Psikyo Shooting Stars
Switch version tested
Review code provided
STRIKERS 1945, STRIKERS 1945 II, STRIKERS 1945 III, SOL DIVIDE, Dragon Blaze, and ZERO GUNNER 2 combine forces in one arcade collection! Bring the arcade home by blasting through these shooters vertically in the popular ‘TATE’ mode for the ultimate shoot-’em-up experience! Here’s our comprehensive breakdown for each title:
- Strikers 1945
- Strikers 1945 II
- Strikers 1945 III
- Sol Divide
- Dragon Blaze
- Zero Gunner 2
- Final words & overall score
Part one of the Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha is Strikers 1945. We all love retro games and this throwback title has been dug up from 1995! Jumping from arcade to PlayStation, Sega Saturn, and finally Nintendo Switch. We can thank NIS America for bringing 1945 in part of the shmup collection to Switch hand in hand with the Flip Grip. Strikers 1945 is a game that always attracts me in the arcade, so I’m happy to have it in my hands at home. I began on normal mode but there are a total of seven difficulties so all can enjoy. That paired with six different planes to choose from boast of high replayability before the game even starts. Leaderboards are also available per difficulty level so you may challenge yourself. Unfortunately, they are not online but that would be awesome in the future. To offset that, I coincidentally found another player that started this game at the same time as I did. Together we decided to post our high scores and start a community leaderboard! We’ll see where it goes.
It’s a shame there are only nine seconds to choose one of the six fighter planes because it shows output, speed, and weight. Although these details are shown I don’t think they mean anything. Through picking a plane and restarting multiple times the speed varies per ship so that detail may be accurate. Since the fighters shot isn’t explained the player must learn by trial and error. The good part about this is the player will learn the levels and enemies better while finding a particular favourite pilot. I did my best to explain the aeroplanes as best I could, strap in and enjoy.
- P-38: sporadic twisting double shot, homing missile upgrade, barrel roll bomb
- P-51: four thin double shot, spread shot and multi rockets, triple plane bomb
- SpitFire: four double shot, spread shot and rockets, fire blast
- BF-109: thin double shot rapid-fire, homing shot, four plane bomb
- ZERO: four thin double shot, spread shot and pepper bombs, thunder bomb
- SHINDEN: single thin shot, four wide single shot and rockets, straight plane bomb
Music at the start-up of the game is a drum roll, very fitting to the military vibe going on here. During the game, it turns it up a bit to the tune of EPIC! I’m talking about hyping up the action and making things feel tense. It really adds to the pressure when you’re covered in enemy fire and the music is very dramatic.
I’ve played Gunbird, a game on the Bravo collection, so the old school graphics are familiar. It would be nice to have a much different appearance but that’s asking too much from a game that’s decades old. Very retro, arcade bit graphics. Regardless, the game looks great and what sets it apart is the gameplay. Just on normal mode for now, this game is action-packed. Plenty of bullets flying and enemies of all sizes to shoot. Small size enemies whiz around individually as well as in packs. Keep an eye out for the red plane as it will drop a power-up you need to help progress easier. Moving on up to the big leagues let’s talk about boss battles. For one they are massive, and two they transform multiple times during the fight. Both of these factors keep the fights interesting. Time to unleash your bombs then duck and dodge all the peppered bullets. The game doesn’t explain exactly where the hitbox is located but we can assume in the middle of the plane. Sometimes it feels as though it may be a larger portion of the body or even including the wings but it’s difficult to tell. I can’t pay attention to exactly where I get hit amidst the busyness of the screen.
I’m loving Strikers 1945 and see myself putting many more hours into it. I can see why this game has made its way forward from console to console. Different difficulty and plane options along with your local leaderboard keep the replayability high. Challenging myself to get a better score keeps me coming back. Very easy to pick up and play, as well as recommend to others.
Strikers 1945 II
The second game in the Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha collection is Strikers 1945 II. This sequel is popular in the series and with good reason. Psikyo took the elements from the previous title and leaned into them further. Progression is always positive so let’s get into it and find out what sets this game apart.
I can’t imagine how cool it would have been to play Strikers 1945 in the arcade, let alone the sequel. 1997 is the year Strikers 1945 II made its debut, just one year after the previous title. Fans would have been so excited to play the next game in the series in such short proximity to one another. Enough nostalgia let’s get into the game.
In Psikyo fashion there are seven different difficulty levels. Sticking to this formula keeps the game open to players of all skill tiers which is nice. Their ranking system is per skill tier and also shows which plane was used. Too bad it’s locked to local and you can’t share the leaderboards with the world. Screenshot your scores or runs and post them to Twitter and tag me! @Surrealrager. A detail I can’t leave behind that I loved and thought was important? When entering your initials to the leaderboard, sequential letters are navigated from the previous letter instead of starting back at the letter A. Choose one of six planes and head to the skies. There are no details given so trial and error is the name of the game.
Immediately I can tell a difference in the look and feel from the prior Strikers game. It still has the classic arcade, retro, look but this time it has some dark and grittiness to it. The music jumps out as well, sounding much better. It’s more video-gamey, and engaging in a way that feels more natural. It reminds me of the Mega Man X soundtrack which is phenomenal. It could be music for a Sega game as well.
Bullet patterns from enemies seem pretty familiar so nothing special there. BUT. Boss bullet patterns are far from familiar. They are flashy, sometimes geometrical, and prompt an audible reaction. More than a few times I said “Oh my gosh!” then got blasted by the beautifully shaped pattern of pellets. Get over the captivating shapes and movements, get back into the game! I found myself pushed to areas without exit many times and need more plays to get these fights down.
I cannot go on without touching on the boss battle transformations. Again, this element existed in the previous title but they have evolved. Large machines appear at the end of each level to destroy your plane. Avoid enemy fire for long enough and you will witness the eruption of a formidable enemy. Layers of machinery will melt away to reveal another form. Again and again, this happens until a transformers looking boss erupts. What wonderful enemy designs and presentations, this is easily the best-looking portion of the game.
I love seeing improvements to titles in their progression and Strikers 1945 II is the epitome of just that. The music is wonderful and adds to the fun, bullet patterns are dazzling, replayability is still high. Each addition adds value to the already high praise I have for the Strikers series and everyone should give it a try. Big thanks to NIS America.
Strikers 1945 III
Welcome to the conclusion of the Strikers 1945 trilogy, brought to us by NIS America. Strikers 1945 III is both the rise and fall off the series in different ways. This 1999 vertical shmup has been ported to Nintendo Switch obviously because of the resurgence of shmups, and this Alpha collection is your chance to play it. Let’s dig in.
Against the grain of the previous titles, this instalment only has four difficulties as opposed to seven. Choose one of five fighter jets, or allow the game to pick at random. Each jet has three different attacks including sub-weapon, bomb, and super shot. Super shot was tricky to figure out because it gave the information when you lost a battle and typically I button mash to get back into the game. I allowed the countdown to laugh at me while I read that if you press and hold the ‘shot button’ when your gauge is higher than the first level it will become a super shot. This would have been helpful to know before starting!
Upon starting the game I understand I was incorrect in my judgement of difficulty. Although the four difficulty options are available the game remains a challenge. Due to this factor, it may be easier for lower-tier shoot em up fans to start on the previous Strikers games. I found Easy and Very Hard modes to be challenging. Think of Easy mode as being Normal in difficulty, and it increases from there each step up.
Enemy shot formations are insane. This game is pretty unforgiving, even on easy mode. I was surprised at the skill level required on the lowest difficulty so much, I simply kept playing to see how far I could get. Now don’t get me wrong, I am in fact Lord Shmup. BUT. My nickname does not mean I am the best but an enthusiast. I’m not giving up until I beat this game on easy. One forgiving factor is that once you lose your cool in the heat of battle, a red helicopter will appear. Shoot that bad boy down to gain a level in your attack spread and damage. If you keep at difficult mid-tier enemies you will likely be rewarded with a bomb or upgrade. Stacking my best scores on the leader boards helps motivate me but as always, it’s locked to local. I’m not sure if it’s possible to implement this online but that would be fantastic.
Strikers 1945 III has the classic Psikyo graphic styling, sticking to their code. Solid looking sprite work with gritty textures. Upon looking closer at screenshots I’m impressed with the shadowing on buildings that give a 3D feel. I think they’ve done a great job with what’s possible with level design as well. Utilising buildings, tanks, enemies swooping in from either direction, as well as steering the player and screen left and right.
Controls are positive and feel good for each jet. Not all move the same speed but it’s up to the player to figure out which one works best. I personally could not pick a favourite so I choose a different fighter each run. I found that higher movement speeds were not always better, and that I preferred a speed in the middle ground.
There is no story to Strikers 1945 III and that’s just fine. I don’t need to read through massive paragraphs before starting a shoot ‘em up (hint hint). Music is very fitting to the game and has been done well. It reminds me of the Mega Man X soundtrack which is one of my favourite from the 16-bit era. Replayability is high because of the six jets, four difficulties, leader boards, and just being a good game. It’s fun and easy to pick up and play in short sessions.
Strikers 1945 III is a game that’s lasted through the ages with good reason. It has great shot patterns, lovely graphics, and game options but also has higher difficulty overall, and doesn’t explain some minor mechanics. Nonetheless, it is a game that should be played after the first two to really be appreciated, and that’s how I would recommend it. Massive thanks to NIS America.
Part 4 of the Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha collection is Sol Divide. So far this is the first time I’ve had to relinquish my Switch from the Flip Grip.
The main menu gives the option of four different difficulty settings from easy, normal, hard, to very hard. I’ve never played this game before so I will begin on easy. Three different characters are available to choose from. Their names are given but no other details. In nine seconds or less, you must judge your pick solely based on looks alone. I opted for Kashon, the flying purple beast angel looking monstrosity. A very short-lived scene occurs that states I must die, then the game begins.
There is a LOT going on from the get-go, and I am very confused. I have no idea what the buttons are since the game threw me in with no hand-holding. Hit pause to see a familiar screen that is present on all Psikyo games, then to controller settings. Here you will learn what your character can do, as well as customise attacks to buttons of your choice. Just prior to this, enemies were swarming me. I’ve learned that you can use a magic attack, shot, and physical attack. Swap between magic using the left and right bumpers.
Typically older games are linear in their progression, and upon beating the first level I thought this wasn’t the case for Sol Divide. Once the first level is completed, two areas are presented giving the player the power of choice. With each level I beat it turns out the first choice was the only one available as far as I could get. What little story is offered, can be skipped with the press of a button. Such short game areas don’t need to be backed with short stories as well. They didn’t keep my interest anyway.
Fighting enemies is a close area struggle. There is not much for movement space unless you chance to fly around the baddies to the right side of the screen. Once a bad guy opts to lean in and take a stab at you, there is no escape it seems. Hack and slash in an attempt to prevent their attacks from hitting but it varies per enemy. While stuck in this quarrel you are almost always going to be shot at by other enemies. This close-quarters engagement is uncomfortable and frustrating, I don’t enjoy it. It doesn’t take long to progress to each level’s boss and those seem to be the meaty portions of Sol Divide. Swapping through your available magic attacks will prove useful if you can remember each boss’s weakness, let alone have the magic by then. Anyone else remember writing these useful things in a notebook as a kid?
Usually I am saddened by leaderboards locked to local but this is not the case for me. Sol Divide is more of a one-person adventure game in the sense of, I don’t feel it has a competitive aspect at all. It would not motivate me to make another run in hopes of beating a friend’s score or progress further in the game. In choosing different characters I found each had their strength in one of the three attacks and Tyora is my favourite because her shot attack is best. Having a good shot makes it feel more shmup-like in gameplay and that appealed to me the most. I didn’t notice movement speed enough between the three to make a difference.
Graphically, Sol Divide has a dungeons and dragons theme with grainy sprite work. Enemies are knights, dragons, snakes, and others fitting the genre. Bosses are gigantic and take up half the screen at least. Smaller enemies are bats and assorted flying baddies including ants, skeletons, insects, and beholders. If a console were to be chosen for this game back in the day it would be Genesis. Definitely looks the part for that 16-bit device. Music is dark and eerie which does justice to the game. The music is a highlight and enhances gameplay because it fits so well.
Overall I did not enjoy Sol Divide, and had little fun with it. The game was challenging but not in a way that made me want to come back for more. I like the dungeons and dragons theme, and the music was nice, but didn’t offer much in terms of fun. Shots were not satisfying and I did not want to figure out specific enemy weaknesses. I would not recommend Sol Divide unfortunately.
Thank you for returning to my fifth instalment of the Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha review. This time I review Dragon Blaze, where instead of planes or jets? We ride dragons! I’ve seen screenshots and clips of this game from friends online and always thought it looked appealing. Published way back in the year 2000, will this shmup hold up today? Let’s find out!
I’m a big fan of Psikyo using their seven levels of difficulty in Dragon Blaze so more people can get into the game. A twitter friend was recently complaining of shmups being too difficult, so now I have another game to recommend with “Monkey” difficulty. For those unfamiliar that’s the easiest, then Child, VeryEasy, Easy, Normal, Hard, and VeryHard. In hindsight, I’ve found the difficulty scaling is perfect in Dragon Blaze. It’s nice to have differences in bullet patterns, the number of bullets, and sponge absorption of enemies. It’s truly approachable while still having a rise in difficulty in later levels.
Pick one of four dragons: fire, aqua, thunder, and skull. Each has a unique shot, dragon shot, and bomb.
- Quaid and Fire Dragon – Linear triple shot, fireball rain
- Sonia and Aqua Dragon – Bubble beam triple shot, Poseidon beam
- Rob and Thunder Dragon – Linear double shot, spark bomb
- Ian and Skull Dragon – Linear single shot, warrior beam
The dragon shot is pretty unique and helpful for the beginning of boss fights when the enemy is largest. Your character releases their dragon forward and it remains in place shooting most of your firepower, while your person can move freely with little firepower. Press the same button to return to your dragon or simply fly over your dragon to retrieve it. When the boss sheds layers and becomes smaller this is less effective but still a cool shot to have in your arsenal.
My favourite character to use is Quaid as the speed and power had a comfortable balance, but it was fun switching to Ian. That character has higher speed which is better suited for players that want knee jerk reaction speed. The other two characters are fun as well, Sonia the bubble beam queen has a nice thick shot and cool bullets, while Rob has an attractive spread shot. Rob may be creeping up as my new favourite. Shots are satisfying with all characters as they are followed by an explosion, lovely sound, and a quickly disappearing enemy.
Your goal is to collect four Magicstones and reverse the curse of the devil. With as many runs as I’ve played I should know what the curse is, but alas I’ve simply enjoyed this awesome shmup. Short cut scenes in between levels give little dialogue but I enjoy the character artwork. The underwater level is my favourite. Squids swimming toward you, plantlife taking shots at your dragon that’s somehow swimming underwater, it’s great. Second favourite is the grass level with scores and pitcher plants. Grungy, beautifully coloured sprite work makes Dragon Blaze an attractive game. It’s easy to get distracted and caught off guard, then brought to a game over.
Besides the lovely graphics, another way to lose concentration is collecting coins. Each baddie defeated will unleash coins to be collected for points. I love battling myself against the leader board that is sadly locked locally. Amidst the bullets and enemies flying about, getting caught up in the coin collecting can be difficult. Weighing the options of going for broke and getting the bag versus avoiding getting hit is a constant battle. It’s worth the risk and makes a big difference in your final score so I recommend it.
Absolutely loving the music! Each score is over the top and pairs perfectly with Dragon Blaze. Although I love the sound effects and character screaming for every hit I take, I had to turn down those sound levels in the pause menu to enjoy the music more. I’m glad the player has the option to adjust these levels because it can be a bit obnoxious. Crank up the tunes and press on because this shoot ‘em up has high replayability. It’s great to start on the lowest setting and build your way up while filling out the leader board as well as your confidence.
Overall of the five games I’ve played in the Psikyo Alpha collection, Dragon Blaze sticks out as a favourite. I enjoyed the four-character options and graphics very much, as well as the music. I’ve had great fun with Dragon Blaze and would recommend it. Thanks so much to NIS America!
Zero Gunner 2
Coming to a close to the Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha collection, I’m ending this review series with Zero Gunner 2. This shmup was originally released in Japan on the Dreamcast but is now available on the Nintendo Switch. A couple times I’ve seen people post screenshots to Twitter but now I finally have the chance to check it out myself. Lastly, I’ve had a few people ask me if I’m sick of shmups by now and the answer is always NO! Thanks again to NIS for the opportunity to review this collection. Let’s get into it!
Keeping to the Psikyo trend, Zero Gunner 2 has seven difficulty levels. If you are new to shmups or find them too difficult this is a game you can try that will be approachable. The interesting part about this is level four is normal but level five is arcade difficulty. Opening up about the history of this game in the arcades, players had to be more skilled than the normal setting to get their coins worth.
Unfortunately this game does not support Tate Mode but that’s okay, as it would be worse off. Pick one of three helicopters at random because there are no stats. Right off the bat, this is a FAST paced game! Granted I started on Very Hard but nonetheless the action begins immediately. Swapping to Very Easy I can confirm this is approachable for those not familiar with the genre.
I have learned to check the controls menu prior to gameplay and that was helpful to know an odd named attack called ‘turn marker’ which turns the direction of your helicopter. This is wild having a 360 shot radius, that may be the most unique mechanic out of the entire collection. In addition to being a crazy mechanic, it can be a bit difficult to control which will hinder hesitant first-time shmuppers. For me, I am not a fan of being able to shoot in any direction. With a lot of practice I could be much better with it but still would not enjoy the mechanic. Once you let off the turn marker the helicopter remains in that direction. I tend to spin as little as possible because otherwise I would just shoot in circles, no skill involved. Buttons can be changed to whatever layout you wish but what remains is shot and bomb, which change per copter.
The 3D graphics are exceptional but mostly in the city level. Skyscrapers leading down to smaller buildings, trees, and to the street show depth in a wonderful way. In level 1-1 the ocean isn’t special or particularly good looking, just looks copy and pasted. 1-2 is the same deal but with snowy mountains. Level 1-6 shows a high view above the earth that resembles something from google maps and looks awesome! Quality of the 3D graphics is back and forth but at least the quick animations between levels and boss introductions look good.
Shots feel somewhat satisfying thanks to the explosion and controller vibration that follows. With each enemy defeated some green squares will be released that can be collected for extra points. Once a ton of folks are shot the squares are scattered everywhere making it a collectathon which is not my favourite. Between the scattered bullets and the point squares, the area can become flooded and difficult to navigate in an unclear way. Keep an eye out for the red enemies because they will drop a power-up triangle.
Sound quality is not balanced well and changing the pause menu options does not help. All I can hear is sound effects and destruction, which is usually a good sign but not in this case. Background music and sound effects are the only two options that can be changed. Cranking the music and shutting off sound effects, while turning my Switch all the way up still didn’t help. The music is just too quiet.
I had higher hopes for Zero Gunner 2 but sadly it fell short of my expectations. I enjoy the arcade look of the game but the controls are not very friendly. Levels feel cut short even on the highest difficulty with scenes cut off before all stationary enemies are defeated. This one just isn’t my cup of tea.
Massive thanks to NIS America for the opportunity to review Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha. It’s a wonderful collection packed with hours of replayability. Posting your scores to Twitter is a great way to engage with the shmup community and make new friends. The front runner was Dragon Blaze, I loved that shmup the best. It has lovely colours to complement its art style which I favoured the most. All three Strikers in one collection is cool because they differ in ways that split the community. Playing them in order exploits what sets them apart and makes it easier to pick a favourite. Sol Divide is the only horizontal shmup that added some variety, as well as Zero Gunner 2 with its 360 shot mechanic. The Alpha collection is a great chance to enjoy games that are not only decades old, but still hold up to today’s standards.
TBG Score: 7/10
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 24/01/2020
No. of Players: 1-2
Category: Shooter, Arcade
Developer: CITY CONNECTION
Publisher: NIS America
Download link: eShop