The genre of retro, arcade-style of shoot-em-ups, or shmups, has become synonymous with the template of Psikyo’s style and presentation in terms of delivery, gameplay and pure, unadulterated fun. With a tried and tested formula of success, it is becoming more and more difficult to add variety, or bring something new to the table in order to spice things up a bit and bring something new to the player. However, with Dragon Blaze, Psikyo have managed to do just that, as their latest arcade hit, published through Zerodiv, flies onto the Nintendo Switch in a fiery blaze of glory.
The game follows the adventures of four characters: Quaid, Sonia, Rob and Ian, four dragon knights who ride their trusty steeds in order to combat the rising of the Demon King, Nebiros. After being defeated during the war of the gods, Nebiros was imprisoned by the sun and moon gods with the power of four crystals. However, after using his dark powers to control the mind of the moon-god, the demon king freed himself to seek revenge, creating an army through the transformation of the town’s folk to bring havoc once again on the kingdom of Megalith. With the invading army marching ever closer towards the god of the sun, the four entrusted dragon knights are duly summoned to halt the advance and bring an end to the tyranny of Nebiros’ threat, once and for all.
In Dragon Blaze, you take control of one of the four Dragon Knights. Each of the characters possess the powers of different elements through the capabilities of their winged beasts; the fire dragon, which utilises the fiery power of strong flame attacks; the water dragon, which calls upon the support of a couple of smaller dragons to add to their power; the lightning dragon, a two-headed beast that is cumbersome in movement, yet possesses the ability to produce a firepower that spreads over a large radius and finally, the skull dragon, the fastest of all the fleet. On a vertical plane, you guide the dragon and rider against a relentless horde of enemy combatants in order to regain power to the four crystals that possess the power to achieving overall victory.
The gameplay mechanics work in a similar fashion to the usual shmup blueprint. However, with Dragon Blaze, Psikyo have employed a few changes to the control scheme and character deployment to bring a completely fresh take on their tried and tested formula. By utilising the full complement of a four-buttoned layout, this is a shmup that garners more offensive control than ever before. Shooting is implemented by depressing the Y or A buttons, with shot and auto shot acting correspondingly; B deploys the magic bomb, a limited, but powerful attack that targets all enemies on-screen and, lastly, the X button which produces the dragon attack, an ability to dismount your dragon and fly separately from your winged beast in a form of doubling your fire-power. Each of the knights also possess a magical spell with which to get yourself out of the tightest of situations. Charge your primary attacks and you’ll unleash complete devastation on all who get caught up in it; although to trigger this explosive attack you must use mana, meaning it is only an attack that should be used sparingly and in emergencies only.
As well as this implementation of firing control, defeated enemies also drop the gratuitous power-up pill to further enhance your attack capabilities, as well as a myriad of silver and gold coins to boost your score. This extra power will become vital to achieving your goals as Dragon Blaze is no walk in the park; in fact it’s probably the most fearsome bullet-hell that you’ll experience in a long time. However, its control mechanic is particular tight and a sublimely smooth experience that will have you bullet-dodging like the most graceful of ice-skaters. It’s an immensely satisfying feel that will keep you coming back to take control of the skies over Megalith. The aim of the game here, is to avoid any form of gunfire that fills the skies. With your winged beasts, you can simply fly above the enemy vehicles and creatures that swarm to attack; which is a huge relief as their monstrous forms soon fill the screen with their overwhelming size or number.
Dragon Blaze’s graphical presentation is of a top-notch presentation, as well as its audio qualities. The complete aesthetics of the game fits in superbly into a believable fantasy/medieval world with elemental themes, detailed backgrounds and enemies; each of them sharing traits that link with the current level and impressive boss battles that offer a real challenge. The soundtrack is equally impressive, with a charged tempo that never gets tiresome or repetitive in its nature. Each character also offers an ending which is relevant to them; giving the game a longevity and replayability rarely seen in arcade-style games. There’s even the option for two-player local multiplayer, adding to the mayhem but also the fun that this title has to offer. It even contains a story of sorts, with brief cut-scenes that help to keep the flow of its themes running. Various options allow you to customise how you play the game, from difficulty settings to video settings, as well as screen orientations that fits perfectly within the versatility of the Nintendo Switch.
Overall, Dragon Blaze is one of the best examples of arcade shmups and Psikyo-developed games that I have had the pleasure of playing. Its presentation is simply sublime with smooth, tight and responsive controls and a detailing in its graphical presentation that surpasses many games available on the market today. Zerodiv have outshone themselves with this emulation of an arcade classic. If you’re a shmup fanatic, or even a Psikyo junkie, then this is a title that will most definitely satisfy the twitchiest of trigger-fingers. By opting for a fantasy theme with dragon-borne riders, instead of the usual jet fighter or chopper stance, Psikyo have brought a freshness to the genre, adding to the playability of this particular title with its refreshing take on a limited blueprint; making it a welcome addition to the Switch’s library and a game that needs to be experienced. Period.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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