Tag Archives: There Will Be Bullets

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: Pester

That Pester (80 MSP) is a arcade shooter with Bullet Hell-tendencies should be fairly obvious; screenshots depict an old-school style in a locked vertical column with some decidedly-merciless bullet patterns, and that name certainly ain’t designed to make any quick friends.

As a shooter, all of the necessary boxes are checked off, though the majority of Pester‘s replay value stands behind a bounty of options, modifiers, challenges, and multipliers (for a possible combination of 95+ different setups). Almost all of these are locked at the outset, and the requirement for their freedom is reaching a high score plateau within the individual modes. This is all easier said than done, naturally, with the perpetual carrot-on-a-stick being that you’ll get incrementally better the more you play and triumph over evil, or something along those lines.

The game eschews stage progression and bathroom breaks, giving you one contiguous level (enemy waves, boss, enemy waves, boss, etc.) under two mainline game types. Arcade Mode is ‘shooter’ bread & butter, the most familiar— three lives, speed and shot powerups, and screen-clearing bombs. Collect coins to fill your Hyper meter, allowing a short burst of heavy firepower. Tempus Mode does the same, but more immediate, with the addition of a countdown timer below your ship. Collect clocks to extend your time. Losing a life here takes away ten precious ticks. Reaching zero is of course game over.

From either top mode, you can then branch off into several sub-modes. Pester‘s charm comes in its lack of charm, in not letting you get comfortable. Just when you’ve adapted to one manner of play, unlocks or score requirements will push you to climb towards the next peak, from the standard shooter trappings to wall-to-wall boss fights, a stint as a pacifist (dodging asteroids without the benefit of lasers), or the outright ridiculous; the ‘Duo’ modifier hands over the controls to two ships at once using the two thumbsticks. Fancy yourself even more dexterous? Try it with the inputs reversed. Higher scores and multipliers await for the truly mad and gifted.

Pester - Screen2

See any trouble? If you guessed ‘everywhere’, you’d be right.

In the minus column, the retro visuals may be nostalgic but they do come at a cost; both the coins and clocks you need to collect in their respective modes can be indistinguishable from enemy fire, which at times share a common color or shape and in the heat of the moment can lead to plenty of cheap deaths. The game modifiers are hit and miss as well. Ninety-five plus combinations, sure, but some of those combos are related to modifying the controls and / or inflating the difficulty, and as such are not likely to be used by most (sane) players.

It’s not as inventive as the studio’s previous shooter, Super Killer Hornet (Math problems while dodging fire, anyone?), though there’s little doubt that Pester takes its turn competently. There will be bullets and some pestering (sorry, couldn’t resist), but you’ll be able to stomach all of your dying given the fact that the game and its two top modes are a lot of fun to play, and offer up enough different settings in the sub-modes to outlast and justify the repeated run-throughs.

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Review on Clearance Bin Review

Have Bullets, Will ‘Pester’

Terrible article names and wordplay aside, I rarely find a Bullet Hell I can’t get behind. Flump Studios‘ latest looks to continue that streak, with randomized shot patterns and enemy placement. Like their previous release this summer, the overlooked and Math-centric Super Killer Hornet, Pester gets its inspiration in vertical shooters from Japan, influenced particularly by revered developer CAVE. I have no objections to that.

The game breaks the bank by offering ten (!) play modes, including Classic, Reverse, Old School and Tempus (sounds time-based) settings. ‘Duo’ mode, which will force you to control two ships on one controller, reads as being equally promising and troubling. Suffice it to say that Pester should wind up having a little something for everyone.

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Pester will see release sometime in January, and will cost 80 MSP.

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.

REVIEW: Aeternum

Bullet Hells and I have a rocky history. I generally enjoy them and the challenge they represent, the attention to shot patterns and the repeated deaths that are a rite of passage. Aeternum (240 MSP) encapsulates that hard truth with scary efficiency, crushing egos of any and every size (on normal difficulty!). Sometimes you have to be put in your place, and here it’s done with hundreds of bullets, knowingly humorous dialogue, nice tunes, and an enjoyable cast of witches and many cats.

The game has four levels, split into two sections each, with a mid-level boss and end boss that come in multiple forms, all preceded and followed by dialogue bits that fill in and animate the surrounding storyline, win or lose. Gameplay flows accordingly to the shooter blueprint and it’s easy enough to figure out, but take two minutes and play the tutorial. The controls are solid and don’t let you down, at regular or half-speed (a slow-down move that focuses fire and exposes your heart / hit-box in order to navigate near-impossible shot streams), and you’ll learn what makes it all tick, in terms of Panics, Power, and Grazes.

Grazes work as simple score multipliers, earned by avoiding close calls. Enemies and bosses drop ‘power’ orbs when defeated. That ‘power’ is nuanced, and works as a health bar and a currency for shields (50 orbs a pop). Pull off an impressive stretch without getting hit or using those orbs, and you’ll instead build towards an additional ‘panic’ shield, which is freely and automatically-administered in the event you’re hit. You can start with varying amounts, depending on the difficulty chosen. The ‘panic’ shields are by far the most important stockpile you can own. Whenever possible, sacrifice orbs for shields instead of wasting a ‘panic’.

The concept of ‘power’ and having it is similar to Sonic’s nearly-narcotic dependence on ‘rings’; keeping some in your possession at all times amounts to life. Get hit, and you’ll lose power (some or all, according to how much you had), with the chance to pick up some of that scattering life to prolong your game. It’s an interesting tactic and trade-off that will reward skilled players with extra ‘panic’ saves, while at the same time giving some much-needed breathing room to those of us that are less-fortunate in the face of so much adversity. And it’s less torture than you might think. Looking at my first ten run-throughs, both my score and distance-traveled went up at each attempt. Believe me, I still worked to reach the third stage. A small victory.

Unfortunately, there are no continues in Aeternum (EDIT: The first post-release patch adds continues, at the cost of resetting your score). That both hurts and helps, forcing you to replay (but improve at) the earlier stages and bosses, either in ‘practice’ mode or the surprisingly-helpful ‘pacifist’ setting. Everyone’s patience level is different, however, making the game’s brutal difficulty a question of taste. I stuck with it, and while I’ve failed (thus far) to reach the credit roll, the route getting there is now considerably less-bumpy. That said, I can’t even fathom the skill I’d need to move up to a higher tier of difficulty.

Aeternum - Screen

One of the easier fights, actually.

In the end result, Aeternum is a bullet hell with personality, and aptly labeled as such. It’s a scant four stages deep, but it requires the sacrifice of your pride and more than a few hours to considerably build a tolerance to its difficulty. Therein lies the reward, of course, so long as you do not approach it lightly or with any expectations of besting it right away. Instead, adherents will find a complex ballet to dance around and a worthy shooter to add to their collections.