Tag Archives: shmup

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

Stardust Galaxy Warriors: Stellar Climax review

As you get older in life certain experiences thrust you into a state of nostalgia, more so when your hobby is videogames. Some of the best games in history follow a formula, and I challenge anyone’s top five not to include a side scrolling 2D shooter. Finland’s Vasara Entertainment have released Stardust Galaxy Warriors: Stellar Climax and this follows this formula, and follows it well.

Stardust Galaxy Warriors is a fast paced 1-4 player co-op game that tests your reactions and patience. The game has a loose RPG element to it and takes it’s aesthetic inspiration from Japanese anime. There are few different modes but the campaign mode and gauntlet mode are enough to keep you busy. I mainly played the campaign mode, which is 30 stages set across ten different environments that throw a variety of enemy types and massive bosses at you.

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You can choose between four characters that are essentially the same but with a different signature power weapon. Once you’re happy with your character and their weapon’s load-out you are then expected to plough through waves and waves of enemies to reach the boss at the end. Your arsenal ranges from small rapid fire weapons to larger, slower but more devastating cannons. Each player’s signature is basically a panic button for when things get too much. Once you activate it you then get a few seconds to compose yourself and dig in to the rest of the stage.

There is a vague story-line playing in the background but it’s easy to become completely detached from it when your main aim is pure survival. Like any of these types of games, your score is important. Once you have finished the level you can then upgrade certain aspects of your character using currency based on your score. Your upgrades include armour, speed and damage.

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Everything in your arsenal is available from the start meaning there is no grinding to get the better weapons, however, to really upgrade your character you will need to unlock the perks for a better survival chance when things get hectic. The core gameplay can also be customised by increasing enemy amount, rate of fire and power-ups, which is a nice touch if you’re not satisfied with the already seizure inducing moments on offer by default.

Stardust Galaxy Warriors is fast paced and with more than one player on screen be ready to get lost and confused should your concentration lapse for a second. Every enemy fires multiple projectiles at you in a constant stream, meanwhile, you’ll be following suit with your own hail of fire, leading the screen to become very messy indeed. Once you reach the boos they follow a set sequence of attacks, which are easy enough to learn but sometimes they throw in a random attack that can throw you off your guard.

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My only real gripe would be the power-ups, games such as R-Type gave you power-ups that you can keep until your demise, however, these are timed and you only have them for a short period. You can unlock a perk that allows you to keep the power-ups longer but they are ultimately still temporary. Stardust Galaxy Warriors is a beautiful looking game with a fast paced techno inspired soundtrack, with all the on screen chaos thrown in you know this isn’t going to be a relaxing affair. I was completely hooked, and like I said at the beginning, this brings back so many memories of tirelessly ploughing through enemies to defeat a super difficult boss at the end, repeating the phrase “Just one more go” after every death. Stardust Galaxy Warriors is available on the Xbox store now and definitely worth a go.

Thanks to Xbox and Dreamloop Games for supporting TiX

Teslapunk review

Teslapunk brings back the good old fashion shmup, the bullet hell shooter in all it’s simplicity and intensity. And it’s a rather neat example of the genre, too, offering a nice gradual difficulty curve and simple yet effective mechanics to open the genre up to the wider audience.

Teslapunk’s silly story sees Nikola Tesla build an energy weapon firing craft – and later a deathray – to combat an invading alien threat. In classic bullet hell tradition you take your craft and battle wave after wave of alien ships – small, large and monstrous – on a vertically scrolling screen. Energy bolts fill the screen coming from both you and the aliens, joined by a cacophony of laser beams. Meanwhile, only the smallest glowing point on your craft detects hits, allowing you to weave between the madness and shoot back.

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It’s traditional gameplay from a genre that’s struggled to evolve over the decades, however, Teslapunk does throw a few unique additions into the mix to make it stand out. For one, there are no upgrades for your ship or weapons, instead you tap the A button to fire a wide field of volleys towards enemies – perfects for dealing with the smaller alien crafts that attempt to swarm you – and hold the A button to fire a narrower but more powerful continuous beam – ideal for larger foes. This simplifies proceedings and reduces the element of luck that power-ups and upgrades may otherwise provide, and makes death less punishing as you don’t lose any of your ship’s effectiveness. Moreover, the continuous beam slows your ships down slightly, allowing you to manoeuvre with finer but slower control and adding a little strategy to dodging the overwhelming projectiles raining down on you. Additionally, by collecting blue energy squares you can fill a meter and unleash a powerful screen clearing attack that also clears the screen of projectiles. This is also automatically activated if you have enough of the meter filled after being hit, acting as a shield of sorts but coast more of the meter than if manually activated.

The stages also sport a curiously uniquely aesthetic. Developer, klutzGames, have scanned old electronic and technical manuals and books to create the backgrounds. It’s a refreshing visual oddity that lacks the beauty and vast colour palette of titles such as DoDonPachi Resurrection and Ikaruga, looking a little drab as a result of the scans, but catches the eye nonetheless.

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Across the six stages of the arcade mode the enemy numbers increase, their patterns become more complex and their fire more intense. Mid way through each stage you’ll fight a boss and then another, more powerful end of stage boss. Meanwhile, a multiplier builds with each kill that enhances your score significantly, until you die and it’s reset. Completing the six stages and setting a high score are your objectives, and online leaderboards keep it competitive and encourage replay.

An additional survival mode offers a slightly different experience, again with a leaderboard, but it shifts focus to collecting coins rather than destroying enemies. Meanwhile, additional objectives are added to your arcade playthrough that slowly unlocks the deathray, ready to be unleashed.

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Unfortunately that’s all there is to Teslapunk. The bane of shmups is their reliance on leaderboards. Teslapunk’s simplified weapons and gradual difficulty curve make it a more accessible title within the genre but it’s longevity is largely going to depend on how compelling you find high score setting. However, it’s a seldom seen genre for this console generation so far, which gives Teslapunk added appeal for those in the mood to dart deftly through storms of energy bolts and return fire with your own hail of projectiles.

Thanks to Xbox and klutzGames for their support 

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