Tag Archives: Bullet Hell

On July’s Game of the Month

For those of you who haven’t listened to the podcast yet, the Game of the Month for July is Astebreed. It’s a Bullet Hell shooter available on PC on a number of services, and recently, also on PS4. I didn’t honestly think I was going to get the members of our podcast to play this game, and I’m still not sure if they’ll like it, but it should be interesting talking about it. Even if you haven’t played a Bullet Hell game before, I think this is a pretty good starting point. I had screenshots of me playing this at one point, but you’ll have to settle for screenshots from Steam for now.

title screen

The Game

All I really need to say here is that Astebreed has you controlling a giant robot with lots of guns and a big sword. It’s predominantly a side-scrolling shooter, but there are also times where it plays more like a corridor shooter (i.e. StarFox). As expected from this type of game, you have a significant amount of firepower, as do enemies. In addition to a standard shot, you also have a lock-on shot and a large sword. It’s this last element that changes things up, as the scoring system encourages slicing enemies in half, and swinging your sword can destroy enemy shots. Also unlike a lot of traditional scrolling shooters, you don’t die in one hit, you have a health bar that is somewhat generous, and even regenerates if you go a while without getting hit.


The Presentation

Astebreed is the spiritual successor to a game I’ve never played, Ether Vapor. It has a self-contained story that reuses some characters from the previous game, and pays a lot more attention to story than I’d expect from a shooter. For starters, it has Actual Characters and an ending that isn’t just “Congrats, you blew up the bad guys”. There is voice acting, but none of it is in English. Cutscenes exist between levels to develop the plot.


The Choice

I almost made the Game of the Month for July the Final Fantasy 5 Four Job Fiesta. Kodra even suggested that I should, so we could talk about Final Fantasy (like we don’t do that enough). I went with Astebreed because I wanted us to play something a bit different. We’ve mostly had games of the month that have been a bit methodical, between RPGs, strategy, and puzzle games. We haven’t had any actual action games, and this seems like a good candidate.
I did mention another game, however: Jigoku Kisetsukan is free on steam, and is a “tribute” to the Touhou series. I bring this up because it’s nice to have a comparison to a different style of Bullet Hell, and this is actually a very good example (it’s a better game than a lot of shooters on Steam that are not free). That said, the difficulty curve in this game is more like a brick wall than any actual curve, and the graphics aren’t entirely cohesive. I recommend giving this a shot if you make it through Astebreed before the end of the month, as Astebreed is a very short game.

Jigoku Kisetsukan: boss4
Sadly, you don’t have a sword to cut through this mess.

On 弾幕

Once upon a time, there was a game called Overkill. It was a vertical-scrolling shooter for DOS, and it’s the first (non-educational) game I can remember owning and playing. It’s now freeware, so you can download it right here, and it started me on a journey to discovering other games in the genre. Overkill actually isn’t anything special as far as shooters go. Tyrian is from the same era, and most people I’ve talked to consider it a better game. I can’t adjust to either one now, as they feel a bit slow and outdated.

Humble beginnings
Humble beginnings

Fast forward a few years, to when I got my first video game console, a Playstation, and with it, G-Darius. I didn’t know it at the time, but G-Darius is the last in a series of shooters in which you fight giant fish. Despite a sometimes annoying power up system, this is the game that introduced me to what would become my favorite part about shooters: cool bosses. Despite the “fish” theme, they did really creative things with it, like a boss that goes through dimensional portals to attack you, and a boss based on a sea angel. After this, I discovered some of the things I missed on the super Nintendo via the power of emulators. This was my first exposure to things like Gradius and R-type. I later got pretty good at Gradius V. I was never actually any good at G-Darius.

Seriously, most of the bosses are fish.

Fast forward a few more years, and we hit a game called Ikaruga. This one’s on Steam, if you want to experience it for yourself. This rather unique game was my introduction to “Bullet Hell” shooters, and pretty much brings us into the present day (or at least the point of this post). In the last two podcasts, I’ve mentioned a bullet hell game of some sort as something I’ve been playing recently. The Touhou games, while fun, are only available as Japanese imports and are somewhat inaccessible to beginners. Danmaku Unlimited 2 is $5 on Steam, and can serve as an introduction to the genre. It’s quite good, has an awesome soundtrack, and Bel played it for Steampowered Sunday a week ago (on my recommendation).

Hard difficulty is hard.

There’s a bit of a recent resurgence, but games in this genre have gotten rarer as time goes by. I suspect part of this is because as the games attempt to cater toward fans of the genre, they become increasingly difficult to get into for people who aren’t fans of the genre. Hopefully Ikaruga coming to Steam is a sign that there’s interest, and we’ll see more soon.

A final note in closing: I’d like to think I’m pretty good, but I’m sure that since this is the internet, someone can do better. I’ll be waiting.