The thunk of a twenty pence piece being dropped into an arcade machine was one of the sound that defined my childhood summer holidays. Splitting time between a caravan site’s aging arcade and our smoke-filled local gaming emporium, I’d occasionally be swayed by Street Fighter II, Virtua Cop or The Simpsons Arcade Game, but it was really the shoot ‘em ups that kept me coming back time and time again.
From Air Buster through to 1945, something about dancing through the walls of bullets, missiles and lasers was hypnotic – relaxing even. The fruits of my paper round toils regularly disappeared into orange glowing coin slots, and I largely never had any regrets as long as ‘DOM’ appeared towards the top of the leaderboard. It’s time to relive my glory days.
Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha pulls together six of Psikyo’s most iconic shmups, the WWII-flavoured Strikers 1945 and its two sequels, the fantasy set Dragon Blaze and Sol Divide, and the Dreamcast-era Zero Gunner 2. Barring Strikers 1945 III, all have released separately for the Switch over the past few years.
This collection gets everything right in terms of what fans would want, offering upscaled HD visuals with a range of screen filters, the ability to change the screen orientation, save states for all the leaderboards, and the ability to tailor the controls as you see fit. The Switch has become the perfect home for classic shmups, and if you’re the type of fan that owns a Flipgrip you can play them in vertical orientation while on the move as well.
Strikers 1945 is probably one of the most recognisable shmups out there, and both it and its two sequels play just as well as you remember. The first outing’s visuals are pretty simple looking these days, but avoiding the attacks of its multi-state bosses and trying to beat your top score remains as compelling here as before.
Strikers 1945 III meanwhile is brilliant, offering the design advantages of a second sequel with modern aircraft, tighter gameplay and improved visuals and music. All of the games offer local multiplayer, but III became a personal favourite thanks to the randomised selection of its opening levels, which helped to keep things fresh if a little tougher at times. As the only exclusive in the collection, there’s a lot hanging on Strikers 1945 III, and while it’s a great title I can’t see anyone that owns any of the other games already stumping up the cash just to complete the set.
Zero Gunner 2 feels particularly nostalgic to me thanks to its millennium-centric visuals and it’s the exact kind of thing I’d have lusted over in Official Dreamcast Magazine. Having never received a home release in the West prior to its arrival on Switch, it’s awesome to have it in your hands now and it’s a unique shooter thanks to an unusual control scheme that lets you rotate your helicopter through 360º. Once you’ve got a handle on this quirk, it’s a glorious romp through low-poly landscapes. It’s the easiest title here, but it’s still well worth checking out.
Dragon Blaze is the big winner, with its incredible fantasy-infused sprite work, bullet-hell tendencies and choice of four differing characters and their respective dragons. The dragon mechanic is also a winner, allowing you to separate yourself from your winged creature to attack from two sides, or even to perform a one-hit kill on the expansive bosses if you time it right. If you haven’t played it and aren’t totally sold on picking up a whole collection of shooters, I can heartily recommend adding at least this one to your digital Switch games. You won’t regret it.
Sol Divide is unfortunately the weak link, and though it offers some really interesting ideas, mixing horizontal shooting with melee combat and an RPG-esque feel to progression, its nothing short of a museum piece otherwise with horrifically dated visuals and lethargic gameplay. When the other games here are as good as they are, it magnifies Sol Divides’ problems even more, and I’d expect players to swiftly move on after one or two blasts through it.
Perhaps my only other gripe with the collection is that you’ve got four vertical shooters and two horizontal ones, meaning that if you’ve gone to the effort to play with the Switch vertically you’ll end up dancing back and forth between orientations if you swap games. The overlying menus also don’t reorient themselves to match your selection, and though I do understand it to some extent, once again it makes changing titles and things like altering screen filters a chore.
In addition to the games themselves, the retail limited edition package throws in some art schematics and colourful art cards, along with the official soundtrack collection on CD. You’ll probably already know if this is your sort of thing, but if the £54.99 asking price is too steep for you, you can always go digital. The individual games are available for £6.99 a pop, or the Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha bundle for £35.99, which saves you £5.95 by my maths and pulls in arguably the best Strikers game out there, which isn’t available separately.