Switch version tested
Samurai Aces Episode II: Tengai is the fourth game from NIS America’s, Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo collection. For some reason, it’s just labelled as Tengai on the options and main menu screen. This shoot’em up hails all the way back from 1996 in the arcades. Eventually it hit Sega Saturn, PS2, then mobile and finally Nintendo Switch. Unlike most Psikyo shmups this one is a side scroller so set that Flip Grip aside and let’s get down to business.
Jumping right into the game I’m immediately relieved and feel better about Samurai Aces 2 compared to other horizontal shoot em ups from Psikyo. The area of play feels nice despite having a small area on either side of the screen cut off. It’s still a good amount of space to move around without feeling like there should be more. Don’t bother taking your first few runs too seriously because you will be too busy enjoying the scenery. To say this game is ahead of its time in the graphics department would be an understatement. This is best showcased on the air level with the billowing, overlapping, and flowing clouds. It’s not the first time Psikyo has impressed me with clouds, as funny as that sounds.
Overall themes revolve around old school Japanese samurai meets steampunk machinery. They are represented in both enemies and level design. One level you pass through a Japanese arch and enter the forest to be greeted by flying ninjas. These fellas take to the air and ground, both impressive and different. The gigantic oni machine later found was one of my favourite enemies. Minibosses often take the shape of a samurai, very fitting to the name of the game. Available characters resemble fighters of some sort with their choice of clothing and headbands. I love the underwater level for the robotic piranhas and fish/turtle boss that gave off some Darius vibes.
Gameplay is smooth, the way levels progress in both speed and direction keep it interesting. Instead of simply moving the screen from left to right it may move diagonally upward or downward. In addition, the speed of play will change or at least the background. It gives a faster-moving feel as intended and increases the intensity of play. Speed of movement depends on the chosen character but most feel relatively slow. Shots and bombs are unique to each character but the award for the best attack goes to the last unnamed character. She performs a dazzling spin towards the screen with dozens of cherry blossom petals spinning around her, bravo. Once a game over is reached the locked to local leaderboard will unveil the characters name, but it’s not important enough to show on the character select so why bother? I can’t exactly tell where the hitbox is located. My guess was directly behind where the shot erupts from your character, but other times it feels like the entire character. Ducking through enemy fire calls this into question and being focused on gameplay makes it difficult to determine.
Shots are satisfying and enemy explosions are destructive. I don’t have a favourite shot type per character but each kill feels good. Small enemies explode nicely but mini and large bosses give off the most satisfactory detonation. These are very important factors that increase replayability. I’m pretty impressed with Samurai Aces 2 as I’m typically not a horizontal shmup fan, but here I am playing more. Music doesn’t fit well and at times sounds more fitting to a relaxed game rather than an action-oriented one. Even when it’s not chill music it’s still forgettable. It falls short in entertainment value but what it lacks in that department it makes up for in the sound effects. Every vocal exclamation, enemy explosion, and enemy shriek is entertaining and comical.
Overall I enjoyed Samurai Aces II and as I said before, it was pretty fun for a horizontal shmup. My scores aren’t anything to brag about but the leaderboard is locked, so how would anyone know? I recommend starting on very hard because it didn’t seem that difficult, and felt good to play. This title may give me the motivation to explore other horizontal shmups further, so that proves it’s done quite a few things right. Gameplay didn’t feel cheap, the themes were awesome, and it motivated me to keep playing. I would recommend Samurai Aces 2 to others and can see myself returning to it.