Following up on Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha, which included six shoot ‘em ups from Aero Fighters developer, Japanese studio Psikyo, NIS America is now releasing Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo, a collection of six extra shooters for the Switch. This time, we’re getting three entries in the Samurai Aces series, as well as my favorites out of the bunch, the two Gunbird games, with the Arkanoid-like Gunbarich rounding out the cast.
Admittedly, I’ve had no prior experience playing any of the games in the Samurai Aces franchise, so it was neat to get to try them out in this collection. They’re basically shoot ‘em ups that take place during the Sengoku period of Japanese history, for as bizarre as that sounds. Then again, this kind of game isn’t exactly known for historical accuracy or for making much sense, so it’s easy to excuse them for being just plain weird in that regard.
Out of those, the first entry in Samurai Aces is the most different, given that it’s the only one that’s a vertical shooter, and also the sole game out of the trio that has you picking from characters that end up being represented by modern looking space ships. The other two games are instead horizontal shooters and have you choosing from a variety of wild looking characters which include a one-eyed samurai and a busty female monk that shoots incantation scrolls while flying. Hey, don’t look at me — these are Japanese games through and through, for sure.
The three Samurai Aces are fun in their own right for sure, but the real prizes in this collection, at least for me, are the Gunbird games. Man, I must’ve played these for hundreds of hours on the Sega Saturn and MAME back in the day, and they’re fantastic vertical shooters. They’re still as fun now as they were then, and having them on the go is a big bonus. These are extremely colorful games and make use of the Switch sharp display to display some gorgeous 2D sprites and art with no drops in frames, not to mention provide a healthy dose of challenge, which like the other games in the collection, offer a pretty long set of up to seven difficulty options, ranging from ‘baby mode’ to ‘super hard’.
Whether you’re playing as a cute little witch or a burly machine wizard, both of these games are a ton of fun. Gameplay isn’t a whole lot different from what you might be used to in this genre and even in terms of the rest of the games in this collection. You get a basic attack and a limited powerful secondary, along with power-ups you pick up while playing that you lose in case you die. Don’t expect to be blown away by any of the gameplay found in these games, but they’re actively enjoyable and straight to the point arcade shooters that don’t waste a whole lot of time getting you to the action.
The weirdest of them all is most definitely Gunbarish, and not for the reason you might be thinking of. It’s a ball bouncing game in the vein of Arkanoid and pinball, and it plays pretty much like them as you make your way through stages bouncing a pebble into stones and breaking them apart. The gist of this game is that you get to pilot a ship with big bumpers attached to it. They can give the ball an extra burst of speed, or just simply let the ball hit it. It’s extremely simple gameplay-wise, and in that it works quite well.
Half of this collection can be played in either vertical or horizontal modes on the Switch. Vertical, called ‘TATE mode’ by enthusiasts, can make use of the Flip Grip accessory, and it’s by far the recommended way of playing if you own one of those. It feels great to play Gunbird, Gunbird 2, and Samurai Aces that way as the graphics fit in better vertically to the screen, offering bigger details and maintaining the visual sharpness. The rest of the games play well enough horizontally, also benefiting from the couple of filters you can apply to the graphics.
Unlike other compilations like the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection, there are sadly no substantial bonuses to Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo outside of the ability of tweaking options like the number of lives and boss variations, as well as the games’ language. It would’ve been cool to have some posters, other marketing materials, or even design notes from the time these games were put out, but there’s no such thing, unfortunately.
All things considered, Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo is a light on content collection that offers a handful of fun shooters — including some of my nostalgic favorites that I appreciate getting the chance to play again — that would be somewhat difficult to come by otherwise, so having them all bundled up is definitely convenient, for sure. It’s just a shame that there isn’t a whole lot more to it.