Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha Review (Nintendo Switch)

Game:  Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha (Collection)
Nintendo Switch
Developers|Publishers: Psikyo| NIS America|Reef Entertainment
US $39.99| AU $60.00|CA $ 52.91|£35.99 | €39,99
Age Rating: 
ESRB 10+ | PEGI 12
Release Date:
24 January 2020

Review code used, thanks to Reef Entertainment

Humble Arcade Origins

It’s no secret that the origin of Shoot ’em Ups lies in the arcades of days-gone-by. In that moment it was imperative to create games that were at once challenging, engaging, and would have people spending their coins. These are the kind of games that are found in Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha, the first of a two-volume collection of Arcade Shoot ‘em ups. Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo, the second in the collection, will be releasing mid to late February depending on your region. The games featured here are varied and well-chosen entries from the Psikyo catalog all of which were originally released as arcade cabinets.

It’s also no secret that arcades are fun. I may not have been alive in the heyday, but I’ve often made a 1 hour trip to a bigger town in order to go to an arcade that has a cabinet of Crystal Castles. That game fascinates me because it’s more entertaining than Q-bert, and it has a more complicated take on isometric gameplay. That’s not my point though. I sometimes go with friends to this arcade, those times we watch each other play, watch each other fail, watch each other acquire skill and make some progression on different games. I think this is the spirit of Arcade games, maybe the spirit of games as a whole: one part social and often, many parts solitary endeavor.

If you’ve read other reviews of mine, you might know this is the part where I get into an anecdotal tale because I like sharing the origin of my perspectives. Well here it is: in the summer between my second and third year of high school I visited two of my sisters while they were away at college. At this time the younger of the two was in the Environment Design division of the Game Art department.

The “One Night Game”, Arcades Reimagined

Suffice it to say, there were a lot of people at that college with strong opinions about what makes good art, but more importantly there were many with strong opinions about what makes a good game into art. It felt like I was transported to a world where things made sense, people cared about the same borderline inane details I found so appealing. All of my teenage stresses went away and for two weeks I stayed with my sisters and their friends who all lived in the same apartment complex.

One night I went over to the apartment of one of these friends. It was a two-minute walk. I sat down, by then familiar with the guy, and, after some chatting, he then put on a Marvel vs Capcom entry and we spent some time in it. It was fun enough, had good mechanics, great visuals. We also played some other games, which sadly don’t come to mind.

It was probably around 12 at night when this guy brought up TimeSplitters. I said I never played it. He said I was crazy. He said “we have to play it now.”

He put it on.

TimeSplitters was not a particularly difficult game, though it was entertaining. All told, main story and extras took us a few hours. We would take turns working our way through the game on this long videogame nightshift. By the time we had finished, my eyelids felt stiff and past the point of heavy. I looked out of his apartment window. The sun was coming up. Birds were singing. The sky was rosy. I said “that was great”. Then I slowly walked, like the undead, the two minutes back to my sisters’ place and fell asleep. I woke up a changed person. I had been reborn.

See, before that moment I had never had that kind of experience. That kind of experience leaves a mark on you, makes you realize that games are meant to be shared, meant to be enjoyed with others, that they can be more than solitary, and, important to this review, that they can be episodic. I came away with the feeling that being able to play a game in one day is something special. Yeah, I played fighting games as a kid at a friends’ place, but it never sparked the same feeling.

This is the idea I’m circling around and which I’ve long thought of in my head as the “one-night game”. You could also call this a hang-out game, a chill out game, a de-stress after work game. It’s the same kind of game that was being made in Arcades, Arcades which were themselves places to hang-out. Though the need to make money often made these games demandingly difficult, one could argue this would get in the way of hanging-out, though the opposite case could also be made.

The “one-night game” doesn’t have to be a game that you can beat in one night, but I’m of the opinion that it’s best when it is. The one-night game is a episodic out-of-body experience into the past of arcade-world, in the here-and-now of 2020 or whatever year it may be when you read this. It gives you the thrills, pulls you into a cycle of trying, over-and-again, it’s the arcade reimagined.

Monkey Mode

Shoot ’em Ups are not known for their ease, though the games collected in Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha give you the choice of playing at reduced difficulties.

Honestly, I’m kind of bad at games that require hand eye coordination. Which is not to say that I don’t enjoy them. As of me writing this review, I’ve put 90 hours into Celeste and 50 into Tetris 99, and as far as the spectrum of skill in both of those games goes, I’m mediocre at best. Clearly, I’m a glutton for punishment.

So, when Psikyo’s fantasy themed Dragon Blaze gives me the option to set the difficulty setting to “Monkey” you better believe I choose it every time.

Monkey Mode

I will choose to be a winning monkey over a losing-normal-difficulty-human any day of the week.

Because of this option for difficulty, I want you to understand that all the games featured in this collection can be games you spend a deep amount of time mastering while you learn patterns and strategies in order to beat the game, but they are also games you can make laughably easy and possibly beat in an hour or two or three of attempts, maybe even less given that I’ve seen speedruns of these games done in sub hour times by extremely skilled players. It’s all up to you.

Flexibility and Port Options

These games are flexible and this flexibility makes the price tag reasonable. 6 solid and well-made shoot ’em ups for the price they’re asking isn’t a stretch for me. The collection has all the perks that have become the standard for retro/arcade games ported to the Switch.

Though this filter on Zero Gunner 2 seems a bit heavy, I ultimately enjoyed the look of it. Important Note: not all of the filters are this heavy.

This includes visual filters, a slew of display and sound settings, controller remapping, digital manuals. Language options between English and the original Japanese. Even choices between the original fonts and the new ones. Sometimes for games that have a narrower aspect ratios, they’ve created pleasant masks to cover the unused parts of the screen, or given the option to play the switch (undocked) turned 90 degrees to fit the games perfectly in the original aspect ratio. You could even make the games easier by giving yourself an increased amount of life or more continues. Though I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary, if you’d like to really just cut through a game in an evening, be my guest.

It’s a well-polished set up. I think the only thing I would add is save states. I considered suggesting rewind features, but I think that would defeat all difficulty in the games.

The Games

Strikers 1945 I, II, & III

Strikers 1945

In this collection you get Strikers 1945 I, II, and III. These are solid, familiar feeling, shoot ’em ups. They’re well within the lanes of the genre and it makes sense that three of the spots in this collection are taken by these games. Someone looking for a casual experience who may not be familiar with Psikyo’s catalog or the genre as a whole and sees “shoot ’em up” would get exactly what they were looking for.

I’m happy to say that the other three games in the Alpha collection, are distinct in their mechanics, storylines, game art, and this also makes the collection feel like a successful representation of the genre, rather than just the vanilla experience.

Dragon Blaze

Dragon Blaze and Zero Gunner 2 are for the person looking for the usual shoot ’em up experience with a little spice added in.

Dragon Blaze

Dragon Blaze allows you to jump off of your dragon, letting it fire as a fixed turret while you can weave between blasts and focus your aims on specific enemies. This makes for a dynamic feeling that I still find refreshing.

Zero Gunner 2

Zero Gunner 2 has you piloting helicopters which by itself is pretty run-of-the-mill. However, they incorporated the hovering and spin mechanics of a helicopter into the game mechanics. Rather than just flying straight forward like all the planes in the Strikers games, the helicopters have a 360 degree rotation. You can spin around, lock and pivot, and shoot at any enemies from anywhere on the screen.

Sometimes enemies fight you from the middle of the screen rather than at the top, while they also spin, so it really mixes up the usual layout and wakes you up from the usual shoot ’em up dynamic.

Sol Divide

I particularly enjoyed playing Sol Divide the most. I see myself playing this game on a weekly basis just for fun. It has a take on the genre which feels like a hybrid with the beat ’em up genre.

In Sol Divide you get melee attacks and spells in addition to the usual blaster-style shooting. You get to smash skeletons with your staff. It feels like every skelly you smash has a real satisfaction to its defeat. Each level offers distinct surroundings and monsters to overcome. There’s even a respectable enough story. I enjoyed sucking at the game. I enjoyed it immensely. It made me want to play more.

Second Loops

Additionally, Psikyo is known for it’s second loops. Based off of what I saw in Sol Divide, once you beat the main story of a game, you would be presented with new screens with more difficult versions of enemies. In this second loop, they have distinct patterns from their main story counterparts. In between these levels you’re also having rematches with the bosses from the main story, who are also amped up and seriously tough.

This is a collection which offers the luxuries of modern ports and one place where you can find this variety in the genre, I think that’s worth it.

A True One-Night Game

When I was playing through this collection, on one particular night, I sat down with a friend and played two player campaign. He is, inarguably, better at these games than I am (though I kick his butt at Tetris 99). So when I say these games are flexible for all levels of players I mean it. When I say this is a collection of “one-night games” I mean that too, same goes for being a great game to sit down and hangout with someone, assuming they’re interested in the kind of gameplay offered.

I had played all of these games solo. I can say, after that night, that these games are worth sharing with someone, having a second player genuinely adds to the experience.

We sat down, my friend and I, and we worked our way through large parts of Zero Gunner 2, nearly all of the main run of Sol Divide, and a good chunk of Dragon Blaze. If we sat down with just one we might’ve beat it in the time we spent on all three, but we wanted to have fun, wanted to hang out and just talk while playing a good game. At one point we started to strategize and for a moment it felt that I wasn’t just being carried through the Normal non-Monkey difficulty. Playing through the game with my friend made me a better player. This idea of the one-night game is something I want to get into in reviews to come. I genuinely think it’s an important quality in a game, especially when not everyone is looking to put JRPG hours into a game (I say this as someone who has put well over 200 hours on the board between Dragon Quest XI, VIII, and V collectively).

Overall I can sincerely recommend this solid collection and I hope you enjoy it with someone.


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