While the Neo Geo wasn’t blessed with many genres outside of fighting games, the next popular genre would probably be shooters, and following on from the release of Alpha Mission 2, HAMSTER have given us another in the form of Blazing Star. Unlike Alpha Mission 2 however, Blazing Star is a horizontal shooter as opposed to vertical.
The game loads up with style. The intro oozes with confidence of a great game, some pre-rendered CGI cutscenes and awesome anime inspired sprite work, intermingled with a rocking music track, you instantly know you’re in for a good time.
With a nice choice of six crafts to choose from, each with their own stats and shot type, you’re off on your way through seven stages of action pack bullet hell goodness in order to stop an interplanetary war.
The controls are simple. If played with the standard settings one button is for shooting, but if it is held down then it is used for powering up and releasing a charged shot. If you delve into the settings and turn on auto-fire (which is highly recommended, for the sake your Joy-Con buttons if for nothing else) then one button is dedicated to the auto fire normal shot while the other is for charging the power up.
There are plenty of power ups to collect to increase your firepower as well as the length of time you can charge your shot up. You can only power up a few levels, after which the power up collectables just add a bonus to your score. When you’re powered up to the fullest, that’s when the game is the most fun. It’s just so satisfying destroying wave after wave of enemies. The rest of the collectibles include straight up bonus points, letters that spell out the word LUCKY; if you pick up all of these in one stage then you will get a wedge of bonus points. The other pick up is sort of a guardian angel which protects you for a short time. It’s pretty basic when you look at it but I love the simplicity. Blazing Star is an excellent game.
As mentioned, it’s in the bullet hell category of shooters. That may instantly terrify some of you, but don’t be too worried as it’s still on the lighter end. For the most part it’s just a standard shooter but the bullet hell only truly comes out during the boss battles at the end of each stage. While these bosses can be quite the unexpected difficulty spike, I think they ended up pretty manageable. Scraping your craft between dozens of bullets, millimetres from you ship is always satisfying.
In my first play through in the standard settings, with auto fire on, I used a total of 22 credits. That’s not bad going for a shoot ’em up arcade game. Even better when almost half of them were used on ridiculous the final boss. The more I played it, the better I became. All in all, Blazing Star isn’t too bad when it comes to difficulty. While I did tone the difficulty setting down once just to try, I felt just as comfortable on the default. Aside from a handful of “how on Earth was I supposed to dodge that?” moments, Blazing Star is a fair game. While it may be a game that relies on a certain amount of memorisation, you can definitely just sit back and relax if you want to.
What may concern some, but in the end shouldn’t, is the length. Like almost every arcade game in history Blazing Star only has a brilliant but brief time before the credits begin to roll. The seven stages are over in a flash. I didn’t time it, but I’d say about half an hour at the most.
While the gameplay is absolutely first rate, the best thing by far in Blazing Star is the heartwarmingly awful English used throughout. There’s plenty of sign posting in each of the stages, telling you where danger is coming from, but there’s also a tonne of reaction commentary and my word is it glorious! An example of “GET IT MORE!” after picking up a power up and; “WAKING UP?” after losing a life. It’s weird, wonderful and Japanese.
As far as Blazing Star goes graphically, it’s a little hit and miss. The environments and especially the backgrounds are just wonderful, but the pseudo-3D sprites they went for on your ships do look a little ropey and under-detailed. The music, while not particularly standout, is up to scratch.
Like with all of HAMSTER’s Neo Geo ports, there are a couple of modes you can try out. You can choose between the Japanese and International releases alongside the Hi Score mode and Caravan mode. These two modes function the same as always but contrary to previous titles, they suit Blazing Star just a little bit more. Hi Score mode gives you one credit to achieve the best score possible, whereas the oddly named Caravan mode gives you five minutes to do the same.
There’re also the myriad of options available to customise the experience, from the aforementioned difficulty setting to button remapping, even random things like having the sound play during the demo. HAMSTER really make it as customisable as possible for you.
As far I can tell there are only two negatives to Blazing Star. The first is the previously mentioned final boss, which is ludicrously punishing. It’s expected but I would have preferred the difficulty of it to be in line with the rest of the game. The second is when the game constantly, every other second shouts “Bonus! Bonus! Bonus!” at you, with no way to turn it down in the mix, as far as I’m aware. It gets pretty annoying very quickly.
Overall, Blazing Star is an excellent shooter, one of the most fun I’ve ever played. Despite a simplistic power ups system and short game time, it manages to hold my attention throughout every time I picked it up. The term bullet hell scares me, but this game eased me into it no problem. I could easily pick up and play Blazing Star at any time, anywhere and thoroughly enjoy playing it from beginning to end and then starting over again. It’s mostly fair and welcoming to all gamers and most of all, the gameplay is awesome. High recommendation.
Game provided by HAMSTER Corp.