Psikyo Shooting Stars
Posted: February 12th, 2020, 10:01 pm
With the Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha collection recently released and with Bravo due next week, I thought it would be worth a thread about these generally well-regarded but sometimes-maligned shooting games from the Psikyo stable.
They've been chronologically drip-fed onto the Switch eShop over the last three years and now finally compiled into two separate, summative releases. As the Psikyo games have largely improved with each release (exceptions to be noted below), this has been a pretty savvy way to make sure that each game has been given its moment in the consumerist sun and so the compilations are both a handy way of introducing newcomers to the catalogue, as well as a sturdy middle finger to those of us who have slavishly purchased each previous release on day one. And as we have already outed ourselves as fools, par consequent have we bought the new collection, not least because its logo is far less ghastly than the individual releases have tended to be, with 'FOR NINTENDO SWITCH' emblazoned across their artwork with a clip art drop shadow.
Aesthetic peccadilloes aside, the games themselves have been good value and consistently very enjoyable, with a small number of titles approaching the upper tiers.
The Strikers 1945 games are perhaps the most well-known releases, with the second game (Strikers 1945 II) generally held up as a fine example of the genre. It's a Top 50 entry on the Shmups forum annual survey. Strikers 1999, its sequel, is also a fan favourite. They're military shooters, through and through, with fast bullets, loads of power ups and bombs and plenty of medals to collect and giant robots to destroy, once they've emerged from trains, boats and the like.
Beyond this series, Gunbird and especially its sequel (Gunbird 2!) are also popular, with both games having had previous home console releases in the early 2000s. The games have an interesting fantasy steampunk aesthetic and charming low-rent anime characters which help them to stand out slightly in the genre. The slightly annoying but ultimately endearing yells of 'POOOWWWAAAHHH AAAAPPPPP' also add a little more personality and help elevate them beyond the Strikers games, in my eyes. Mechanically, they're virtually identical.
The Samurai Aces games are slightly more disparate, with the first in the series a vertical shooter very similar to the above with a mecha Sengoku palette swap. The second and last games, Tengai and Sengoku Cannon, make the switch to the horizontal plane and while I've not played the less-well-regarded final entry yet, Tengai is easily one of my favourite Psikyo titles. The familiar formula translates perfectly to a hori and it might be the most impressive looking game they put out.
Best of all, though, in my opinion, is Dragon Blaze. It feels like the most complex and deep evolution of the Psikyo vertically scrolling shmup. As well as the usual charge shot and smart bomb options, you can also send your flying dragon up the screen like a battering ram or a fixed 'option' to point blank bosses or larger enemies. You can then split your fire across two points on the screen before summoning your steed back to you when you want to concentrate your attacks again. It's a really fun mechanic that feels more satisfying than anything else they've made.
Aside from the usual scrolling shmup stuff, there are also a few anomalies in the collections. Zero Gunner 2- is a slightly wonky port of the old, beloved Dreamcast release. It has an unusual control method, whereby you rotate the ship almost with tank controls which fixes its angle of fire as you then move freely around the screen. It allows for some cool gameplay moments. It also has a neat, anachronistic polygonal style which looks both ugly and charming to me in 2020.
Sol Divide is weirder and rather shit. It's a horizontal shmup mixed with a fantasy melee combat and magic game. It has lots of different systems going on and a Harryhausen approach to monster design and animation, all of which sounds great, but it's not. It's an interesting curio, though.
Gunbarich is a much more successful experiment. It's basically Breakout but with the aesthetics (and characters) of Gunbird and various power ups to make your bat bigger and shoot flames and the like. It's really good fun and very additives. Strikey Sisters came out last year and gained fans by doing something similar but this is much better, tighter, sillier and more arcadey. It's well worth anyone's time, I think.
It must be said that the majority of Psikyo games feel very similar, so these quirky little departures are appreciated. I'd say that these collections are actually the best way to approach the catalogue because you have a couple of diverse palate cleansers to jump into from the main menu. I'd also say that all of the games are tough on Normal difficulty but they have plenty of difficulty and gameplay settings, including the tongue-in-cheek 'Baby' and 'Monkey', which make the games accessible to basically anyone.
A solid recommendation if you like the genre or fancy something arcadey and good value. I'd suggest checking the contents of each collection to see which sounds more up your street but they're both evenly split between great, good and slightly crap titles so again, they know what they're doing.
I hope this has piqued some interest.