By Josh Speer / March 23rd, 2020
|Title||Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo|
|Release Date||February 18th, 2020|
|Age Rating||T for Teen – Fantasy Violence, Suggestive Themes|
I wasn’t originally planning on reviewing Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo. Not cause it looked bad mind you, far from it, but because I’m not an expert at the SHMUP genre. I enjoy it, but it also regularly kicks my ass. While Steve did a great job of tackling Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha, he’s also closer to a veteran of these games than I am. But since I’ve always been intrigued by the Psikyo games, I figured I’d give Bravo a shot. This collection brings together all three Sengoku Aces games (even though they’ve tweaked their original titles), as well as two Gunbird entries and a very strange puzzle game. Was Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo my introduction to the hardcore SHMUP genre? Or did I go down in flames?
For simplicity, I’ll cover the games in the order I beat them in. I started with the Sengoku (Samurai) Aces games – Samurai Aces, Samurai Aces II: TENGAI and Samurai Aces III: Sengoku Cannon, then tackled Gunbird followed by Gunbird 2, and closed things out with Gunbarich. Pretty much every game in the Bravo collection has large elements of fantasy, as well as nods to Japanese culture aplenty. There are giant Daruma dolls, mecha samurai, assorted demons and all sorts of crazy elements. They all play almost identically, with a few exceptions. Some are inherently vertical SHMUPs, while others are horizontal. Some only arm you with bombs and regular gun attacks, while a couple of the entries here have charged sub attacks. And even though the games are technically pretty simple, in execution they are all quite challenging. While only some of the games here would classify as bullet hell, none of them are easy. At least not on the Normal difficulty I played them all on.
Visually, the entire package of Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo is quite attractive. Even my least favorite entry visuals-wise, Sengoku Cannon, still has some diverse enemies and complex artwork. I loved the hand drawn portraits in all the games, and even found the tiny models to be impressive. There’s tons of things generally happening in the games, humans running, machines gearing up, bullets flying and more. Tons of credit goes to the massive and evolving boss designs, and flashy and bombastic visual effects. Musically, each of the games does what’s necessary, and adds a bit of flourish. I like the audio retorts found in some of the games, such as shrieks of victory or screams of defeat. Though all the games are great musically, my favorite is TENGAI, especially how the soundtrack shifts when bosses are near, adding drama. Overall, the Bravo collection has fantastic art and sound design.
There were a couple minor quirks I encountered while playing Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo. One happened when I first booted up Gunbird. I picked Marion and started playing, only to find there was no music whatsoever. There were sound effects, but no tunes. That only happened once, but it was a bit strange. Worse by far was the first time I played Gunbird 2. Though I know for a fact I picked Normal difficulty, the entire game was dialed up way harder. I barely got through the first stage, and was sweating bullets the entire time. Subsequent playthroughs were fine, but this was still an odd blip in an otherwise smooth experience. Also, while this isn’t a glitch, I really found it unfortunate that the Bravo collection had no compendiums, galleries or music boxes. I would have died for some behind the scenes insights into the development of the games, some artwork and the ability to listen to tunes. I also would have appreciated a gallery showing the endings I’d collected so far. The lack of these doesn’t make this collection horrible by any stretch, but it does prevent it from getting a perfect score from me.
Apparently all the Samurai Aces games take place in Feudal Japan, and revolve around stopping a cult before they can resurrect their demonic god. I say “apparently” since it’s hard to get much plot from any of the games in the Bravo collection. The first Aces game is enjoyable. It features great and complex artwork, lots of moving parts and big foes. So long as I could hoard my precious bombs and powerups, I did pretty well. Having said that, I do feel the game can be a bit unbalanced in some stages. More tricky is that in all the games in this collection, the stage order is randomized. You’ll only play so many stages each playthrough, meaning sometimes you’ll be able to avoid the harder ones and others you won’t. All in all though, the original Samurai Aces was a fun romp with some really quirky characters, including a bald monk, tomboyish shrine maiden and even a dog. Don’t ask how that last one works, it just does.
While the first Samurai Aces game was a vertical SHMUP, the second one, called TENGAI, switches things up. Not only does this entry move the Aces games to horizontally focused mayhem, but it also introduces sub weapons. Once you’re powered up to a certain level, you’ll be able to charge and unleash more powerful shots from your spectral familiars. My personal favorite is a fire breathing lemur companion. I actually loved this game the most of all in this series, and felt it was both the most well balanced and also had some amazing bosses. Not that the first game had horrible bosses, it didn’t, but I appreciated how modular the ones in TENGAI were, shedding parts and evolving into strange and dangerous new forms as you fought. This game also introduces the concept of recurring mini-boss foes that hound you, and even engage in some banter before battles. Oh and fun side note, the tomboyish Miko, who is also known as Koyori, gets a hell of a makeover in this game. Let’s just say with her newfound curves you can’t call her a lean tomboy anymore. But she’s just as arrogant and spunky as before.
The third Aces title, Sengoku Cannon, is also the strangest. You could tell they were trying to make use of newfangled polygonal graphics in this game, and it actually hurts it quite a bit visually. Most stages are empty space filled with angry foes and quickly moving background landscapes. Worse was that the bosses are just floating humanoids that assault you with all manner of projectiles. Oh and did I mention, this is the first true bullet hell in the Bravo collection? That said, once I got past my dislike of the graphics in this particular entry, I really grew to enjoy the unique mechanics. This one played similar to the other games, but introduced a secondary Cannon attack which seems key to the score received at the end of stages. It also sometimes turns all enemy projectiles into coins when you kill enemies, which I’m a bit perplexed by. Though the bullet hell takes getting used to, it’s also mostly pretty fair. I grew to anticipate and avoid streams of bullets the more I played, and started to even get a little cocky. That is until the latter portion of the game, where the developers show us what they’re really capable of, and flood the screen with all manner of annoyance. It’s rough, but thankfully all the games in the Bravo collection allow you to tweak the parameters, giving yourself more lives and continues. Suffice to say, I dialed my lives up to 9 and continues to 3, and was thus able to beat all of the games in Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo. The only exception is the last game, but I’ll save that for later.
It was a special treat to play through the Gunbird games, since I had actually bought one of them individually months before. I hadn’t thought I was capable of beating it then, but I found the first Gunbird to be pretty well balanced the more I played it, at least on Normal. When this and the other games in the collection loop after you beat them, it seems as though the difficulty also ramps up significantly, making things much more hectic. So while that did prevent me from getting an uber score in the games, I still enjoyed them. Gunbird specifically had some really strange characters, including a Witch, a mechanical man, a cloud riding beauty, and even a very odd carpenter. Though this one does play quite a bit like the first Samurai Aces game, it has a bit more cartoonish spunk and humor. There’s some 20+ endings in this game alone, and they all depend on how you choose to spend a wish granted by a feline genie. I didn’t realize how important that decision was until I beat the game, decided to beat the genie mercilessly, then was trapped as a replacement genie for my sins. Yes, this is a bonkers game, and I really loved that about it.
Gunbird 2 was the most visually impressive game in the entire Bravo collection, and it was also the most relentless. While it doesn’t quite go the route of consistent bullet hell that Sengoku Cannon does, it is really, really challenging. It also features chargeable sub attacks and modular boss battles with multiple waves, and a really odd final boss. If you like recurring side characters, those are here too. They’re a team of naughty pirates that reminds me a lot of Team Rocket, just a lot more competent and armed with dangerous mecha. Also, the endings in Gunbird 2 are even more insane than those in the first Gunbird. While the first game revolved around finding mirror pieces to open a path to a genie’s wish, here you find elemental vials to develop a potion that will grant your greatest desire. My first ending was as Alucard (yes, that Alucard) who turns out to be utterly bald. His wish grants him an amazing afro that he completely hates. Another one has a rotund man on a flying carpet get a makeover. Honestly the insanity in both Gunbird games were what I loved the most about them, and that’s why it’s worth your time to beat the game again and again to find all those endings. Just be ready to suffer through Gunbird 2, cause it’s pretty brutal. Though not as tough as I found the last game I played, Gunbarich.
I can hear you saying that I shouldn’t have had trouble with the one puzzle game in this collection. And sure, Gunbarich doesn’t appear to be that rough. It’s a brick breaking game in the vein of Breakout, and you can control recurring character Marion the Witch, amongst others. The tricky thing is, each stage requires you to break every block and do so in a limited time frame. If you fail, you’ll lose a precious life. Or if the ball gets past you, you’ll also lose a life. Which starts to add up as enemies spit balls back at you, or try and paralyze you with other attacks. And though you’ll find powerups here like in the other games, they don’t explain what these do at all. There’s even boss fights, and though they’re not as rough as those found in the rest of the Bravo collection, they are far from easy. And this particular adventure seems to be the longest too, so you’ll have to really work for that ending. I ended up turning my continues to unlimited just to beat Gunbarich, and it was still a rough ride. Don’t let the candy coated aesthetic fool you, this one is hard as nails.
All in all, I really enjoyed playing through Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo. For $39.99, you get 6 distinct, entertaining and challenging games. Though I didn’t play it in TATE mode or multiplayer, I had a fun time. Thankfully, you can tweak things to make the experience more palatable to your tastes. While I miss features like galleries and sound tests, I still would highly recommend this collection. I spent probably 5 hours playing through all the games, though there’s plenty of replay value to get all those endings. The name Psikyo is legendary for good reason, and this serves as a wonderful tribute to their legacy.
Review Copy Provided by Publisher
City ConnectionGunbarichGunbirdNIS AmericaPsikyo Shooting Stars BravoSamurai AcesShmup