We’ve long been avid fans of the shoot’em genre here at Nintendo Times. My earliest memory was playing Defender in the arcade and I was instantly hooked. Games like Gradius, Axelay, and U.N. Squadron hold a special place in my gaming heart and are still fun to go back and play even today. I’ll fully admit that over the past ten or fifteen years I’ve fallen off the classic shooter bandwagon and haven’t really experienced many of the more recent releases. Thankfully that has changed with Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo releasing on the Switch. Having never experienced any of the six games in this collection I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
If you haven’t done so already, be sure to check out Jay’s review of the previous compilation in the series: Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha, which came out last month. He also received this one for review and brought it down to my place so we could play through all of the games together. We had a fun enough time, and I fully recommend playing through the games co-op as it adds just a little bit of extra fun to the experience. I’ll go over each of the titles separately, as some are better than others and one in particular was so off the rails surprising that if you’re going in blind you’ll want to know about beforehand. I should also preface this review with the caveat that I’ve never played any of these games before so if you have nostalgia for any of them chances are you could bump up the overall review score by an entire number – although it’s likely you’re probably already sold on this package if that’s the case.
The first game we dove into was Samurai Aces Episode I, an over the top vertical shooting game for one or two players. The game has a distinct Japanese atmosphere to it with anime characters that feature special attacks (bombs) that help take out a ton of enemies on the screen as well as block incoming shots. Overall the game looked pretty decent although many of the enemies are a bit on the small size. If I’m not mistaken this game is one of the earliest of the bunch, releasing back in 1993 so it’s understandable that the visuals aren’t as crisp and vibrant as some of the later titles. As with many of the games in this collection the action here is fierce, which is to be expected since these sorts of arcade machines were designed to gobble up your quarters. Luckily you can go into the options screen and adjust the amount of lives and continues you have at your disposal. I like this method because it leaves it up to the users to set the difficulty on their own. We both had a decent enough time with this one, despite its somewhat dated look.
Next up we gave Samurai Aces Episode II: Tengai a try and I immediately latched onto it because it flipped to a horizontal shooter – my personal favorite. I like the flow of these games better, with Life Force and Gate of Thunder being two of my all time favorites. I chalk it up to ignorance on my part, but I didn’t know there were side-scrolling shooters in this collection so I was very happy to see this one and it became my favorite of the bunch. The graphics are slightly improved over the original with some impressive parallax scrolling. The enemies are very detailed and animate well. There’s really no rhyme or reason to the enemies in this game – in one instance you’ll be fighting massive ninjas and then the next you’ll have to shoot down some massive fish, which induced some Darius flashbacks. If you can get past the lack of cohesion and just accept it for what it is, this one’s a great deal of fun.
Unfortunately the third game in the series is a massive downgrade and quite honestly surprising to see. Samurai Aces Episode III: Sengoku Cannon originally appeared on the PlayStation so immediately I noticed a huge downgrade in visual fidelity. The fact that it’s side-scrolling can’t save it from mediocrity. The backgrounds are pretty awful and boring to look at. At various points throughout each level the game will scale into or out of the screen, which might have looked impressive in the mid-‘90s but just sticks out as bad graphics today. Adding insult to injury is the lack of a two-player mode and this is easily the worst in this collection. I wouldn’t say to pass it up entirely, but one play through will be more than enough to satisfy your curiosity.
Next up we blasted our way through Gunbird and Gunbird 2. I had always heard these games were ones to watch out for, and sure enough I can see why. We return to the overhead vertical scrolling and thankfully co-op is back for both. Immediately we’re treated to the best looking games of the compilation with bright cartoony graphics and detailed backgrounds. There’s an ongoing story with villains to chase after and fun levels to fly over. The bosses are especially impressive and nearly all of them feature multiple transformations where it looks like they’re going to be defeated, but then a second vehicle pops out and you have to destroy it to proceed. These are definitely the highlights of the package and a great deal of fun. Most will probably enjoy both of them the most, but my personal pick still goes to the side-scrolling Tengai.
The last of the games in the collection was a real surprise because it wasn’t a shooter at all! That’s right, Gunbarich isn’t at all what I was expecting (a Gunbird 3 is what I had I mind). No, instead it’s a Breakout / Arkanoid / Alleyway type game where you have a pair of flippers at the bottom of the screen and you must flick a ball up and destroy the various bricks. Every few stages you’ll go up against a boss that you’ll have to take down to proceed. There are power-ups, like the one that gives you multi-balls that allows you to take out a bunch of targets at once. The stages are timed, so you’ll have to try to line up your shots so they count or risk losing a life. I had a great time with this one, as I’m always a sucker for these types of games. In the end I guess it doesn’t do anything all that original and I can see some gamers completely passing it up, but I could have spent even more time playing this one. Again, no two player co-op is a bit of a letdown, but understandable in this case.
So, six games for $39.99 isn’t too bad of a deal if you’re into classic shoot’em games. Unfortunately one of them isn’t that great and honestly taken as a package the titles are fun to mess around with, but I’m not sure that most players will get a ton of lasting value out of them. That’s because there’s no online leaderboards to compete with your friends or online co-op so you have to be sitting next to them on the couch to team up. If you’ve played these before then you probably already purchased this collection. I should also mention that if you have a Flip Grip you can play three of these games in Tate Mode (screen on the side) for a more authentic experience.
If you’re into these shooting games I can see it being worth your money. I had a good time with them, but in the end I can’t see myself going back and playing them ever again. They lack that certain “console shooter” quality that was injected into many NES and Super NES games that better balanced the difficulty and even sometimes added content over the arcade versions to make the home conversions even better. I have more fun playing games designed for a console experience than playing a bullet hell shooter that’s designed to empty your pockets. For me these types of games are way too hard in default mode and way too easy when you change the parameters. There’s almost no middle ground when it comes to the difficulty curve and because of that I often don’t find myself revisiting them. That being said, I had a good deal of fun playing through the majority of the games included here and would recommend Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo to fans of the original games or arcade shoot’em up aficionados.
Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo Review
- Graphics - 7.5/107.5/10
- Sound - 6/106/10
- Gameplay - 8/108/10
- Lasting Appeal - 4/104/10
Final Thoughts: GOOD
Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo includes six classic games of varying quality. My personal favorite was the side-scrolling shmup Samurai Aces II: Tengai, with Gunbird 1 & 2 also high up on my list. I was surprised and delighted to spend time with Gunbarich, a brick breaking Arkanoid clone. With limited lasting value this collection is still a fun time…while it lasts.