Tag Archives: Bullet Hell

Blasters of the Universe review (PSVR)

Wave-based shooters are a dime a dozen on PSVR, so why should you invest in another one? If you’ve played one then you’ve played them all, right?…Wrong. Thanks to Blasters of the Universe’s high quality, compelling action, and customisations options galore it stands out from the crowd…oh and then there’s the bullet-hell.

After the novelty of a new VR wave-based arena has worn off, I rarely returned for more but Blasters of the Universe nails that “just one more go” vibe. The style of the game sits somewhere between Blood Dragon and Tron. The self-proclaimed bullet-hell shooter paints the story of an arcade champ whose fame has gone to his head and he becomes fully digitised into the world he loves, challenging the next wannabe champion to best his creations.

The four wave-based worlds demand a variety of skills to be mastered, from being a crack shot to side-stepping and ducking the torrent of incoming fire that will ultimately be flung your way. Each world is climaxed with a boss battle, which forces you to mix up your tactics in order to grind down their health bar, and in terms of difficulty, normal mode has its moments but is a fairly easy going romp through VR bullet-hell. Hell mode however, can get pretty intense.

Despite having a portable shield you will inevitably need to keep on the move. With only five hearts of health you can end up becoming derezzed pretty quickly if you don’t keep your head on a swivel. It really puts you on your toes. Despite ducking and diving, which I’ll admit to picking up quite the sweat, the PSVR unit didn’t mist up – a real testament to the build quality of the headset.

Blasters of the Universe’s world is bright and vibrant – full of arcade tropes and neon blemishes – it looks great, and the experience of a tunnel of bullets passing around your head is pretty darn cool. Thankfully the devs have seen fit to only make your head the ‘hit area’ so you needn’t worry about your arms or the blaster your wield, this makes the prospect of surviving far less daunting.

The blaster itself is an odd construction of random parts that wouldn’t look out of place in the world of Fallout. Once unlocked, you can mix and match a variety parts to construct a blaster that suits your play style. From magazines that recharge, to barrels that fire more rapidly, there are tons of combinations that can be assembled and tested within the armoury.

A timed challenge mode resets periodically with new objectives, which will keep returning fans hooked, while those addicted to the intensity of gameplay will undoubtedly want to better their scores in the campaign, best the hell difficulty or just see how long they can survive in endless mode. Beyond that there is a limited amount of gameplay with only four worlds to choose from.

I was super impressed by the response of the PSVR. I could duck down low and still pull off an accurate shot. I could dance about like a loony, dodging multiple bullets and not find that my PSVR had misted up. But most of all, I had a lot of fun. Blasters of the Universe has nailed bullet hell VR, but it’s a shame more couldn’t have been made of the story, which I found extremely lacking – especially considering the premise of the title.

Wave-based nasties, boss battles, challenge modes and a whole host of customisation options, Blasters of the Universe is easy on the eye and will entice you with its soft approach but snare your attention for hours on end.

Thanks to Wonacott Communications, LLC for supporting TiX

8DAYS review

8DAYS is infuriating. Every step is dangerous, every fight hard fought, and every weapon precious. Indeed, 8DAYS’ mix of twin-stick shooting, bullet hell and stealth is an intriguing and highly challenging hybrid of genres that often feels insurmountable but is oh so satisfying when you overcome it. It’s the best kind of infuriating.

You are an elite mercenary working for the private military company G.O.D Inc. (Gold, Oil and Diamonds), undergoing operations all over the world to serve your outfit’s clients the best you can. This means murder, mayhem, and war mongering. It makes for a nice change, playing in the mud a little, with no clear heroes and villains just different shades of grey. Of course, a story of betrayal and conspiracies soon unfolds around you, but for the most part it simply facilitates new locations for you to struggle through against superior numbers and weaponry.

Equipment is OSP (on-site procurement) with only two slots available to you. Rocks, guns, knives, rocket launchers and more can be picked up and utilised against your enemies, allowing you to brutally bludgeon, shoot, slice and blow-up those that stand in your way. It’s a bloodthirsty and vicious existence serving as a mercenary, but a necessary one, drop your guard and you won’t be returning home in one piece.

Enemies will react lightning fast to your presence, sending a hail of bullets your way, not dissimilar to a bullet hell shooter, or chasing you with their massive knives where one hit can kill you. Even some of the local fauna will attack on site and ruin your day. Furthermore, you can fall off cliffs and fall in rivers, making awareness of your surroundings a crucial skill. It often feels like everything is out to kill you, and it’s equally exhilarating and terrifying, thanks largely to how insanely fast the action is and how easy it is to die.

Fortunately, progress can be broken down into screens. Each time you reach the edge of a screen and move to a new area it acts as a checkpoint. This allows you to break down the challenge into chunks, and once you figure out the troop placement for a particular screen, you can begin to work your way through it, engaging groups individually, skirting round them entirely, or just running for the edge in a mad dash. It’s completely up to you, and each screen is large enough to provide some tactical options, allowing you to make progress through multiple styles of play.

You’re sent on multiple operations with each one offering an entirely different location and set of enemies to overcome. There’s some nice variety here, whether it’s outdoors in a dusty desert or lush forest, or inside an advanced facility. All of which are superbly designed to provide multiple paths to your objective, or large screen where you can choose your method of engagement. Midway through an operation you’ll face a mini-boss, testing your reactions and accuracy thoroughly, then at the end of each operation another boss will challenge you. These encounters offer a mix of threatening and quirky opponents, in line with the action parody tone of the game. They’re delightfully deranged and dangerous.

It can certainly get frustrating when you fail to get past a screen multiple times (see my video), or can’t figure out the best path forwards, but with each screen offering a discrete challenge and a checkpoint, perseverance will eventually get you through. And it’s cleverly designed to make the frustrations as fleeting as possible. Bringing a second player along for the ride in local coop often turns the frustrating into hilarious shared disasters, and the stunning pixel art portrays the blood, gore and murder in a rather fetching way. Sure it’s challenging, but it’s also fun, funny and compelling enough to keep you playing.

Thanks to Xbox and Badland Games for supporting TiX

Sky Force Anniversary review

Sky Force Anniversary is a classic shmup. It’s a vertical shooter with dozens of enemies to blast, bullets flying liberally around the screen, and your skills tested thoroughly. It’s a good one too, with a smart difficulty curve that compliments its comprehensive upgrade system splendidly.

When you first play Sky Force Anniversary you’re treated to a Symphony of the Night style playable demonstration of what a fully upgraded ship can do. And much like the aforementioned Castlevania title, it proves to be an effective tease that helps encourage you to push through the difficult task ahead.

And indeed, the task ahead is a tricky one. Enemy planes and helicopters fly through the sky meaning to shoot you down, as well as a whole host of ground based armour and attack towers. Moreover, hulking great mechanical monstrosities await you at the end of each level, some tamer than others, each equipped with enough fire power to knock you out of the sky with relative ease. And that’s the trick: dodging the incoming fire, dealing damage back with your own arsenal, and trying to complete the objectives of each level to progress to the next.

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Eight primary levels await you, each are short but you won’t be powering through them with any haste, partly because of the challenge but mostly because of the medals required to unlock later levels. Indeed, it’s not just about reaching the end of a level to progress, you must complete objectives along the way as well. These usually involve destroying 70% of enemies, destroying 100%, saving all stranded survivors, and not taking any damage. And whilst the first objective is straight forward, for the most part, the others pose quite the challenge.

This is Sky Force Anniversary’s main loop: repeatedly playing levels to earn medals through objectives to progress. If you earn all medals on a level then an increased difficulty becomes available for it, increasing the damage your foes can dish out as well as take. Here’s where the upgrade system kicks in. When you destroy enemies, they will drop stars, these in turn can be spent to upgrade your weapons and abilities. It’s a simple system but one vast enough to give you some tactical considerations to begin with. Do you concentrate on your main cannon so you can fell enemies quicker, or increase the magnet strength for collecting stars quicker and easier? Eventually the tactical choices narrow, as you unlock more and have less to purchase, but what’s particularly good about it is how much of a difference just one upgrade can make.

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Each difficulty within a level, and each new level, increases the health of your enemies, and just one upgrade on your weapons can really make a difference in whether you can destroy them before they disappear off screen or become too great a threat to deal with head on. Moreover, as you unlock special abilities – the laser, energy shield and mega bomb – you can buy charges in order to use these abilities rather than rely on pick-ups in-level, adding another consideration to how you spend your hard-earned stars.

It does, however, mean that Sky Force Anniversary is a bit of a grind. The first couple of levels unlock with only a few medals but the later ones require you to master at least some of the previous levels on multiple difficulties. Fortunately, it’s fun and compelling to play through the levels repeatedly. The beautiful visuals are quite the spectacle, with some gorgeous water standing out. Meanwhile, bright and colourful particle effects for weapon’s fire and explosions bring each location to life, along with some great physics when something explodes or crashes into the ground or ocean. The locations lack variety however, with the majority taking place amongst a collection of small islands in the ocean, or a tropical rain forest. However, completing the objectives is hugely satisfying, thanks to a stiff challenge that still feels fair and a great UI that keeps you apprised of your progress on each.

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There are a few additional surprises and features unlocked as you’re working through the campaign. You soon unlock the ability to find cards, which add small stat boosts to your ship, such as a increased star yield. Furthermore, weekly tournaments on a randomly generated map challenge you to post a dominating score on a global leaderboard. There’s also friend, region and global leaderboards for your overall score, to help compel you to replay levels and earn the highest score you can.

Sky Force Anniversary is a great shmup, one that feels and look like a modern take on Capcom’s 1942. It’s made for those who enjoy high scores and grinding, but its well-designed upgrade system, difficulty curve and enemy placement within levels makes it highly enjoyable to play time and time again. You can even bring a friend along in local coop, although it’s a bit of a shame there’s no online option.

Thanks to Xbox and Infinite Dreams for supporting TiX