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Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo Review

Jordan over at SwitchWatchTV has released an amazing video review for the Psikyo collection of shoot-em-ups for Nintendo Switch, Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo. It looks like a grand time and one that Jordan himself seemed to enjoy a ton. Let’s see what he had to say about it in the video below, or you can continue downward to read it here on SwitchWatch.co.uk.

Following on from last month’s Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha, NIS America are bringing the second collection to the West: Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo. And it may very well be the better of the two.

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As a compilation of arcade classics, we’re going to forego our usual review structure and let anarchy take its course.

If you don’t know who Psikyo are, I don’t blame you. But a quick heads up that during the 90’s and very early 2000’s, they were a very prolific Japanese studio dedicated to producing some of the best arcade shooters of the era. They’re pretty legendary in the shooter circle, and they’ve had a massive new lease of life on the Nintendo Switch. Firstly thanks to Zerodiv, then City Connection, and now in the West, thanks to NIS America. This is a second compilation following on from last month’s Alpha release (although they have been out in Japan for quite a while).

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In this collection there are 6 classic shooters. Well, 5 actually, but we’ll get to that point soon. Just to go over them briefly, we have Samurai Aces, Tengai, Sengoku Cannon, Gunbarich, and Gunbird 1 + 2.

That’s 3 vertical shooters, two horizontal shooters and 1… different thing. But we’ll get to that point soon, because I first want to talk about my two favorites. Not only in terms of what’s included in this package, but in terms of my favorite shmups and even favorite games on the Switch.

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Gunbird 1 and 2 are just lovely shooters. The first is a simple affair, greatly enhanced by it’s personality and playability. Gunbird 2 was bolstered by more complicated systems, and both are glorious fun. While Psikyo have a reputation of being tough and borderline brutal thanks to their arcade nature, the Gunbird games are perhaps their most accessible of all and can be completed by pretty much anyone even with the standard rule sets. They are so endlessly playable and accessible, that these should be top of the list if you’re thinking about getting into arcade shooters. I can’t recommend Gunbird 1 and 2 enough.

Samurai Aces, also known as Sengoku Ace was the first game made by Psikyo as a new company, and it does show somewhat. Although, as with the high standard of the shmups on offer, it’s still very good indeed. It’s the first game in the Sengoku series, which eventually morphed into horizontal shooters.

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The second game being titled TENGAI. I reviewed this one for the channel a long time ago, and for me, it’s one of the best horizontal shooters around. Okay, saying best may be overboard, since everyone has different tastes and styles when it comes to shmups. But it’s joint top of my favorite horizontal shooters alongside Blazing Star on the Neo Geo. Ah man, that reminds me, I need to play Blazing Star again. Anyways, it features some great power ups, a difficult but doable challenge, and endless replayability.

The third game is actually new to me. This is the first time that I have actually played Sengoku Cannon, so it’s the reason I was most excited to review this copy of Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo. I mean, I already own all of them… except this one. It’s a weird one, since it was developed after Psikyo as a company was dissolved and made by another developer and made for the PSP.

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Well, you can see it’s a very odd release, mixing 2D and 3D together. Indeed the 3D backgrounds of the first level often made me genuinely nauseous due to how it swings all over the place while you’re trying to focus on your 2D character. Yes, it looks pretty awful. But actually plays in a pretty fun manner due to the different attacks you have in your arsenal. I was initially unimpressed, but once I started playing for a while, I really started to zone in and enjoy the gameplay, rather than focusing on the poor visuals. I honestly feel that if this game had traditional backgrounds, it would be far more respected in the shooter circles.

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And finally, the odd one out in the collection, we have Gunbarich, or however you’re supposed to pronounce it. It sounds German. But anyways, this is more like an action puzzle game than a shmup. It’s basically Breakout with more in-depth elements. Boss battles and the like. It’s also properly tough. This may not sound out of the ordinary for an arcade game from Psikyo, but I don’t think it wholly suits the genre that they went for here. Still, it’s something very very different, which gives this collection an extra layer of quality.

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I know people that love this game. I’m quite indifferent to it, but it definitely has it’s fans I know that for sure. I received a bit of flack for my lackluster reaction to it initially, and it’s worth trying to figure out all the nuances it has to offer for yourself. Take time to learn this one as you would do any other Psikyo game, and I’m sure it will open up for you.

All the games offered here are well emulated as far as I can tell. Zerodiv, the original porting team, have done a really nice job of putting them on the Nintendo Switch. There’s a decent amount of customization going, too. Not quite up to what Hamster do with their Arcade Archives series, but still it is decent enough. You can select difficulty, obviously, but there’s also the chance to change up how many lives you start with, how many continues are allowed before a game over, button mapping, and so on. Expected stuff, but still appreciated.

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The best thing is obviously being able turn the play perspective. Yes, in the options, you rotate the play screen in order to play in all its glory: either using the Switch on its side, perhaps with a Flip Grip, or you can do what I usually do, and just turn a TV on its side. And oh boy is that lovely. It’s gaming perfection at this point. There’s no other purity in terms how zen this type of game style can make you. I highly, highly recommend doing this as long as you don’t mind risking your TV. It’s worth it for sure.

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Sadly there are no online leaderboards. You’re only competing against yourself in this regard, which really is the saddest part of this collection. I mean, personally I’m not that much into score chasing against random people online or friends, but I know people who think that a game can live or die in terms of longevity for them whether online leaderboards are present or not.

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I do think that there’s a lot of replay value, though. Majority of the shmups here are about 10-15 minutes for a run through. That may seem ridiculously short this in this day-and-age, but in all honesty, it’s what makes them such great pick-up and play titles. Many of them may be tough, but the short run time means that they are learnable, plus as your skill increases you can ramp up the difficulty. When you’ve got a short bit of time to spare, waiting around for something, these games are absolutely ideal for those 10-15 minute bursts.

One thing that makes these so good for me are the multiple endings for the games. Many of them have unique endings for each character, plus even more unique endings if you have two players. Whereby each character combination has their own unique ending too. And if you don’t have friends like myself, don’t worry because Zerodiv added in an option to falsely implement a second player into Gunbird 2, at least. So you can choose 2 characters, but play alone and the ending will play out as though both characters played. A nice little touch!

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Also, it’s worth noting that this package comes as one icon with a game select screen upon booting up. This is much less messy than the 6 home screen icons that the Japanese version dumps on you.

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Now putting this collection side-by-side with last month’s collection, Alpha, I think Bravo is the superior collection of games. And if I had to buy one, I’d go for Bravo. Which shows how dumb I am, because I actually bought the first one, but not the second when these had their Japanese release. I mean I would have bought it, but you know, budget issues and all that.

And that’s another thing to talk about. Shmup fans are really hardcore dudes. Alongside JRPGs, they are presumably the most imported genre of games, and this western release of these two titles has taken its sweet time. All of these games have been available physicalyl in the East, first with a Korean release of 3 volumes. And then a Japanese of 2 volumes, which is what Alpha and Bravo are made up of. I’m curious, guys, who here would have bought this western release if it had been out alongside the Japanese release? My thinking is that the real audience of these games will have already purchased them.

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But, what sets these apart are the fact that in Japan these titles got a standard release as well as a limited edition. In order to increase the value in the west, NIS America only have a limited edition version as far as I’m aware. There’s no standard edition that I can find at least. If you’re buying this physically you have no option but to get the soundtrack CDs, the artwork, and cards. Man, I want those CDs! It’s fair to say that the Japanese Limited Edition is slightly less classy.

Now, if you fancy this digitally, then you’ll be looking at a cheaper price 39.99 in Euros and US dollars, as well as 35.99 in the UK.

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It’s worth noting that you can purchase these games individually on the eShop for $7.99 or £6.99. This basically means you’re almost getting one of these games for free by buying the package as a whole. It’s not ridiculous value for your money, especially if you already own a couple digitally. By that point, you’ll be losing money, so I feel this package is for those who want to jump in for the first time. Then it’s a good value. I mean, like I’ve said many times, I find these types of games endlessly repayable, and while I may have a favorite (or three), the variety means you can always go from one to another and get something fresh and different even if they may not be your go-to shmups.

Physically, this is dropping for around $60 thanks to the extra goodies, which is steep. Nothing unusual for a niche collection like this one. The CDs alone make it worth the price hike, and it seems like a nice package overall with what people have showed me during my weekly Physical Releases video. In the community spotlight, one dude showed off the box and art book, and it looked nicely put-together.

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Overall, if you already own a couple of the shooters here digitally then this collection will probably put you out of more pocket. You may as well continue to buy individually. But if you’re thinking about jumping into the shooter scene with these excellent arcade classics, well then look no further. Last month we had the Strikers-heavy Alpha release, but for me, Bravo is the better of the collections. Gunbird, Gunbird 2, and Tengai are some of the ultimate classic arcade shooters of all time. Thinking about if I didn’t already own any of these games and was going in fresh, for me Shooting Stars Bravo would be an easy 9/10.

REVIEW SCORE: 9/10

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