Switch version tested
Review code provided
“This horizontal shmup demands your attention and deserves it. Immediately impressive.”
Amidst the library of shmups I’ve reviewed the best games should surface as both memorable and impressive. For the vertical shmups the top game is Raiden V, but what about the horizontal? We’ll focus on these two categories, but that is a difficult question. Rolling Gunner could be that frontrunner but it’s not simply a horizontal playing game. This “bullet curtain” style shoot ‘em up is one that’s been looked at with amazement in the shmup community on twitter and that’s all thanks to Physicality Games.
Released in June of 2019, Rolling Gunner was overlooked by many including myself. Whether it was a drop in the ocean at the time or lack of advertising, Physicality Games has taken over for PR and placed this game in the hands of many that hold influence in the genre. In addition to providing digital codes to many, they have transparent plans on releasing a physical edition of the game that can be reserved for only $5. I’m friends with loads of these folks and can say they are very happy with Physicality Games and the work they’re doing. Enough about the external here and there’s, let’s get into the game!
The Rolling Gunner logo spins on to your screen and a ship with its R-Type gun shoot toward the player. From the moment this game boots a feeling of intensity presumes a high energy battle is approaching. Toggle the main menu options to adjust in-game settings and button configuration before moving on to training, novice mode, or game start. Casual mode, original mode, and expert mode are the difficulty options available and for those faint of heart I might suggest starting on casual mode to get a grip on the game. Each difficulty gives an explanation to suit each player but even casual mode can get pretty intense towards the end of the six stages. Some games I suggest starting on the highest difficulty but it’s the opposite here.
Three ships with contrasting attack types and movement speeds are available and I prefer the RF-42RA Attack Stork, or the yellow one. It may have the slowest speed but it feels like I have more precise control over the ship. The secondary weapon has the widest spread shot for taking out loads of enemies. A quick tutorial explains the controls and once you have that down the game begins.
Attack Stork is unveiled and a catapult officer directs you to flight, thus beginning our air assault. Absolutely no time is wasted and the action begins, enemies enter the screen and your trigger finger is immediately glued to the shot button. The aforementioned R-Type following gun circles the ship and will stop if the Y button is pressed, making your shot focus and ship slow at the same time. Now this horizontal shmup is feeling more like a 360 shmup with the ability to shoot in any direction in addition to the forward-facing default gun. I’m reminded of Zero Gunner 2 but this feels loads better. It doesn’t take long to feel like an expert using the secondary weapon, it’s smooth and intuitive. Spinning it around to hold on specific areas on screen makes the game feel less and less like a straight-forward horizontal shmup and I love that. You’ve got to keep your eyes open all around because the bullets can and WILL come from all directions. I enjoy using a focus shot on whatever angle the enemies group in and sweep them away.
Focus shot comes in handy all the time whether it be mid-size enemies, sweeping the masses of small ships, or giant ships that overshadow your own. It adds that extra layer of destruction and makes quick work of the enemy. I love using the focus shot and it’s very useful for bosses in particular. Bombs can be collected in-game and are automatically used if you get hit. A number in the bottom left corner will rise until it reaches one thousand, and can be used as a secondary bomb, both of which clear bullets on screen. These are best saved for when your screen is flooded with bullets.
The beauty of Rolling Gunner can be seen in its smooth movements and the high number of enemies on screen, but the true charm is shown during boss fights when the bullet curtain is covering your play area. Roll out the huge ship and watch as it lets loose a barrage of bullets that can look unavoidable. Even non-shmup fans have told me of their adoration of this game from afar. The purple and blue bullets shoot at you and float about the screen in a soapy cluster that stands out from anything else on the screen. It looks lively and gives off a high energy feel that will force the focus shot to be used to slow down your ship. It can feel daunting and overwhelming but no matter the circumstance, there is always a way out.
Although I’m very happy to have Rolling Gunner on Switch I have to say, this must have its own arcade cabinet. This game belongs in the arcade and I hope somehow Physicality Games can make that happen after successfully saving the game from its own demise. The pulsing music feeds into the high stakes energy felt from being required to remain on guard at all times. Fast-moving backgrounds of cityscapes and high above clouds keep the game lively as it moves along carefully from one canvas area to another. Enemies littered along an angled plane make the game feel more three dimensional than flat. WARNING flashing prior to the end boss arriving, and caution messages hinting of oncoming enemies from certain directions yell ARCADE GAME. The tutorial shows arcades sticks, we need this in every arcade!
I’m still a vertical shmup lover at heart but Rolling Gunner has given me hope that horizontal shmups have a lot of potential for winning me over, especially pair with the 360 shooting. There are loads of folks playing and now is the time to purchase this game and join the community. Rolling Gunner is leading the 360 horizontal shmup genre and I’m happy to have this in my library of games. Massive thanks to Physicality Games.