Astro Port has definitely had a few good shooters over the years, but they’re titles that mostly fly under the radar. It’s not surprising: a lot of danmaku titles that grab acclaim outside of Japan tend to either be tethered to much larger publishers or have a level of infamy that can’t be rivaled, which is why Zune continues to be his own enterprise. Storybird, the publisher of Guns of Mercy, knew that there was something there though, and wanted to make sure that some of these wonderful little titles made an impact on the Nintendo Switch, where shmups have a wonderful home to move into. Rather than just take a chance and release a couple into the wild of the eShop, Astro Port and Storybird took three of the best and packaged them together in one cohesive, if slightly spartan package, bringing everyone the Shmup Collection.
The Shmup Collection technically contains three different games, though one could argue that there are five. Wolflame, Satazius Next and Armed Seven DX are in the package,but Satazius Next gives players the option of the original Satazius, and there’s also Armed Seven DX, the separate option to play the original, non-DX version of Armed Seven. There’s nothing that can really be said about the Collection itself as it serves only as a launcher for the three games. In contrast to things like the SNK or Konami Collections, Astro Port has opted not to include additional goodies or visuals, instead allowing the games to speak for themselves, which is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it is a tad barren, and you have to quit the games multiple times to get back to the main launcher menu. On the other hand, it’s a lesser distraction to think of in order to get straight into the action, and, truth be told, I imagine it allows these games to come together in a very affordable bundle.
Each of the three games represents a different approach to shmups, and they each showcase Astro Port’s strengths and weaknesses. Wolflame is coming in first, both in terms of gaming, presentation and execution. The title is unfortunate: I keep wanting to lean towards the combination of Wolf and Flame, but I just end up with “Wolf lame”. This shooter most closely resembles the 1945 style of shooter, with a vertical flair against a combination of historically accurate weaponry and more of a high tech flair. The concept, as you might imagine, is simple: invading aliens and tanks, shoot the hell out of everything that isn’t you. As you progress, various ships and tanks will drop powerups that not only increase the firepower of your primary weapon, but also add left and right miniships that can be powered up themselves. These miniships do prove invaluable, as they add a bit of non-sighted targeting that is essential in a game like Wolflame, where the real estate is actually bigger than your screen. It’s a bit strange: you only have the vertical viewing window with HUD bumpers on either side, but you need to be able to pan left and right in order to see all the incoming enemies. It’s a stylistic choice, and it makes the game more difficult, but it’s not a bad thing.
There’s a few points that help set Wolflame apart in this SHMUP Collection. Firstly, it’s one of the most “barebones” of the shooters in the package. For example, you don’t choose anything except for the difficulty setting at the start, which we’ll see how that’s different for the other two in a moment. Additionally, the game feels very grim and purposely minimalistic in comparison. The main menu is silent except for the select noises, giving you the impression of an apocalyptic world waiting for you within the game, which isn’t untrue. Also, the game is generally polished and well executed, but the choice to give it a more classic shmup feel almost makes it feel like the one goth friend in a group of otherwise enthusiastic people. It’s really cool, and it makes sure that you know it’s here to play seriously with five different difficulty settings (the highest being “insane”). It’s not a long play by any means, and it’s fairly enjoyable from start to finish with some big name bosses to keep you on your toes. The hit boxes are where you’d think they’d be, there’s very little forgiveness in the number of continues that you have, and there isn’t much more to think about than “dodge bullets, shoot baddies.” It’s good, it gets the job done, and it’s clean from start to finish, so I can’t think of anything negative to say other than the strange screen panning (which you get used to) and the lack of explosive color that you get in the others.
Armed Seven DX is a horizontal shooter that puts you in the helm of a mech, and allows you to float through the realms of space as you shoot down incoming enemy ships and missiles, saving the world from an invading force and all that jazz. It’s a shame that there’s really no great way to separate the inherent plot that necessitates shmups from the actual execution, because the plots are always going to be variants of the same general notion as long as mechs or ships are involved. The DX version may be a console exclusive, due in part to the original on Steam doing modestly well but not exactly gangbusters. The major differences between the DX and standard version are the art stylings. Whereas the original has a rounder, more classic drawing style, the new version pops and wows with bright angles and sharp, more defined graphics. The weapons look better, the explosions are more dynamic, and everything has a better life within it. If you must choose, always go DX because it simply works better.
Armed Seven DX is an oppressively short game, so please be prepared for that. As long as you don’t die and have to start from the beginning (which is pretty hard to do on the easy difficulty, you’re looking at less than twenty minutes, no exaggeration. You get to choose your weapon approach before setting out, meaning you can decide on your primary and secondary weapons from a small arsenal, and those are the tools that get powered up as you move forward. The second you launch, you’re thrown into the firefight, getting two quick ships to snipe for powerups before the game starts to throw the kitchen sink at you. You have to deftly manoeuvre around shots and ships while bouncing to a soundtrack that reminds me of an almost poppy take on space battle. As you gather the powerups, you have an easier time dealing with the waves of enemies and the larger “bosses” that occur, plus you have a nifty rechargeable laser beam that can really sweep the street at the risk of you getting shot because you need to be dead on with the targeting.
My complaint for Armed Seven DX is all about the mech itself. Firstly, the aiming is wonky, something that Astro Port seems to have issues with when it comes to mechs. Your cannon moves slightly up and down depending on your flight pattern, and there’s no comfortable or sane way to reposition your trajectory of lasers without also affecting where you are on the screen. Many of the secondary weapons try to solve this problem by having homing aspects, but I still feel like I’m firing every which way but loose. This also wouldn’t be as big of a problem if I wasn’t constantly worrying about hit boxes. By chance, I found out that the entirety of my mech isn’t the damage zone: it’s only the core, with my head being a no clipping zone. This might sound like a good thing, but I needed to be aware of it because, again, my firing was all over the place and I didn’t want to throw myself into harm’s way just to get off a shot. This is also one of the few games that has a forgiveness meter in the form of a set of shields you can recharge on top of extra lives, so it wasn’t entirely haphazard to flit about. It just felt like a strange mashup of conditionals and expectations for a game that was barely longer than an episode of Teen Titans Go.
Lastly, and most importantly, is Satazius Next. This horizontal shooter feels and looks like a love letter to Gradius and plays like one too. Unlike Armed Seven DX, Satazius has some great aesthetic incentive to enjoy both versions of the game. Interestingly, the original Satazius seems more detailed in the way that things look, from the hand drawn ships to the fine corners of the missiles and other weaponry. By comparison, Satazius Next is more dynamic in electric edges and colors, popping on the screen like someone needed to explain what space cyberpunk would look like. The original Satazius moves slower, literally having the objects and opponent ships flying at a reduced speed in comparison to Next, which is my major reason for recommending Next over the classic. However, both are really dope, and you want to experience the way the game hooks you with both flavors.
When I say hook, I mean that Satazius Next really straps you in and shoots you out of a cannon. After choosing a primary, secondary, additional secondary AND charge attack (versatility!), you come flying out the gate to an entrancing synthwave soundtrack, feeling like the best combination of electronic house and 80s retro came to celebrate your work. You flee from your exploding mothership and dive into the nonsense. Enemies are everywhere, and you quickly powerup your weapons to become a furious ballistics machine, blasting everything up, down, in front of and behind you with nary a second thought. Like Armed Seven, Satazius Next gives you a rechargeable weapon that, in my case, was a seek-and-destroy multishot that could really clean up when the room was too crowded. I flew through tight pillar corridors, I dealt with enemies dropping out of nowhere, and then, when I was just starting to feel cocky, I ended up getting chased by a massive ship that would 100% kill me if it touched me, so I had to navigate an asteroid cave, praying that it wouldn’t hit me with missiles or I would smash into a wall. We came out the other side, it morphed into a shuriken ship, and I had to kill it without getting touched at all because, surprise, Satazius Next is a one hit kill for you. And that was just the first freaking half of the level.
Satazius Next is tight as a drum from start to finish, clocking in at about 35 minutes and demanding that you be ready to bring things up to its level before you can catch your breath. You can customize your ship between stages, but you’re better off finding the right combination that you feel comfortable with and making that work. You can up the difficulty level once you finish on normal, but be warned that Astro Port threw everything and the kitchen sink into this massive mission shooter. You will not escape unscathed if you’re not careful, you will be doing it over and over, and you WILL enjoy it because the music is great, the gameplay is tight, and the difficulty is tough but fair. In short, it’s a fantastic shmup, and it could stand on its own as a singular title.
Having said that, if even a fraction of what I’ve said sounds appealing to you, you owe it to yourself to get the Shmup Collection. The games are quality, the ports are sound, the price is right and playing on the Switch feels and looks great. Challenge yourself and your arcade talents and make Storybird and Astro Port proud that they brought such a great collection to the Switch.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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SHMUP Collection Review
Gameplay - 8/10
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 8/10
Replay Value - 8/10
User Review( votes)
Challenge yourself and your arcade talents and make Storybird and Astro Port proud that they brought such a great collection to the Switch.