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Game Info:

Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha
Developed By: Psikyo
Published By: NIS America
Release Date: January 21, 2020 (Switch)
Available On: Nintendo Switch
Genre: Shoot 'em Up
Number of Players: 1-2
ESRB Rating: E10+ for Fantasy Violence, Mild Language
MSRP: $39.99

Thank you NIS America for sending us this game to review!

My very first video game was Space Invaders, and I've had a soft spot for the shoot 'em up genre ever since. With that said, the genre itself has gotten far more complex and difficult over the years, to where my skills no longer measure up. I still enjoy myself until I hit that wall, though. While I have heard and played many of the more famous shoot 'em up entries of the 1980s, I never really had a chance to play many of the late 1990s entries. Once I realized that's what these were, I was excited to give them a whirl for review.

Psikyo was a popular shoot 'em up game maker who was really active from the mid 1990s through the early 2000s, especially in Japan. (The Psikyo brand still lives, but they don't develop new games anymore, instead working with external developers.) Most of their titles came to the arcade first, and five out of six of the games included here did as well.

Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha is the first of two packs of games, with Bravo coming soon. This first pack is dominated by military-style shoot 'em ups, with two fantasy ones also included. The games are:

Strikers 1945
Strikers 1945 II
Strikers 1945 III
Sol Divide: Sword of Darkness
Dragon Blaze
Zero Gunner 2

Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha
Highlights:

Strong Points: Compilation of six fun games for less than buying them individually; optional portrait mode so you can rotate your Switch and see more of the game; good emulation; variable difficulty level
Weak Points: No save state support; even the easiest difficulty is challenging on some games; dialogue is serviceable at best on some of the games
Moral Warnings: Violence, with bullets or knives/magic shooting down ships or mystical creatures; some creatures show large amounts of cleavage (harpies); ‘Hell Island’ is a place, and you fight against the army of Satan

Zero Gunner 2 was originally released for home consoles, in this case the Dreamcast. You can tell for two reasons; for one, it's graphically much more advanced, being 3D rendered. Secondly, it's much easier on the Normal difficulty level. The other five games on Normal are quite insane, and clearly meant to chew through quarters. While these games are technically not part of the 'bullet heck' genre, on higher difficulties they're close enough that they might as well be. Those shots come through fast and furious, with much of the screen covered by bullets at once.

Strikers 1945 and its sequels are pretty standard shooters where you fly a fighter plane and blow up loads of enemies as the level scrolls behind you. These are vertical shooters, where the levels scroll from top to bottom. You can move your plane anywhere on the screen to avoid those bad guys, or pickup power-ups that include improved guns or bombs. Bombs are screen-clearing attacks that should be used when you otherwise will not survive the encounter, but getting timing right can be a challenge. Power-ups give your plane's guns more shots, or give you little automatons that help you shoot your enemies. Bullets end up being everywhere, both yours and your enemies', as you bring down the many opponents you fight against. The levels are interesting, and the enemies pretty varied. These games are very good representatives of the genre.

Dragon Blaze is basically a fantasy version of Strikers 1945. Enemy bullets are pink instead of orange, and enemies are fantasy instead of technological, but gameplay-wise it's very, very similar. You can also hop off of your dragon if you want it to keep shooting at something while you get out of the way. While artistically different to Strikers 1945, it feels very similar to play.

Sol Divide: Sword of Darkness is a side-scrolling shooter that feels quite different from the others. You have your standard 'pew pew' attacks, as well as a melee attack and magic spells you can use. While the pixel art is not really as good as the other games, I really like the change of pace that this offers; not just because it's side scrolling, but the focus is different. The characters are large, and you collect magic points and health instead of one-time use bombs and instant death like the others. I enjoy it a lot.

Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 78%
Gameplay - 14/20
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 7/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 80%
Violence - 7/10
Language - 9/10
Sexual Content - 7/10
Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

The final game is certainly the most technically advanced, and definitely looks the best. That would be Zero Gunner 2. This was originally a home console game, and you can tell because of the much more accessible difficulty level. It also has an interesting twist on the shooter; rather than being straight up and down, or take a more modern twin stick approach, you instead have to re-aim your ship with a separate button to change the angle and direction that you are facing. If the enemies start to come at you from an angle or from the bottom of the screen, you should probably turn around first! It has a much different feel, and it's probably my favorite game of the bunch.

From a technical perspective, all of the games run perfectly, which you would expect from emulation of 20+ year old games. The four vertical shooters use a vertical aspect ratio - the screen is taller than it is wide. Most televisions (and the Switch screen itself) are usually the opposite - wider than they are tall, so only a small portion of the screen is used at a time. What you can do, if you wish, is to rotate your Switch and go into the options and rotate the screen ninety degrees. It supports this, and works really well. The other two games do not offer or require rotation, as they have a wider screen ratio. The sound effects and music are serviceable, but nothing special. I feel like the chiptunes could have been rendered at a higher quality, but I never heard the originals so I might be wrong.

From an appropriateness standpoint, there isn't too much to talk about. You shoot other planes, tanks, magical creatures, and so on, depending on the game's setting. Some of the mystical creatures are things like harpies, which look female and expose a lot of cleavage. One game has an area called 'Hell Island', and it talks about fighting against the army of Satan.

Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha is a pretty good collection, especially for fans of the shoot 'em up genre. Many of the games are available standalone for $7.99 each through a different publisher, but not all of them. I do wish that it supported save states, but the games are fairly short, so it's not a huge loss. I admit I was spoiled by the SNK collection with their save states + rewind features, but what can you do. If you think you will enjoy these games, then it's an easy recommendation! I can certainly see the charm and enjoyed my time with it (when I swallowed my pride and lowered the difficulty level).

About the Author

Jason Gress

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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