Review – Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha

It’s safe to say that if you’re a fan of arcade shoot ’em ups, you need to buy a Switch. Not only it is one of the very few systems in which you can play those games with a vertical aspect ratio, but the amount of titles available for it is staggering. In one single portable platform, you can own and play games like Ikaruga, Pawarumi, I Hate Running Backwards, Raiden V, Vasara Collection, RXN Raijin, not to mention the wide assortment of emulated arcade titles available either as standalone purchases or part of the SNES subscription library. You can now include Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha to this ever growing list.

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The 1945 games are easily the highlights of this collection.

I’m not going to pretend I know much about the Japanese developer Psikyo. All I knew about them prior to tackling this collection is that they were the ones responsible for the Dreamcast title Cannon Spike. One of the dozens, if not hundreds, of criminally underrated games for that system. I eventually learned that they used to be a widely celebrated shoot ’em up developer, with many of their games receiving a cult following in Japan. This collection, now available for the Switch, is the best way to be introduced to their library of games.

Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha features six shoot ’em up games that vary in style and gameplay. Three of them are part of the 1945 franchise, a series of vertical scrolling shooters clearly influenced by Capcom’s 194X series. They’re your classic “airplane shoot ’em ups”. Dragon Blaze is basically the same thing, but with all of the airplanes and World War II-influenced themes swapped for medieval fantasy characters and locales. Think of it as Namco’s Dragon Spirit games, but on steroids. Those four games are the most traditional and accessible of the bunch, in which the main objective isn’t solely to shoot at everything in sight, but also to pay attention at your plane/dragon, avoiding everything that comes towards you. All of those games can be played with a flipped Switch on portable mode, if you really want to go full arcade purist. Without a doubt, those four games alone are already a reason for you to invest in this collection.

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Sol Divide…. ain’t that great…

Sol Divide and Zero Gunner 2 are the most different games in this collection. The former is a horizontal-scrolling shooter with pre-rendered digitized sprites, not unlike Donkey Kong Country or Killer Instinct. You control a winged warrior, killing flying knights, floating wizards and magical creatures. Every character is huge, making the entire play area way too small and cramped. There’s not a lot of room for you avoid shots and general attacks. Every sprite also look excessively stretched, as if you’re playing a retro console on a 65″ screen. Of all the games included in this collection, Sol Divide is the one that looks the worst.

Zero Gunner 2, on the other hand, is the only fully polygonal game included in this collection. It retains a very characteristic “Dreamcast-ish” graphic style, but it has also received some extra tinkering, with improved textures, performance, and resolution. With that being said, the game does fall flat a bit when it comes to its gameplay. It’s definitely a game ahead of its time, as it lets you freely move around the screen and aim at any direction, but instead of relying on twin sticks (something the Dreamcast did NOT have), it forces you to hold down a button in order to rotate your aiming reticule. It’s not very practical. It also suffers from having a very bland and compressed soundtrack, something all of the other games on this collection also feature.

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Zero Gunner 2 and its characteristic Dreamcast-ish graphics.

This Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha collection only works because it’s available on a portable system. Being able to play this wide assortment of slightly obscure, albeit chaotic and entertaining shooters anywhere I want to, with little to no loading times, the ability to play any game with only joycon, and highly customizable difficulty settings, is absolutely amazing. The Switch is shaping up to become the single best console when it comes to a library of arcade shoot ’em ups, and Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha can already be considered one of the must-haves for the system if you’re a fan of the genre.

 

Graphics: 6.0

Almost all of the games feature 2D graphics. They’re not impressive by any means, but they do look somewhat neat to this day, especially if you’re playing on a small screen. The same cannot be said about Sol Divide‘s stretched pre-rendered graphics.

Gameplay: 9.5

Whether you’re playing with one joycon, two joycons, a Pro controller, or whether you’re playing horizontally or vertically, the controls are simple, fast-paced, intuitive, and very responsive.

Sound: 5.5

None of the games feature impressive soundtracks, even though none of them feature bad songs either. They’re just bland, forgettable and compressed.

Fun Factor: 9.0

A wide assortment of chaotic and entertaining shooters with highly customizable difficulty settings, from stupidly easy and accessible to hair-pulling impossible. Being able to pick up and play these games on-the-go with absolutely no loading times is downright excellent.

Final Verdict: 8.0

Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha is available now on Switch.

Reviewed on Switch.

A copy of Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha was provided by the publisher.

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