Tag Archives: Bullet Ballet

REVIEW: Chronoblast

Shooters are plentiful, though it takes a particularly gleeful bastard to put together a Bullet Hell and call it entertainment. It’s a type meant for purists who appreciate the fine Japanese art of cramming as much digital death onscreen as possible, for the quick and scary-calm, not aspirants and daytrippers like myself (though we’re still invited). Chronoblast (80 MSP) doesn’t bring anything new to being a Bullet Hell, but it is a solid shooter nonetheless.

The basics apply. Scoring is handled via chains, collecting coins (to fill a meter) and keeping streaks alive. You can alternate between a spread shot and a focused laser, trading off maneuverability for firepower. Bombs function as ‘health’. Using one will clear the screen of enemies and bullets while subtracting one tick off your life. Acquiring enough spare change will drop a ‘super’ into play, which gives you a temporary (but not invincible) reprieve and damage boost.

You can choose from four lovely ladies that refuse to match suit or hair color because individualism is important when your life is on the line. Their ship size and shot style vary as well, but they all have the same tiny ‘hit box’ in the center that you must play keep away with. There will be bullets so you know the drill— it’s safe (ironic choice of words) to say you will always be in harm’s way, but it’s all in where and when you position yourself. This tutorial explains it better than I can.

Difficulty is what defines the game, and comes in three types. ‘Autobomb’ is the easiest, and probably the only option most of us can ever hope to reach the end with. As the name implies, your bombs / shields are deployed automatically once you’re hit, saving you the trouble and reflexes. Consider it a ‘Bullet Hell Airbag’ (I’m coining that phrase if someone hasn’t already). The other ‘Normal’ and ‘Hell’ settings drop this feature, leaving it to you to manage your protectional finances all on your own while upping the bullet count to something akin to suicide by stupidity. It’s the mini-bosses and bosses that really drive this point home, as outlasting their barrages means relying on and recognizing shot patterns (having an extra ‘super’ or bomb helps too).

Chronoblast - Screen

It only looks impossible…  Nah, it’s impossible.

In total, the game runs five stages deep, punctuated by a story snippet. There’s no extraneous parts or modes, save for the difficulties and an always-essential ‘practice’ option, though there are online leaderboards for each of the challenge tiers, as well as for the local co-op. Reserving a high score and then pointing and laughing at the random gamertags below you is of course required.

Shooters aren’t known for their expansive content, more so for their ability to break you over and over until you’ve said uncle or evolved to meet the demand. And such it goes here. If you’re like me, though, you never tire of dodging death in all its ubiquitous forms, specifically as blooming rings of neon fire that will take your lunch money. In that regard, Chronoblast won’t let you down.

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REVIEW: Bleed

Love. It’s a funny thing. Sure, some can dismiss it as blind lust, coded into our DNA from the beginning as an excuse for proliferation, pass it off as a chemical imbalance masquerading as the feeling, or as the premise and end result of many Korean dramas. None of that changes the fact that, for me, it was love at first sight with Bleed ($2.99). Still, I began to question myself. For months I wondered if the game would live up to the image I had built up in my head. Now, days after I first nervously pressed start, I remain smitten. Does Bleed make good on expectations? It bloody well does.

Bleed is in essence a finely-tuned platformer, crossed with the self-choreographing mechanics of a very difficult bullet ballet. Your character, the pink-haired and ever-encouraging Wryn, goes guns blazing through seven expertly-plotted and beautifully-realized stages. You’ll see flashes of Mega Man in the bosses, and the storyline follows a No More Heroes / Scott Pilgrim slant, with Wryn fighting the greatest heroes the world has ever seen in an attempt to take the throne and limelight for herself. Each stage will test your reflexes and trigger finger, and each numbered ‘Hero’ fight is as fresh and exciting as the last, with enough loving craftsmanship to fill ten games over.

This alone would be enough to pique anyone’s interest, but all of that is taken to the next plateau with Wryn’s athletic ability to dodge attacks (up to three times per jump) and slow time. Bullet Time is nothing new to gamers, but the way it is implemented here with such ease and accurate handling makes me wonder why it ever took so long to make a proper transition. After a short learning period, you’ll be weaving through danger like a pro. The satisfaction gained from watching yourself improve at Bullet Time and pull off spectacular stunts is immeasurable, and never loses its cool factor. You’ll never suffer from a lack of the spectacular either. Between you and the end battle sits hundreds of tight spots in which you’ll need to maneuver into and out of, and the moves Wryn brings to this dance rival anything Keanu Reeves did while in the Matrix.

Fancy moves are nice, fancy armaments are nicer. While Wryn’s default dual pistols handle the job quite well, a secondary gun you can trust is just as important. From flamethrowers to mines to laser rifles, to a katana that deflects bullets, the combinations and options impress. And style is everything. An always-ticking combo gauge measures your skill at creating beautiful chaos while avoiding hits, and your score on each stage amounts to currency. Upgrades to your health and bullet-time, as well as additional weapons, are available in the shop between stages.

You can replay levels to grind out more money (and occasionally you should), but much like that combo gauge, the emphasis is always on speed and what’s next. The game quickly ushers you to the next stage or mini-boss, never letting off the gas, and you don’t want it to. Every fight is different depending on the difficulty and your gun loadout, and tinkering with both can yield surprising and / or improved results. No matter the situation, there are two constants in Bleed; the purest forms of adrenaline and fun. Well-tested balance and thoughtful checkpoints ensure both stay stocked throughout.

Bleed - Screen

There are more great moments, more intense set-piece sequences, more intelligent designs at work here, than AAA titles you’d shell out $60 for. And that’s just during your first playthough, directly after the ‘Thanks for playing’ script fades. There are additional difficulties to best (that devilishly remix enemy layouts and attack patterns, rather than just up the player damage), and an arcade option that goes retro, tasking you to go as far as you can in one life. A challenge mode gives you the chance to take on the bosses under multiple circumstances, either to practice tactics, or, for the incredibly confident, to tackle up to three of them at once! With plenty of weapons and upgrades still to earn, and alternative characters to unlock, Bleed is a game you’ll log several happy hours on.

It’s pitch-perfect in its execution, and renders all possible criticism moot. I’ve been told I have a flair for the dramatic. I profess love too easily. I’m guilty, even if I truly mean it at the time, but what the hell, here goes nothing; this is the best XBLIG I’ve ever had the privilege of playing. You can be skeptic, but in this rarest of cases, trust me that the game earns that title utterly. If you have a pulse, if even a fraction of your heart is occupied by videogames, you must play Bleed.