Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo is the second Psikyo collection to be released by NIS America in the same number of months with the former focused on the Strikers 1945 series alongside SOL DIVIDE, Dragon Blaze, and ZERO GUNNER 2. Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo however, leans heavily on the Samurai Aces series with six classic titles: Samurai Aces Episode I, Samurai Aces Episode II: TENGAI, Samurai Aces Episode III: SENGOKU CANNON, GUNBARICH, GUNBIRD, and GUNBIRD2. These games have already had their fair share of re-releases on the PlayStation and Sega Saturn and it’s not even the first time some have made their way to the Switch either.
The promo describes the collection as “hidden gems from arcade history” with “no quarters needed,” which was good news for me as I would have found my pockets very quickly emptied after trying some of the harder difficulty settings. These games may not require much instruction but their frantic nature and constant action make for some tough going.
Games are presented in a tidy menu format featuring the original artwork for each title and not a lot else to go off. With limited background knowledge, I went with GUNBIRD 2 first, intrigued by the character art and the fact that I thought high definition rendering may have been more forgiving to a sequel’s pixel count.
The majority of these games take on the popular vertical shooter format. You choose from a selection of manga-style characters and are thrown into a fast-paced scrolling environment that’s littered with enemies spraying bullets and bombs in your direction. Even if you drop the difficulty setting right down, the action rarely lets up as you dodge your bomber around the screen. You’ll collect power ups along the way which increase your level of attack significantly and allow you to breeze through rows of heavily armoured adversaries – this is when it gets really fun. For those trickier situations, or if you’re just feeling lazy, you can use a bomb attack which will clear a stacked formation of enemies no problem. As you progress through each stage you’ll also get a little storytelling but told in simple character-driven screen shots, is hardly a device pushing you to the next chapter.(I don’t know Ayin…you tell me!)
These are not long games, you’re unlikely to want to sit and invest significant hours in one go therefore the pick up and play nature of the Switch is perfect for a quick ten minutes or so of destruction while you’re on the way to work. That said, some titles like Samurai Aces 3 I found to be more enjoyable when played docked on my TV with an arcade stick rather than in handheld mode, due to its horizontal direction. Fans will, however, appreciate the ability to switch to TATE mode, which allows you to play in their signature portrait fashion.
Overall the games look polished but the years have been kinder to some titles compared to others. Oddly, considering the collection spans games from 1993 to 2004, it’s the latter that have suffered the most. Samurai Aces Episode III’s semi-3D environments feel smooth enough but when you think about the calibre of games launched that same year, it doesn’t feel like such a leap.
GUNBIRD spinoff GUNBARICH is another of the later titles in the collection having released in 2001 and adopts the fast shooter format in a ball-and-brick style game. I actually love these types of games and set against a vivid backdrop of coloured bricks and fireballs, it was a welcome change of pace compared to the rest of the titles on offer.
Admittedly, these types of games are not usually my cup of tea, and truthfully, I can see this collection only being fully appreciated by retro fans seeking a nostalgia trip rather than appealing to new players, which won’t be helped by the £35.99 price tag. However, it was good to experience an arcade collection of games which probably wouldn’t be on the tip of the tongue of what the average player may consider an arcade classic, and at a time when modern developers are harking back to older art styles and embracing the discernible pixel, perhaps this collection will find itself some new fans. There’s also definitely something to be said about enjoying the simplicity of a game which you can drop straight into without a huge story to grasp and understand, straight of the bat, exactly what your goal is: shoot at the shooty things that are shooting at you.
But to answer the simple question, which denotes whether or not a game or collection has stood the test of time – is it still fun? In small doses, yes, it is. I didn’t get completely sucked in by it but for a collection that’s designed to give you a quick shot of adrenaline and can be played on the go, I’d conclude it’s a worthy addition to your library.