Gunbarich is an odd one. Not only in name but gameplay too. It’s a breakout style game with bullet hell shooter elements thrown in. It’s a strange mix but one that surprisingly blends well. Originally an arcade game from Psikyo, it’s now ported to the Switch thanks to Zerodiv.
In Gunbarich, there’s a choice of two characters, a boy or girl, and each supposedly have their own special stats for and against, but having been through the game at least twice with each of them, I noticed no difference whatsoever. Anyways, they’re going on some sort of magical quest journey of discovery, which as you’d expect from an arcade game is as deep as a puddle, but no matter.
There are seven worlds each with three stages, for the most part, in the stages you have to bounce a magical energy ball around and destroy all the breakable blocks in the area. Your character stays at the bottom of the playing field and can only move side to side, anticipating where the energy ball will bounce back to. While you can just let the ball bounce right off you, like most games of the genre, Gunbarich actually has pinball flippers attached that lets you fire off the ball with a bit more power and direction.
I generally have a bit of a problem with the Breakout genre for being too slow and boring to end rounds, but that isn’t the case here. In fact, there’s a 60 second time limit for each one, or you’ll lose a life. It’s more fast paced and the narrow playing field means it’s easier to get your targets.
There are quite a few power ups available too, that are dropped by your guiding witch. These range from slowing down time, giving your ball a wrecking ball-like strength, ploughing through even solid blocks, even at one point you can attach rockets and just blow things up yourself. I’m sure that by 2001 when Gunbarich was originally released, these had all been done before, but it’s awesome they’re here and work so well.
So that’s the Breakout part of the game, how about the shooter side? Well, as you get to world two and beyond, there are enemies who like to fight back. Lots of them. These foes will shoot out large electrical balls towards you. While they don’t damage you if they hit you (in fact they can be repelled and used as a weapon, highly useful) but landing on the ground beside you can be devastating. Hitting the ground sets off a large electrical explosion which, if touched by your character, paralyses you for a second or two, requiring your waggle the control stick to break free of the shock. That means if your magical ball is anywhere near coming back to your end, you might as well say good night, as there’s no chance you’ll reach it.
The solution, of course, is to simply repel all the electrical balls coming your way. For the first few Worlds this is manageable but by the time you get to world four it’s just an endless onslaught. Yes, you can repel a few, but you’re also going miss plenty. Don’t forget you need to keep track of your ball too. If your ball is coming back down on one side, and an electrical ball further away, it’s impossible to get both and unless you’re very lucky, you’re going to get shocked. Again and again.
Sadly, it’s the paralysing shocks that takes it from being an excellent game into just a decent one and it’s a crying shame the publisher couldn’t have adjusted it better for a home console experience. Losing lives time and time again from something that’s totally out of the player’s hands is barely acceptable in the arcades, never mind in the home console. Don’t get me wrong, you can still have a lot of fun with Gunbarich, but it also could have been better.
It sort of suffers the same fate as Metal Slug, where the gameplay is just so great and amazing, but stupidly difficult, dying over and over again. Because of infinite credits however, you can complete it, no problem, but it feels like you’re failing to success which is not satisfying in the slightest. It should have been adjusted for home purposes.
Another problem that’s more endemic to the genre and not the arcades is when enemies or blocks are too close to the bottom, your ball gets deflected at the last second, completely nowhere near where you were preparing for it to land, sending it to oblivion below. It just some across as unfair since there’s literally nothing you can do, especially if an enemy spawns right there.
On the third stage of each world there’s a boss battle, which for me, is the best part of the game. It’s a lot of fun taking them down. They have a health bar, different attack patterns as well as just looking awesome.
Regarding the presentation, it’s great. Gunbarich looks and sounds great, even if the pseudo-3D models do look quite dated. It’s wonderfully colourful and looks great on the Switch’s screen. As for the port extras, it’s lacking behind the Neo Geo ports by HAMSTER, but you can still change how many lives and continues are allowed before game over. There’s also an extremely realistic looking CRT filter to put over if you want. Hopefully if Zerodiv port more Psikyo games over (which I’m most certainly hoping for) they can work on including more options, but it’s not vital.
Now of course, like with Strikers 1945, you can play Gunbarich in glorious TATE mode, having the Switch undocked and stood vertically, using the length of the screen to its full potential. While it doesn’t have the same wondrous effect of a shooter, it still makes me smile seeing the Switch used this way.
So overall, Gunbarich is a bit of a disappointment, not because it’s bad, but because it has a silly flaw that stops it from being an instant download. It’s not fun completing the game while still failing every few seconds thanks to one annoying mechanic that was initially designed for arcade purposes. Saying that, it’s still easily the best Breakout style game I’ve ever played because of its fast pace, power ups, enemies and boss battles. Even despite how annoying the paralysis can be, I know it’s a game I’ll probably keep coming back to, although not as much as its Psikyo counterpart Strikers 1945. I think it’s probably worth a download but be prepared to get frustrated and unhappy at how much potential it really had.
Game provided by Zerodiv.