Thanks to Aksys Games for the review code
Title: Quad Fighter K
System: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Release Date: 05/31/2018
When alien forces invade the earth, a set of four ships are dispatched to stop the invaders and take out their leader for peace in the universe once and for all! Yeah, like the old NES games influencing their title, there’s barely a story to speak of here, and not even the bonus game has much of one (that one revolving around a malfunctioning evil supercomputer)
Mimicking the 8-bit style of the NES, we have yet another game that pays tribute to that era of gaming over anything else, continuing to play it safe rather than actually tribute to something else for a change. Luckily, Quad Fighter pulls off the tribute aspect really well, with team members from actual NES vertical shooters like Star Soldier getting involved to design both the main game and the bonus game Cyber Ship Nakku, which is included in this as a bonus game that was one of Happymeal’s first titles. Both games use NES chiptunes that sound very faithful to the actual platform, and Cyber Ship even has a replica Famicom/NES box (depending on if you’re playing Kyogeki Quartet Fighters or Quad Fighter K) on the selection screen, followed by a full blown in-game manual that can be accessed from Cyber Ship‘s pause menu, containing descriptions and a layout very similar to the sort of stuff you’d see in an old Famicom game manual.
Of course, since Cyber Ship is the original base game that Quad Fighter was built off of, playing through this minigame provides handy insight into how Quad Fighter came to be. The visuals look a lot more basic than in Quad Fighter, which contain way more detail compared to the super simplistic, 1984 vibe that Cyber Ship has on offer. Despite this, a lot of elements are recycled in Quad Fighter, from plenty of the enemies and destructible blocks to the major boss that appears at the end of Cyber Ship, along with its boss battle theme. Speaking of songs, there’s even two vocal themes, one on the title screen and another for the game’s credits, both of which sound excellent.
Quad Fighter K offers several game modes to choose from. On the title screen you can choose whether to play the main game, or the aforementioned bonus game Cyber Ship Nakku. To get the main attraction out of the way, Quad Fighter K offers four modes of its own to choose from, each with a twist on the core gameplay. In the formerly titular Kyogeki Mode, you and three other ships are forced to embark on the grand adventure, with the main gimmick being that one of the ships is a slow moving, vulnerable VIP ship that must be guarded by the other three, all of which have infinite lives while the VIP only has nine, and if the VIP ship fully dies then the game ends for everybody. This is a fantastic mode for four player action, and the best part is that the infinite lives mechanic for non-VIP Ships makes it very easy for those completely new to vertical shooters to do a decent job in protecting the more experienced VIP players, allowing the Kyogeki mode to be easily enjoyed by anyone while showing the basics of the core game.
Speaking of the core game, all modes of Quad Fighter K revolve around the same controls. You move your ship around with the D Buttons or left stick, fire your shot with the A Button and use your bombs with the B button, appearing to act as your typical vertical shooter control scheme. The genius gimmick that Quad Fighter throws into play, however is that touching another of the three ships on screen will cause you to combine with that ship, changing your main weapon depending on the positioning of the combined ships. My favorite combination is having a ship in front of my own, which leads to a devastating laser that pierces through enemies and murders bosses if used correctly. Destroyed enemies will often drop behind orb-shaped bombs, which can be collected by one of the four players and used at any time with the B button. These bombs range from a horizontal wave, a multi-direction wave, a vertical wave to a wave akin to a shotgun, and they help tremendously when enemies surround you or when you’re fighting a boss, but it should be kept in mind that if you’re combined with the other players, the ship who actually comes into contact with the bomb will be the one who gets to keep it, so detaching with the X button is key if you need to grab bombs of your own.
While playing with actual people, working together is crucial for survival, since trying to move around while you’re combined with another person will lead to them breaking away from your ship or wrestling with the control of it, thus if you want to make use of those special weapons you’ll need to work in sync to pull it off. Of course if you play with CPU allies, they’ll be fully obedient and the only thing you need to worry about while combined is when to hit the X button to separate, although Kyogeki mode is much better with actual people than the CPU bots, since they are pretty terrible at taking out enemies that are focused on the VIP. If you don’t want to go through the entire campaign at once though, you can aim for the highest score in Battle mode, where you and the other three players race to reach the highest score, making the trek through the level a lot more competitive, with more stages and ships unlocking as you clear them.
Besides the Kyogeki Mode, there’s also a more traditional Attack Mode, which plays like your average shooter in that everyone has their own set of lives and they simply must make it as far into the game as possible without losing them all. For the single player this is the mode to be, as it allows you to play on better footing without having to worry about the CPUs protecting you. Like with Kyogeki mode, it also includes both the traditional Arcade and Battle mode, and it still supports up to four local players if you want some friends along for the challenge. All in all, the main attraction is a ton of fun and a great way to experience a new twist on classic shooting goodness.
That just leaves us with the bonus game, included as a minor freebie, Cyber Ship Nakku. In the original Japanese release version of the game, this title was an unbalanced trainwreck, filled with cheap enemy placement and slippery controls that would drain your lives in a few seconds of play along with the inability to save your high scores. Luckily, they patched it a few weeks later, and the US version of the game being covered here uses that updated version, which makes it a lot less cheap. Being a very traditional NES style shooter, there’s not much to speak of here. Simply shoot all the enemies in sight, avoid death, collect powerups to change the weaponry of your ship and make it to the next levels and repeat until you fight the boss, only for the game to loop infinitely until you die. There’s little else to mention here, outside of a time attack mode where you’re more likely to die before the timer runs out. The manual does teach you some handy cheat codes though, which can be used to make your default weapon a powerful laser or give you 78 lives to start with, along with a continue option, so if you want to play this more casually to make it to the “end” of the game that’s available too.
In conclusion, Quad Fighter K is an excellent throwback to the NES era of shumps. With actual composers and designers from the original Star Solider on board, along with a few other industry legends that worked on titles such as Twinkle Star Sprites, this is a great love letter to retro shumps, and I’m really happy Aksys brought this title over to the West in a rather timely fashion. Having played the Japanese version a lot since the original release, I can safely say that this english version has all the excellence of the original, and for $8 is a steal that’s at an even better price than the Japanese version. The only real fault with this game is that it can be a bit boring when playing alone, and the bonus game isn’t that fun to begin with even with the balance updates, but this is still a good package overall. I give Quad Fighter K an 8 out of 10.