Developed By: Psikyo (Original Games), Zerodiv (Ports) Published By: Nippon Ichi Software America Category: ShootemUp, Arcade Release Date: 01.21.20
Throughout the first year of the Switch’s release, a developer named Zerodiv had been publishing ports of a series of arcade shoot-em-up games by the developer Psikyo. To players who avoid digital only releases, the games luckily received three physical releases in the Asia regions published by Arc Systemworks holding four games each. While importing games may not be very difficult, it still creates an accessibility issue in regards into getting in people’s hands. This however would be solved by the announcement of a Japanese series of physical releases of these titles, two named Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha and Bravo respectively, and then the subsequent announcement of a western release of those by Nippon Ichi Software America. Each collection this time would hold six games as opposed to the Asian release’s four each. The first collection, Alpha will be covered.
A SHORT HISTORY
Alpha holds the Strikers 1945 series, including the first console port of Strikers 1945 III, Sol Divide, Dragon Blaze, and Zero Gunner 2-, which is instead an entirely remade version of Zero Gunner 2 due to the original games files being lost. The games ranging from some of Psikyo’s earliest to one of the last arcade games they would develop shows of a nice timeline of Psikyo’s catalog and in turn how they evolved as a developer throughout the years. If you’re familiar with the shoot-em-up genre, then you will immediately get the feel that every game in the collection is going for. Psikyo’s bread and butter was the shoot-em-up genre and outside of a few titles, it is almost all they made. A common thread that these games all have is the random placement of the first set of levels in each game, changing each time you play and a second loop much like Capcom’s Ghosts and Goblins series where the game is harder the second time through.
FROM TIMES OF OLD TO MODERN DAY
Strikers 1945 may be more well known for it’s hidden endings revealing your pilot, but you get a great vertical shooter attempting to reach said endings. On a skin deep level, it shows itself off as a World War 2 shooter much like Capcom’s 1942, but soon morphs into a sci-fi themed game in space with aliens as your targets. The game’s sequel would a level system for your guns on top of the standard power ups the genre has. Which each level you gain, you would get a stronger charge shot, another addition to the series. Outside of these changes, the game itself is very much more of the same as the first game, now with more mecha and more pre-rendered sprites. The third game in the series makes a change and actually takes place in modern (for when the game was released that is) times with modern jets. Releasing in 1999, Strikers 1945 III boasts beautiful sprite work for the boss fights, however there is also the return of pre-rendered sprites from the previous game, which really stand out in a bad way. On the gameplay front, III ads a more technical flair to the series with bosses having a weakpoint that would require the player to get dangerously close to the boss to expose, but if hit, the boss can be defeated quickly.
FROM JETS TO DRAGONS TO THE FUTURE
If you weren’t a fan of pre-rendered sprites before, you aren’t going to enjoy Sol Divide’s art style. The fact you cannot change the the display options outside of a filter and stretch for the title only further displays the pre-rendered sprites muddy look. But in terms of gameplay, it give an RPG feel with branching paths, a health bar that can upgrade, and magic bars, it’s very much an atypical shoot-em-up and spices up a genre which can start blending into eachother after a while. The game almost feels reminiscent of Capcom’s Dungeon and Dragon’s beat-em-ups, which also had RPG elements in them. Further separating the game from the others in the collection, it is a horizontal shooter, the only game in either collection like this. Dragon Blaze is a very busy game, probably the most hectic in the collection, more shots to dodge, more enemies, and more point and upgrade drops feeling closer to a bullet hell with how much goes on than a standard shoot-em-up. A key feature of this title is allowing you to leave your dragon in a place firing remotely while your character can dodge enemy fire, which also makes you very vulnerable. This mechanic in itself is reminiscent of Konami’s Xexex or Irem’s R-Type both of which allowing you to move your stronger weapons away from yourself. The final game in the collection is Zero Gunner 2-, a futuristic game sporting 3D graphics, also being Psikyo’s last arcade shooter. The game is also a rather large departure from other games in the collection by giving you the ability to rotate your chopper 360 degrees to shoot in any direction you might need, while a little awkward, you quickly get used to how it functions. Outside of the rotation, the game itself seems much easier than the other games in the collection, bullets are much easier to see, they move slower and you have a much bigger playing field to move around in.
SWITCH IT UP
Moving to speaking about the collection itself, starting it up brings up a very plain menu holding what appears to be the Switch menu icons for each game and nothing more. No settings or options for the collection as a whole, those would be found after launching a game in the collection. Pressing either – or + once a game is selected will bring up your menus, giving a manual for each game and a variety of settings. While they may vary from the game, on the average title, visual options are rather basic with three choices for filters, a smoothing filter, a CRT filter which seems to just put scanlines on the previous filter, and no filter at all. You can also change how the game will look on your screen with the usual options of standard or filling the whole screen, but if you’re playing any game that is a vertical shooter, you can rotate the display orientation by 90 degrees for each direction, allowing you to fill the screen without stretching the pixel art and use the Flip Grip. In terms of difficulty settings, it’s the standard lives, credits, and language settings, unlike arcade ports from Hamster Corp or M2, you cannot add credits on the fly, but only in this menu. Luckily you can map the controls freely to whichever button you desire.
ALL FUN, NO FLAIRS
While the collection itself has great games, that is the entire package, there are no bonus features for any of the games, what you get is purely the games you would buy on the eshop bundled in a physical cart for a slightly cheaper price. However, this would mean there is no benefit to buying a digital version of the collection over the individual games, UNLESS you wanted every game included. Any an all bonuses with the collection come with the physical release’s Limited Edition boxes, which include key art cards, an soundtrack CD set, and an artbook. These alone make the physical release a must if you plan on buying this collection, otherwise you are left with a very empty, thrown together collection of decent ports of great arcade games.