Thanks to NIS America for the review code
Title: Psikyo Shooting Stars ALPHA
System: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 01/21/2020
In this compilation of six eShop ports of classic Psikyo games, you take control of numerous things as you set out to shoot down some evil guys! There really isn’t much plot to be seen in any of the games, save for Sol Divide, which is pretty story-filled. Strikers 1-3 just consist of you going after big enemy planes and that’s it, while Zero Gunner 2 Minus is the same way. Dragon Blaze kinda has an element of collecting items to save the world in the plot, but it doesn’t really matter.
In terms of the compilation itself, there really isn’t much new to see here that’s exclusive to it. An early compilation by Arc System Works had the games show up as their own individual app, akin to most multi-cart games such as the Final Fantasy duology from Singapore, or the Dragon Quest Trilogy from the same region. However, in 2019 an oddly named company known as City Connection bought up Zerodiv and rereleased all of the games in proper compilation format, and that’s the version NIS America used for this release.
So what do you get outside of the eShop versions that already exist? Almost nothing to be quite honest, you have a rotating list of the six games to pick from, and upon entering a game it’s 1:1 the same as their eShop counterparts. As I’ve played four of the six titles in this compilation before review, I can verify that everything I played before this collection works and looks the same there as it does here. The two foreign games to me being Strikers 1999 (Held back for this compilation in the West, but out in Japan as a standalone game), and Sol Divide (never got to buying it), so those will be the ones that’ll be the most new to discover here. To start, literally every game in this compilation uses setting menus that are almost 1:1 the Arcade Archives settings menu, to the point it might as well be a copy-paste job with a font change, but at least they took from a menu that works and thus, changing settings and all the options is equally easy here, too.
For the actual games however, these games are still faithful properly in nearly ever aspect. Strikers I-III and Dragon Blaze lets you rotate the screen for the original resolution and Flip Grip support, making them a gorgeous, pixel-perfect joy to play if you have one, while Sol Divide looks absolutely crisp when in the normal resolution, despite the weird art choice that game goes for that makes everything look strange with the pre-rendered look. The only exception comes from Zero Gunner 2, which is actually dubbed Zero Gunner 2 Minus due to a pretty embarrassing situation for Zerodiv: They completely lost most elements of the original game, and had to recreate every aspect from scratch.
This means for Zero Gunner 2 in particular, the game doesn’t benefit much from any sort of upgrades or visual tweaks whatsoever, meaning that everything looks flat and generic with ugly, smoothened 3D models and lackluster animation. The music is still the exact same as the original though, and speaking of which, every game in this compilation has a pretty good soundtrack, with the ones for Dragon Blaze and Strikers 1945 III being the best of the bunch, so thankfully the sound is all accurate and accounted for here, and with five of the six games using gorgeous pixel art and animations (even if the Strikers games reuse tons of assets from each other), this compilation has some really good eyecandy.
Each of the six games control relatively the same and play very similarly. All but Sol Divide are vertical scrolling shooters, and Sol Divide and Zero Gunner 2 change the controls slightly, but the other four games use the exact same control setup, and all games share a bunch of things in common, making any of them an easy pick to jump into. Let’s start with the standalone games here: Dragon Blaze, Zero Gunner 2 Minus, and Sol Divide.
Sol Divide launched first of these three, and plays the most differently, so let’s go in detail about that game! The good news is before I played this collection, Sol Divide was one of only a few Zerodiv ports I had no experience playing, so playing it here was a new experience for me to say the least.
In this game, you don’t use the typical bombs found in most of the other titles, but rather, special magic attacks that you learn throughout the game and that can only be used once your magic meter is filled enough, and these are a lot more fun to mess around with than the average bomb. You also have a melee attack, which can be used to get score combos, although it isn’t really reliable for taking down enemies or bosses since you’re more exposed this way. In the end, Sol Divide is a really fun horizontal shooter, even if the game’s pretty short and the melee combat is a mediocre idea, and you have two player co-op, too! (Which is also a thing for every game in this pack)
The next game to discuss is Dragon Blaze, a vertical shooter that plays almost identically to Strikers 1945 or Gunbird. This is what continues the common tradition found in this compilation, where it’s a shooter with a normal shot, rapid fire, and bombs at your disposal. Dragon Blaze does have a unique gimmick over the others however, in that bosses have a weak point and if you detach from your dragon as soon as they open, they’ll instantly die, so if you’re really good at dodging bullets, then you’ll benefit from huge score bonuses and the like, making this a very fun score chaser.
Finally, of the “non-series” games, comes Zero Gunner 2 Minus. I state that minus, because this game is a recreation of a Dreamcast/Arcade shooter, which is a lot more complicated in look and sound than anything else here. However, when the original eShop version came out, people noticed that the game was way out of sync and not at all what the original felt like. The enemies looked horrid, the graphical upgrade was pretty poor, and there were bugs and difficulty inconsistencies galore: One of the most infamous bugs from this time was the enemies going invisible upon reaching the second loop.
Turns out all this jank was due to Zero Gunner 2 being completely gone in terms of source data, so while they ported it using anything they could like with everything else here, there was less to work with and ZG2 was a more complicated game. Thus, even with all the tweaks they’d make to squash bugs and fix things with a future patch, (the patch version is the one in this compilation) they didn’t get everything, and thus this is a really mediocre port of an otherwise great game, and it makes me wonder why they skipped over Zero Gunner 1, which I assume would be easier to port.
Like the other shooters, you have a normal shot button and a rapid fire one, but this time you don’t have bombs: You have “option attacks” instead, which plant miniature ships to fire at whatever you’re facing. Speaking of which, the main gimmick here is that you can hold a button down to rotate your ship in any direction you so choose, allowing for very precise aiming.
In all honesty, Zero Gunner 2- is still a lot of fun, jank and all, since firing down on enemies and grabbing energy crystals for points is still as satisfying as ever, especially in co-op. If you’re a high score chaser, you’ll still have a lot of fun with this game, but there’s a few annoyances that still remain in this patched version of the game. One that happened outside of this compilation, but in a playthrough attempt weeks before I got this, (meaning on the newest patch to date, more than likely the one used in this version) the music just outright died on me for the rest of the game when I entered a boss fight. Adjusting any of the settings for BGM and sound would do nothing to fix this, and not even resetting the game. I had to outright exit the entire application and reopen it to get the music to work again.
The other problem that I could definitely confirm was in both this and the eShop version of the standalone game, was that the game’s difficulty is still very abnormal. While you can choose from a variety of difficulties as expected, playing on the absolute hardest setting made things feel a bit off to me. Enemies were aggressive as they should be, but the bosses would sometimes barely shoot at me for no reason whatsoever! It felt a lot easier than playing on the hardest setting in any other game in this collection, and while it’s still a higher challenge than playing on the easiest setting, it definitely doesn’t seem to feel right. Nevertheless, Zero Gunner 2- is here to stay, and it’s still decent fun, even if it’s the weakest title here.
Last but not least in Alpha are the Strikers 1945 games, taking up half of the collection. The controls for these are the same as they’d use in Dragon Blaze, in that you have a main shot, bomb, charge shot, and rapid fire to use. No dragon gimmick in these games, just plain old shooting down enemies as a plane, dodging waves of enemies, and getting shining gold pieces at just the right time for that awesome point bonus.
The controls are simple to pick up and play, and this is definitely the best example of raw shooting action you could have in the collection. Each plane has their own unique charge and bomb attacks, so finding the one in each game that fits your playstyle is a good idea to do. Starting from Strikers II and onward is the addition of a charge meter for the charged shot, which goes up the longer you survive without dying, and can lead to an even stronger charged shot if you’re patient enough. (In the original Strikers, you just get the charge shot based on your powerup level)
But playing these all back to back like this, it’s easy to feel like the three titles are too identical, all reusing sprites and assets and just polishing things up as the series went onward. The controls never change and while each game gradually introduces a new concept, (II being the charge level, III being the gold combo chains) you still go through about 6 or 7 stages to beat the final boss and call it a day, unless you manage to qualify for the second loop of the game for more scoring potential.
These should be the most generic and forgettable games in the compilation, but they’re honestly not even close to that, as I found Strikers II to be my favorite of the Psikyo shooters when I bought the eShop original, and it still holds up perfectly in this compilation. The enemy waves feel just right, it gives you a great sense of bullet hell even on lower settings, and it’s a perfect game to challenge yourself with for a higher score, which makes me really bummed there’s no online leaderboards here.
However, Strikers III ends up being far above that quality level. Being newer, it’s obviously better looking and sounding, but the gameplay feels even more fluid and fun here, and the point chaining mechanic makes this an addicting high score chaser. Do you time collecting gold perfectly for a higher combo, or just collect it the instant you see it to stay alive and focus on the combat? Combine that with a really fun secret ship that has an epic robot form to it, and this ended up being the best game of the entire compilation, hands-down.
Being a North American exclusive to the compilation does sting for those who might have purchased the standalone games, however, since it’s only available on the Japanese eShop. Still, it’s definitely worth picking up this collection if you own none of a few of the games included, and I’m overjoyed that this amazing gem is included for all to enjoy, right before the upcoming release of Strikers 2020.
In conclusion, Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha is a fantastic compilation in terms of quality, packing five outstanding games and one good game into a single package. While it’s depressing that none of the games have any sort of history features or in-depth manuals, I was pleased to see that this compilation offers a great value compared to buying each game by itself on the eShop, and having the whole Strikers series in one place makes it a really great holdover until Strikers 2020 launches this year.
However, the barebones nature of the package itself leaves a lot to be desired, and I still think the lack of online leaderboards really suck. This could have been the ultimate version of these games that would encourage digital owners to double dip if they threw in online leaderboards for every single game, but alas, it’s still local only just like the eShop versions. For high quality shooting action, you definitely get a lot of good to enjoy here, and if you haven’t bought any of the games included here this is a must-have for arcade shooting fans.
But if you’re like me and bought most of these games already, the only thing that’s outright exclusive to this compilation from a western standpoint is Strikers 1945 III, which is the best game of the entire compilation hands down. I do feel that the US should still get the standalone digital game however, considering how Japan has had it since late August with full english support, yet it’s locked to a compilation here for the heck of it. Still, as someone who also never got to pick up Sol Divide before finding it to be the second favorite of the compilation, I can still see the great value of six shooting games in one here, but after SNK 40th I feel a bit spoiled in how compilations should be presented in this modern age. Amazing collection of outstanding games, but the “collection” aspect is beyond barebones.
I give Psikyo Shooting Stars ALPHA an 8 out of 10.