but both are strong enough action RPG’s to still hold up well and both quests are epic adventures to undertake. It also represents the first time that Trials has been localised for the West. Both games are very pricey to buy on the SNES so it is great to have them so accessible for the Switch audience.

Putty Squad

The most bare bones of the re-releases, Putty Squad hasn’t fared well in its transition to the Switch. The visuals have been updated but the colour palette and graphical style make levels seems cluttered and chaotic (and not in a good way). The platforming itself is ok but it just isn’t as good as the original release and it contains a number of sloppy issues. One such major issue is that while the game now auto saves as you go along it doesn’t restore lives or energy. This means if you have just scraped through the previous level you are likely to just get stuck in a loop of dying over and over again on the next. While we would recommend it as an essential find in its original form, Switch owners can miss this without worrying.

Wild Guns: Reloaded

Konami’s action shooter is a very welcome sight on the Switch. The original now goes for stupid money so giving the game another lease of life is very welcome. Again, not much has been changed and unless you are going to make it through the game on the higher difficulty settings you may never see any of the new levels which have been added. The steampunk/western mixed style still looks great and if you are looking for some classic shooting action then Wild Guns unique ‘shooting gallery’ style is well worth looking at.

The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors

Yet another very pricey SNES release given a second lease of life on the Switch, Ninja Saviours: Return of the Warriors has been remade to look as good as you remember it to be. Subtle graphical overhaul aside the side scrolling brawler has had little else changed apart from the addition of two extra characters which are unlocked by completing the game on different difficulties. Luckily, the game itself still holds up well and the single plane of movement helps it stand out from the other brawlers out there. Each character plays quite differently and once you understand how all the systems work it is a rewarding and fun game to dive back into.

Flashback

We have a detailed review of Flashback here - https://www.retro101.co.uk/2019/06/flashback-review-switch.html

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment Review (Switch)


The second expansion campaign has players take on the role of Specter Knight and acts as an origin story for the events of the main game. Unlike Plague of Shadows, Specter of Torment does not use a world map. Instead players enter the different levels from a portal in the cursed knight’s castle. This streamlines the experience and makes the game pick up the pace as you are getting directly into the action much more quickly.

The levels themselves follow the formulae of remixing those already visited in the original game for use with Specter Knight's skills set (much like with Plague of Shadows). There is some original content though as the game allows players to see and play through how Spectre Knight came into being through an interesting origin story that pops up after every few levels are completed.

The main gimmick now focuses around Spectre Knight's scythe. In order to progress around the levels players have to utilise the ability to cut though objects diagonally which causes the knight to go zooming up or down accordingly. As a result prepare to spend a lot of time in mid-air as you fly from object to object (normally over a big pit).  There are also a whole host of new sub weapons to get to grips with as well.

Overall, this is another excellent entry into the Shovel Knight franchise. Specter Knight's more aggressive style keeps the approach to the remixed levels fresh and this coupled with how you need to use the new skill set to get around makes it very different from the main game and previous expansion. It’s also somewhat easier than Plague of Shadows and much less frustrating as a result.

Overall 8/10

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows Review (Switch)


The first major expansion released for Shovel Knight focuses on Plague Knight as the protagonist and runs in parallel to the main quest. It follows the same map as the original game and presents players with a remixed set of levels designed to accommodate Plague Knight's unique skill set.

Playing as Plague Knight requires you to get to grips with using explosives with three interchangeable parts. As the adventure progresses players will acquire different casings, fuses and explosive to create different bombs that do everything from heat seeking to sending walls of flame around the levels. Even basic functions like how long the bombs take to explode and weather they are thrown high or low can be customised as you progress.

Getting used to the bomb mechanic is tricky to start with and the initial levels can seem far more difficult when playing as Plague Knight. Once you have a few things unlocked and have more options the difficulty does drop but taking down Spectre Knight in particular was incredibly frustrating with just a basic load out.

The other key gimmick of the campaign is the how the health system works. Plague Knight is somewhat more fragile than Shovel Knight but he can boost his health with potions. The increased health bar stays in place until you die. At that point it reverts back to the original base level and players will need to find more potions to increase it again. This sets up a risk strategy where it can often be safer to travel through levels with low health so as not to waste the potion effects until you get to a major obstacle.

After a tough and somewhat frustrating start we found the Plague of Shadows campaign developed into a highly enjoyable and smartly written adventure. There’s a lot of humour in the interactions between Plague Knight and the other characters and small touches like the character having to take alternate ways into the villages and other areas where ‘good guys’ are often raise a smile. Size wise it rivals the original game as well which is impressive.

Overall, if you enjoyed Shovel Knight and are up for a challenge then you should enjoy this adventure as well. It requires a completely different rhythm and approach to the original game and offers up a greater understanding of the world and characters that fans should love. It can be frustrating but once the new mechanics click you’ll be just as addicted to it as before.

8/10