Dragon Blaze Nintendo Switch Review by SwitchWatch
Developer: Zerodiv (Originally Psikyo)
Release Date: April 5th 2018
Price as of Article: $7.99 USD, £6.99 GBP
Dragon Blaze presents one of Psikyo’s later games in their short, unforgotten lifespan. It was one of the last games before the company dropped off the radar a year or two later. In that regard, this game could have showed one of two things; either it’s a bit of a last hurrah from a studio not being able to keep up with the changing times or it could be a bit of a damp squid that sealed the company’s fate. Of course if you know Psikyo, you know the answer is the former: It’s awesome.
The story is back to a simpler time, the four dragon riders are on a mission to collect four crystals and then defeat a big bad boss. It’s not really worth mentioning. Like usual there’s a bit of text between stages as characters say a sentence of almost coherent english as they make their way to the big bad. When comparing it to other Psikyo’s games it’s not the worst offender of story vapidity, but it’s on the low end.
The endings also lack the charm of other titles like Gunbird and the recently released Tengai which is a shame.
The audio is fantastic with some medieval fantasy grand score to augment the tense situation of dodging bullets. It’s not quite as in your face or rocking as I like with my shooters as in the case of Steredenn, but it adds very nicely to the package. I’m not sure if I’d listen to much of it outside the game though.
Visually Dragon Blaze is easily one of Psikyo’s best. The sprite-work is sublime; you, your dragon and the enemies are hugely detailed. So many things look incredibly smooth as though they could be pre-rendered, but I’m not actually sure if they are or not. Either way it’s a feast for the eyes. Background details, especially in the underwater stage, can be magical. I love the way your dragon slightly falters against the turbulence of the air, there’s just a lot of detail and it’s great.
Of course, as a vertical shooter, you can play this magnificent game by turning the Switch on its side to view it in all its original glory. Sadly I didn’t have the chance to turn my TV of its side this time, but my word would I love to. Truly the best way to play.
The only disappointment in this, and I suppose I’ll touch upon this in the gameplay section too, is that there just isn’t enough stage variety. Maybe I was spoiled by the dynamic stages in other games, but Dragon Blaze feels a little too resolute and this impacts the visuals since you’ll always see the same thing over and over again with every play.
The gameplay is pure Psikyo, maybe at one of its best. While it has your standard shooter mechanics found in all of their other games like Strikers and Samurai Aces, this one throws in one very interesting feature that can really change the dynamic of the gameplay.
Of the four characters (yes, only four), each of them are dragon riders. They begin each stage mounted on their trusty steed, but a nice little trick they have is that if you press the X button, you will dismount and launch the dragon forth. This brings in a few tactical nuances to this game. The first is that your dragon can act like a battering ram, piercing enemies and dealing a satisfying amount of damage. Secondly, your launched dragon can pick up items such as extra bombs, power ups and coins which is very useful for those out of reach in dangerous areas. Finally, when launched, the dragon will also fire continuously locked in the same position. You can strategically place them in a spot to take out some enemies, while your character takes out enemies coming from a different area. It’s like splitting your fire power between two fronts.
Now, having only played for a few hours so far, I’m not going to be able to tell you the tactical subtleties of how’s best to use this component of gameplay as I’m still experimenting with it myself. I do feel it has a lot to offer though and will probably make it one of the deeper Psikyo games around.
The rest of the games features are very similar to what we’ve seen before. If you’ve seen my other reviews of these classic games you’ll know what’s coming. You have a standard shot that you can either shoot manually or with auto-fire, you have a panic bomb to protect yourself against the hordes of enemies and bullets flying at you and finally you have the charge shot which, this time, is linked to a magic meter, meaning you can’t use it at all times. A shame, considering I loved the snappiness of the charge attack in Tengai.
The flow of the action is great, you feel like a total badass when your dragon is at full power and you’re weaving seamlessly between enemy bullets. It really is one of the best feeling Psikyo games too. But there is one thing to note. Something hardcore fans will love, but newcomers may find a bit of a wall for this entry:
Dragon Blaze may be one of the most brutal of Psikyo’s shooters. Sure, I generally don’t delve into the higher difficulties too much, but this particular game looks genuinely impossible unless you’re willing to commit time to memorising every frame that goes on. I mean, if you’re taking a volley of shots from every single enemy in the game, all flying in different directions and there is seemingly no place to hide, you know this is a tough one, even by Psikyo’s and general arcade standards. On the lowest difficult I was, at first, thinking this game was an complete breeze compared to what I had experienced on all of Psikyo’s other efforts thus far. By the time I’d reached the last 2 to 3 stages, however, Dragon Blaze made me want to cry. Sure the bullet hell features weren’t too bad in those lower difficulties but some cheap enemies that can instantly wipe you out dampened my enthusiasm somewhat.
Still, it’s great fun and Psikyo addicts will love the gameplay that Dragon Blaze provides. You can’t go wrong with this one at all. I would suggest if you’re looking for a more manageable time you may want to try Gunbird instead but if you’re up for the challenge Dragon Blaze is just as fantastic in the gameplay department as it and Tengai.
For £6.99 or $7.99 Dragon Blaze is of course worth your hard earned cash if you’re a shmup fanatic. I feel the lack of variety or personality in this one will hurt it for some of the more casual fans but you’ll still want to play it plenty of times. Completing with two players gives even more endings that you may want to try out but due to the low character count it is fewer than some others. If you want a serious challenge, and I mean serious, then maybe Dragon Blaze will be the one you can set out to master and put dozens of dozens of hours in to. Surely that’s value for money, right?
Good ol’ Psikyo Gameplay
Deeper than most entries
Lacks the variety I seek