Thanks to NIS America for the review code
Title: Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo
System: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 02/18/2020
Just like with Alpha, this is a compilation of six Psikyo shooting games, although this time there’s only two series on focus: Gunbird, and Samurai Aces. Even with succeeding games in both series, there really isn’t much to the plots of either franchise, so you could honestly jump into these in any order.
The presentation for the game select and general UI of the collection is 100% the exact same as in Alpha, meaning that it’s the absolute barebones selection screen you could possibly ask for, and once you jump into a game you’ll be treated to the same game as the eShop counterpart, UI and all.
This means that for Gunbarich, one of the earliest Psikyo ports on Switch, it’ll still lack a bunch of the options the other games provide. You can’t turn off the wallpaper, you only have one filter option, and you can’t adjust the volume of the voice acting like in other titles. The only new positive for this version of Gunbarich comes from an english translation that’s far superior to what was originally released, which was machine translated so badly that even I could have translated it with my limited hiragana knowledge, and still have it make more sense. This translation isn’t exclusive to Bravo, as the digital version got updated with this better translation a few months ago, but rest assured, the translation for Gunbarich is no longer meme worthy.
As for the other games in this collection, seeing how we have another four vertical games this time around, you can expect the usual Psikyo trends to take place, with reused powerup icons, good animated sprites, and some outstanding music. Since Samurai Aces and Gunbird are some of the earliest Psikyo titles out there, those look and feel more dated than what came after, but they’re still pretty great for their time. Samurai Aces in particular may look an awful lot like the Aero Fighters series, down to the character select and general design feeling super similar, and that’s because some of the same team behind those games went on to make Psikyo. While their later games diversified a bit and stood out more, Samurai Aces feels a lot more clone-like than the other games in these compilations, and that’s OK.
The most notable game featured in Bravo is easily the Japanese exclusive PSP title Sengoku Cannon, now renamed to Samurai Aces III. Like with Strikers 1999 in Alpha, this came out on the Japanese eShop, but never westward, and I don’t even think this got an english translation like 1999 did, making this the first western release and english translation of this game.
Right off the bat, considering how it’s not a game made for arcades, but rather the PSP in the early days, Sengoku Cannon can look utterly hideous. Taking the same gorgeous horizontal sprites from Tengai and placing them against extremely barebones 3D backgrounds, this game can be a sore sight on the eyes, as I have not seen such a terrible visual clash before. The music is still excellent thankfully, but you will certainly notice the inferior backgrounds going from Tengai to this. Even upscaled to HD for this Switch port, it’s definitely not a good looking game, though there was a way that I found to mitigate this and make it much more tolerable, and that was by turning on the darkest filter possible in the options.
Strangely, this doesn’t really mess with the beautiful sprites much, but it does darken the 3D backgrounds in just the right way, making them look a lot more like a charming low-poly PS1 throwback. With this filter on, Sengoku Cannon looks way more tolerable on the eyes and is definitely a lot more interesting to experience, so it’s not as big of a trainwreck as it may have seemed.
Just like with Alpha, I’ll go over each of the six games and explain the pros and cons to them, since all but one of them is available on the eShop as a standalone purchase if you choose to go that route, and the compilation still offers nothing in terms of a gallery, museum, sound test, or any sort of bonus features whatsoever.
Gunbird: A vertical shooter, this very basic game follows most of the Psikyo tropes, from powerups and bombs that you can use, to each character having their own shooting style. The game starts you on a random early stage before guiding you to the end of the game, and as far as scorechasers go, this is pretty basic. It’s still incredibly fun to get a high score and self-challenge yourself, but unlike Strikers 1945, you can’t really time collecting gold in a way that’ll give you extra points, so the scoring more or less comes from skillful play in the shooting rather than getting risky with pickups.
Gunbird 2: A vertical shooter like with the first game, but with so many improvements that it’s like night and day between the two. Taking elements from the Strikers series such as the charge meter, timing to pick up gold, (while introducing the ability to chain successful pickups for more points) while also doing a few unique things, such as enabling a tag-team esque single player mode where you can get the co-op endings without a partner, adding a new final boss that you can toggle on or off, and a secret character from Samurai Aces. This game nails the scorechasing rush much better than the original game as a result, and becomes the definitive Gunbird game to play, along with being the best vertical shooter in the entire collection.
Gunbarich: That just leaves us with this oddball of the Gunbird series, an Arkanoid clone where Marion from Gunbird and a pirate dude team up to break bricks and learn magic. It’s a pretty fun game for an Arkanoid like, with some fun powerups and even boss battles thrown into the mix, but the game can get hectic really fast and there’s barely any difficulty options outside of changing your lives and disabling or enabling continues. Great scorechaser, but it’s still not nearly as fun as Gunbird 2.
Samurai Aces: Being one of only two games I didn’t get to play before this collection, Samurai Aces is one of Psikyo’s earliest vertical shooters, and it shows. It still has some of the same tropes as the other games, but it’s far, far more similar to the Sonic Wings/Aero Fighters franchise than anything else they’ve made. You take control of one or two pilots as you set out to stop an evil demon castle, and there’s very little in terms of variety. Like Gunbird, you don’t even have a charge attack, and all the pilots fly rather boring ships, even though some of the characters here are very cool, such as a warrior dog. Scorechasing is an afterthought here and I honestly can’t recommend picking up this game standalone unless you and a friend want to go through it in 15 minutes.
Tengai: The horizontal sequel to Samurai Aces, Tengai is without a doubt the best Psikyo game out of both collections, and is one of the greatest arcade horizontal shooters ever made, even rivaling the likes of Konami titles such as Salamander in my book. It takes some of the Psikyo tropes and puts them into a horizontal point of view, but it also allows for multiple routes, extra endings, and even that same secret character from Samurai Aces showing up once again, only this time he has an incredibly devastating charged attack. Combine that with well-balanced bullet hell action, an addicting scoring system, and a perfect game length, and you have an outstanding horizontal shooter that’s the highlight of the collection. So what could succeed such a masterpiece? Well…
Samurai Aces III: Also known as Sengoku Cannon, this game was the second of the two games I had no experience with before starting up this collection, and being a PSP game from 2005, it had a lot to live up to, despite the shift away from an Arcade setting. In some ways, it’s still just as great as Tengai, but in other ways, it falls flat. The biggest change that you’ll notice immediately, besides the aforementioned backgrounds, comes from all the enemies having lifebars.
Yes, now even the weakest enemies from Tengai will take multiple hits to kill with your normal weapon, which just feels like a dumb way of padding out the game. On the plus side, you can see how much health a boss has in battle now, but on the negative, playing on higher difficulties will just lead to enemies being sponges, instead of making the game more challenging with expertly crafted bullet patterns. In fact, this game’s difficulty is all over the place. You now have a new “cannon” attack that can turn all projectiles an enemy has fired at you into coins if you kill them with it, (thus leading to more scoring potential) but some enemies are immune to this, and most of the time you’re better off firing your charged shot, which is now infinite at the cost of slowing the player down.
The playable characters from older games are back, with two unlockable characters from older games, but they are all horribly unbalanced. The main character, the first one you have the option to pick, using a piercing homing beam as his bomb attack that murders bosses even on the hardest difficulty. Meanwhile, the two unlockable characters barely do any damage with their bomb attacks in comparison. Not to mention when powered up fully, several characters can just hang out on the left side of the screen and hold down the auto fire button while mashing the cannon button,in order to shoot in such a way that the entire screen is filled with projectiles and enemies will die the moment they even get to breathe.
It’s so easy to break this game in half multiple times that I even managed to 1CC this on the easiest setting with this guy without so much as a sweat, only dying in the last two stages of the game. (There are five in total, and no alternate paths this time around) The game still has fun shooting action and the cannon attack leads to some fun scorechasing moments, but since you can utterly break the balance of the game even on the hardest settings, this is definitely the sloppiest game in the entire collection. It doesn’t even have co-op, being a PSP port, and that just feels wrong after how Tengai handled it.
In conclusion, Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo is another great compilation of Psikyo games, this one being better than the last due to featuring two of the best shooters Psikyo had ever released. Props and praise cannot be said enough for Tengai in particular, which is now available in a physical format for the first time in decades. On the other hand, you also have oddballs like Gunbarich, interesting looks at history such as Samurai Aces, and the weird glimpse into the dark future known as Sengoku Cannon. None of the games here are bad, even if Sengoku Cannon is horribly unbalanced for a shooter, but again, I still really feel like we should have gotten some museum material or some sort of bonus features from this compilation, rather than just a plain game select menu.
Apparently, one of the earliest physical releases for the Psikyo games in Asia even included an in-game gallery, so I’m just baffled as to why NISA didn’t bother including that in these collections, since you really could just go and buy Tengai and Gunbird 2 on the eShop for half the price and get the best of the collection right as you read this. But on the other hand, this is still a fantastic collection for those who want some good scorechasing co-op action, and you can’t go wrong with either volume, even if Bravo is the better one overall.
I give Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo an 8 out of 10.