Bullet hell shooters are weird beasts in that, despite the name, shooting isn’t really the point of the game. Ghost Blade HD is no exception, as your ship is so ridiculous overpowered that you barely need look at where you are firing, with such a huge spread of bullets you can’t really miss. The trick is to look at your ship and weave around the enemy fire, and if you navigate the patterns of bullets for long enough, you will win.
In Ghost Blade’s easy mode, “long enough” is just over fifteen minutes, with five levels which last just a few minutes each. After that the game is one big high score chasing exercise with harder modes throwing different bullet patterns at your ship and requiring judicious use of smart bombs to clear the screen when it gets too frenetic.
Each stage is playable in a training mode, as is each boss battle, and there are a number of options to tweak the graphics, but that’s about it. You can bring a friend to the battle with local co-op, letting you choose between the three ships and their three firing patterns. They also have a secondary fire mode which concentrates the shots but slows down your movement, oh, and a scantily clad female pilot.
Bullet patterns you encounter are quite standard with expanding rings, streams, and catherine wheel effects, and there is some variation in speed in size with larger bullets moving more slowly. Killing the enemies that fire larger bullets results in their bullets turning in to pick ups, causing you to indulge in some furious joystick wiggling as the thing you were moving away from becomes the thing you need to get to.
The weapon upgrades are rather disappointing. You can easily be at full power within seconds of starting the game and there are no further upgrades to pick up. Even if you die, your power ups handily floats around the screen till you respawn a second later so you you never really lose them.
It’s a colourful game with anime influences (see: scantily clad and totally pointless pictures of female pilots), and the music is fast paced and retro, but fits perfectly. However, the game has one huge missed opportunity, a throwback to the original game which was created for the Sega Saturn in 2015 – that isn’t a typo, by the way. Hucast Games created the game specifically for the old console and it’s now been ported to PS4. To keep the classic arcade style vertical scrolling feel the game plays in a narrow window on a modern widescreen television with huge borders, but in the options menu there is an option to go in to TATE mode.
This flips the screen ninety degrees, the idea being that you put your TV on it’s side and replicate the set up of an old arcade. That may be fine if you have a small CRT attached to a Dreamcast, as many had back in the day, but there’s no way I can spin my 52″ plasma on it’s side. Quite ridiculously, the developers have not added an option to rotate the controls the same way, so if you do engage TATE mode you get a wonderful full screen side scroller, but up is now forward, left is down, down is right, and right is up. It’s such a shame as the game looks superb running in full screen so I hope they could add rotated controls in a small patch.
Whilst fifteen minutes may seem an incredibly short time for a game to last these days, most arcade shoot ’em ups are short and barely last half an hour. There’s nothing really new or exciting in Ghost Blade HD, but it’s a solid entry to a genre that is almost non-existent on current consoles.
Version tested: Standard PS4