Gunbird was a 1995 release from hardcore shooter masters Psikyo. Originally released in arcades it also found a release on the PlayStation and Sega Saturn. Having previously reviewed Zerodiv’s ports of Psikyo classics, Strikers 1945 and Gunbarich, it’s fair to say I was ruddy excited to sample yet another highly regarded shooter.
There are five different characters to choose from in Gunbird, each of which handle quite differently and have their own weapon and bomb attack. If you know me, then you’ll know I’m a big fan of varied fighters, it brings joy to my heart and also plenty of chance for replayability. You’ll definitely want to try them all at least once but I’m sure you will quickly gravitate to one or two that you really like. Personally I really enjoy playing with the Journey to the West inspired character Yuan Nang as she flies on her cloud. I enjoyed playing as the witch too even though (now I could be factually wrong here) she just felt a little slow and sluggish in my opinion. They’re all great to use though and I could happily play through the game with all of them.
As you destroy enemies you can pick up power ups which increase your attack power. you can do this multiple times, but interestingly, the highest power up you get isn’t kept forever. You only have keep it for a short time until it downgrades a stage and you need to get another power up pellet. Thankfully it doesn’t downgrade right to the base attack, that would have been too much, but it’s enough to keep you on your toes. When you do have fully powered up weapons, it feels glorious. There’s no greater feeling in gaming than mowing down hordes of enemies while powered up to the max in a shoot ‘em up.
The only other things to collect are coins to improve your score and also extra bombs. If you’ve played any kind of shooter, especially the bullet hell variety then you’ll know about the panic bomb. If things get a little too close for comfort just unleash a bomb and just about all of your troubles will go away. In Gunbird they destroy most enemies in one as well as annihilating the bullets heading towards you, they also take a huge chunk of health from bosses. They are so useful, hence why they are kind of on the scarce side. At first you’ll probably be spamming them as much as possible, but it’s always best to save them for a truly tight spot.
Gunbird has a very simple progress to its campaign. You play seven stages overall but the first four are chosen at random and the final three stages are set in stone. There are actually more than seven stages overall so you won’t see all of them in one play through. In the first four stages you collect pieces of a magic mirror you and the dastardly Trump pirates (yes, that’s their actual name) are after. When the mirror becomes whole the final three stages take place at the temple where you use the mirror to summon the big bad boss at the end.
One of the many things I love about Gunbird is that it does actually have some personality thrown in. You’re not just piloting a faceless, grey war machine. You have these very distinct characters that actually get a small chance to shine, especially with the endings of you which you can choose two different options. Between stages you get small snippets from the character you’ve chosen which is cool and I actually really like the Trump Trio who have a lot of humour to them too. It’s just a very cute game with lots of whimsicality.
If there was anything bad to say about Gunbird it would be that the end boss is not the most climactic, indeed the boss before that would have been well worthy to be the final boss, but to be honest, it doesn’t matter. The game is still great.
What may be a worry to some of you is the length. With only seven short stages a quick blast of Gunbird will last you less than 20 minutes. It’s an improvement of Strikers 1945, for sure, but it’s still really quite short even by the genre standards. I’ll tell you what though. I like the shortness. The fact it’s so pick up and play, plus the potential for replaying with different characters and, of course, trying to completely master the game makes this one of the best £6 you can spend on the system. If you’re like me, it’s the kind of game you’re happy to play over and over again. With a nice scale of difficulty to choose from you can begin at the lowest level and gradually work your way up to become a master of Gunbird. That’s what it’s all about. It’s the kind of game that no matter what your storage issues on the Switch are, you’ll always keep downloaded just because you know you’re never too far away from your next quick blast. Along with Blazing Star and Strikers 1945, this game will never leave my Nintendo Switch for sure.
There is of course a two player mode which is of course great, but there are no online multiplayer options. This may be a bummer for some, but it’s just the way it is.
You can change a few different options if you head into the menus. You can adjust how many lives your player has, plus how many continues you are allowed before a game over occurs. You can even adjust what scoring point we award an extra life to you. There’s nothing too great about the options available to customise your experience, but it’s nice that the essentials are included.
Many of you will love to hear that as with Zerodiv’s other ports, Gunbird is able to be played with the Switch screen held vertically, or if you want to be completely mental and rotate your TV, that’s an option too! I know I’ve already said it, but just being able to do this makes me absolutely adore the Nintendo Switch for its versatility and it’s so cool being able to play this way, making use of the full screen is magnificent.
Gunbird is still a great looking game. The environments are lovely and varied, the sprite work is exceptional and it’s just an all round well presented game, even if the translation is a little wonky, but that’s half the charm. The music is pretty sweet too. It’s just a great little package.
Overall, what can I say about Gunbird? Maybe you guys know that I really enjoyed Strikers 1945, well Gunbird aces that. A lot. It’s more fantastical, varied, has a lot more personality and is all round an essential eShop shmup that any fans of the genre worth their salt should have on their Nintendo Switch. What a magnificent little game this is. Thanks to the difficulty settings you can either pick this up for a casual blast or crank that gauge up to try and truly master this wonderfully varied shooter. While Blazing Star ranks as the best horizontal shooter I’ve played, Gunbird takes the crown of best vertical shooter. Yes, there are so many I haven’t played, but for now Gunbird is the king.
Game provided by Zerodiv.