Gunbird 2 Nintendo Switch Review by SwitchWatch

Developer: Zerodiv (Originally by Psikyo)

Publisher: Zerodiv

Release Date: June 21st 2018

Price as of Article: £6.99 GBP $7.99 USD

Game purchased for review

Introduction

Gunbird 2 has a lot to live up to, at least for me. When it comes to the wealth of shooters on the Nintendo Switch there are plenty of standouts. Amongst the Psikyo range, one of them stands above the rest and that is Gunbird. It may not be the best, but there was something really special about it and despite the likes of Tengai being technically better, it’s still my favourite. Now that Gunbird 2 is out, I was so excited to see how the sequel turned out. Released half a decade later when the company was on the wane, could it live up to or improve on the original?

Story

The story of Gunbird 2 follows a similar path of the original. Five daring heroes are called up, this time to appease the Potion God by providing the essence of the Sun, Moon and Stars for him in order to obtain a special magical potion. It’s obviously barebones but I really enjoy this kind of story integration more than how they tried in Sol Divide. Between stages you have your usual character quips as well as the frequent showdowns with the Pirates which actually add a lot of character to the game. Best of all are the multiple endings available, all of which are worth seeing. Compared to other games the story is weak, but for a 10 minute arcade shooter, it’s a nice succinct effort!

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Gameplay

The gameplay plays very similar to many a Psikyo shooter, especially of the vertical kind. Hold down that auto-fire and blast the waves of enemies to bits. It’s classic and so satisfying. Now what I love about Gunbird 2 and most Psikyo shooters in general, is the great amount of variety. With 5 characters to choose from (and maybe more to unlock), all highly varied, you battle your way through 7 short stages until you blast away the final boss. It’s all very self explanatory if you’ve ever played a shooter before, but there are some things to be aware of.

For a start, this is not just a sprite swap for the original Gunbird. They’ve added features as well as taken away at least one of the lesser enjoyable aspects of the first. You have the standard shoot button but you’ll probably want to hold the auto fire button for the most part. Holding down the fire button will instead produce a special attack, think of it like a charge shot. This uses up the newly implemented power gauge which charges up while destroying enemies. This is fairly powerful and usually more encompassing, affecting a wide range of enemies at a time. Mapped to the X button, there’s another kind of special attack which is a short range melee attack. This is very powerful, but obviously fairly risky since you need to get super close to enemies to use it successfully, increasing your chance of taking a bullet. Finally you have the power bomb which is the panic move to protect you from all incoming projectiles, as well as dealing heavy damage to enemies. Definitely save these for those truly perilous moments.

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It’s glorious fun. Smashing through scores of enemies, tightly squeezing through those bullet waves, desperately clawing out for those power ups and bombs; there’s just something so satisfying about how it all comes together in Gunbird 2. The enemies are distinctive and easily remembered between plays. I often find that most of my troubles with these hardcore shmups is memorisation but Gunbird 2 doesn’t rely too heavily on that, and those enemies that do need remembering are easily definable after a play through or two.

I think one of the aspects that drew me more towards the original Gunbird rather than its brethren was the fact it was a tad more accessible in the difficulty department. On the normal setting I could just about squeeze through the game without relying on adding more continues, it was tough but fair. Gunbird 2 is very much on par with the original, making it possibly the most accessible Psikyo shooter around. If you thought the other games were unfairly tough, even on the lowest difficulty, then Gunbird 2 may just be the solution you need. Balanced appropriately, even those not quite up to the usual challenge can easily get through the lowest few difficulties without having to rely on heading into the options to boost the amount of lives and continues. I’m pretty terrible at these games even though I love them and I managed a play through without dying once, after my first dozen tries of course. That’s not to say it’s a walk in the park either. It provides a tough but fair challenge the more you crank up the difficulty and even the most veteran of shmup players will be put to the test in the upper levels.

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Of course you can choose to edit the amount of lives you have and continues which is nice to be able to experience and learn the more difficult parts of the game, it lacks a certain amount of customisation you may be used to with the Neo Geo ports, but you really have all you need here.

It does lack online leaderboards which is a shame, making the only competition between you and yourself. It would be nice if Zerodiv could start rolling out some sort of online functionality, because I know people, especially Juan, lives and breathes online competition. 

Now, as with all Psikyo shooters, Gunbird 2 is a very short game when taken at face value. You’re looking at a tight 12-15 minutes for one successful run through the game. That’s not long and you may be forgiven for thinking that’s way too short this day in age. But looking at it from a different perspective, it’s perfect for the arcade setting, it’s perfect for learning the game and it’s perfect for quick bursts here and there. I honestly prefer this shorter style of shooter compared to the longer, drawn out ones. It’s densely packed fun and having it an hour long could potentially take a lot of the impact away. It’s short and to the point, never outstaying its welcome.

Audio

For the music we’ve got something pretty nice. It’s more on the whimsical side of things to match the theme of the game and the lighthearted wackiness it provides. It’s my second favourite musical style for shmups as I do prefer a good chugging, grungy guitar going on like in Steredenn, but this style obviously matches Gunbird 2 much better. I really like it even if tracks between stages aren’t overly noticeable, they all kind of sound the same even if they aren’t.

To add to the audio critique, the sound effects aren’t overbearing which is always a danger in these more repetitive kind of games.

Visuals & Performance

Visually the game is just absolutely sublime, stunning in every way. While the original looked lovely, the 5 year stretch between them has made the difference, especially in the backgrounds which look fantastic, lovingly detailed as you would expect. The visuals are crisp and clear and really pop off the TV and the Switch’s screen. It’s nice and colourful with lots of variety in stages despite the small roster.

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Of course you can turn your Switch on its side to take advantage of the Switch vertical versatility the system provides, or you could do what I do and turn your TV around to play the game in all its glory.

Value

For value, Gunbird 2 is great for your buck. At £6.99 the almost endless replayability of the 15 minute or so run throughs is great value in my opinion. With each character having multiple endings plus a special ending for different combinations of 2 characters playing together, Gunbird 2 will last you hours. Then there’s the challenge of increasing your high score as well as notching up the difficulty to improve your mastery of the game. I have genuinely no idea how much it would cost for the real arcade unit, but it’s certainly a much more convenient option to having it on your Switch. This is even cheaper than the Dreamcast game by a decent way.

Pros

P

Classic arcade shmup gameplay

P

Great presentation

P

Challenging but accessible

Cons

P

It doesn't have my favourite character from the first game