Just as Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo is the companion game to the earlier release of Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha, what you’re reading now should also be considered the companion to our earlier review of the latter title. We suggest, to help digest the full context of this review, that the reader also hop over and read this companion piece before proceeding any further, as both games share the same issues and flaws in terms of emulation quality.
To recap, The strengths of the new City Connection Psikyo ports are the fair price points, amounts of titles on offer, and quality of the games themselves. Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo mostly retains these same advantages as Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha, though it is debatable if the game library holds up as well overall. Since the weaknesses of these ports are shared – problems like high input lag, lack of extras, no stage select or training options, and just being carbon copy re-releases of the ZeroDiv ports – will not be the focus of this review. Rather, we’ll focus on highlight the specific games included and point out the places where Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo differs from Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha.
The six games included in this collection are Gunbird, Gunbird 2, Gunbarich, Samurai Aces Episode 1, Samurai Aces Episode 2: Tengai, and Samurai Aces Episode 3: Sengoku Cannon. To begin with, the centrepiece of this collection is the two Gunbird games. As fun as some of the other included games are, these two titles will be the primary selling point for most players – and rightly so.
Gunbird was originally released in Japanese arcades in 1994. Since that time, it has been a staple title in the Psikyo team’s shmup lineup, but under the lens of a review, it is somewhat difficult to understand why. Generally speaking, it is hard to point out any remarkable or interesting features of Gunbird, other than the main character, Marion, is reminiscent of a Studio Ghibli creation (which is no bad thing at all).
The scoring system is basic to the point of practically not existing (just kill stuff and collect coins) and the hitboxes of the characters, especially Marion, are absurd. Rather than being centred in the body of the sprite, like most shmup hitboxes, the hitboxes in Gunbird tend to be placed in the heads or necks of the character, which makes sense theoretically but feels awful in practice. Nevertheless, Gunbird still remains a favourite of ours because the sum total of what the game offers – engaging visuals, catchy music, light-hearted charm, and good level design – outweigh the merit of the individual parts. If you are new to Psikyo, Gunbird is a great starting place. Just be aware that the hitboxes of the game are chunky, and trying to micro-dodge your way through a mess of bullets will typically lead to quick frustration.
Four years later, Psikyo released Gunbird 2 in 1998, which is a massive improvement over the original in almost every way. We can all kneel and thank the shmup heavens that Psikyo fixed the silly hitboxes of the first game, while the visuals and sound receive a considerable upgrade as well. Just as important, the scoring system and fundamental gameplay have improved over their predecessor. The charge shot mechanic is now much more useful with a faster startup and a meter system which allows multiple charges to be stored, which is really useful for boss fights and adds some risk-reward decision making to routing. There is also a close-range melee attack which is obviously very risky but powerful for some well-timed point-blanking. Point-blanking bosses during certain openings will also yield additional points.
The coins from the first Gunbird return, but now they have an added mechanic in which they can provide increased score when collected at their shiniest, which is a fun visual idea. There are other additions to the scoring system as well, but overall it is safe to say that the scoring in Gunbird 2 and level design are an improvement over the first. One quick note to make about Gunbird 2, just to warn new players, is that it is considered one of Psikyo’s most difficult shmups and the bullet speeds (especially in the second loop) can become obscenely fast. When it comes to this port, which has six frames of input lag at minimum, this bullet speed is going to feel even more oppressive.
So, while the game looks nice and sounds pretty in this collection, the lack of stage select coupled with the high input lag is going to make any attempts to learn and clear it ruthlessly frustrating. This holds true with the other games on the port, but especially with Gunbird 2.
Gunbarich is a spin-off title for the series, as well as Psikyo in general. Rather than being a pure shmup, the game is a hybrid between a shmup and Break-Out clone with a touch of a pinball element due to the flippers replacing the usual Break-Out slider. For the most part, this game can be described as primarily Break-Out gameplay with some fun STG-inspired additions like boss fights and bullet dodging. We are not experts in the field of Break-Out, and so can’t really comment on how well this game stacks up to its peers, but overall for the casual arcade game fan it is a fun change of pace and worthy of inclusion in the collection.
The last three games in Shooting Stars Bravo all belong to the Samurai Aces series of games, which have had an interesting evolution, to say the least. The first title in the series, Samurai Aces Episode I, is a vertical shooter very similar to Gunbird. The feudal Japan setting is pretty great and the game shares a quirky sense of humour with the Gunbird series. Episode I lacks polish when compared to the later Psikyo games, but it is also the company’s very first release, so it is interesting to play from that perspective.
As different as Gunbird 1 and 2 are from each other, the changes between the pair pale in comparison to the big shift between Samurai Aces and Samurai Aces 2: Tengoku. Tengoku marks the shift from vertical to horizontal in the series, and it also establishes a different feel overall. It’s hard to describe exactly, but Tengoku has a specific feel that the other Psikyo games don’t quite capture, and is generally the most popular entry in the Samurai Aces series. Along with the Gunbird games, we would identify Tengoku as another highlight of this collection.
Lastly, we have Samurai Aces 3: Sengoku Cannon, and all we can say about this particular title is… wow, this is rough. As we understand, Sengoku Cannon was not actually developed by Psikyo itself, but rather by X-Nauts in 2005. Also, this game was not originally released in the arcades, but on Sony’s cult classic handheld, the PSP – which we guess sort of explains the strange 3D backgrounds. The PSP, by the way, is home to an amazing array of classic shmup collections, but Sengoku Cannon is not part of this group. As we understand, even on its original platform, Sengoku Cannon had performance problems with excessive slowdown and choppy framerates. In this collection, however, the performance is so awful that we couldn’t help but laugh. Just like on the PSP, this game exhibits plenty of choppiness and slowdown, but what is even worse is the input lag. As mentioned repeatedly across these two reviews, these Shooting Stars Collections have really high input lag, even for a Switch port. Sengoku Cannon, however, has such a high amount of input lag that we didn’t even need to bother testing, as the massive delay between button press and on-screen action can be seen visually without any question. This title is not worth the player’s time or money, even at a budget price.
Both the Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha and Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo collections are pretty close in value to one another. While Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha is perhaps the better of the two due to the consistent quality of the Strikers games, we also harbour a soft spot for the Gunbird series on Psikyo Shooting Stars Bravo, especially Gunbird 2. Sengoku Cannon is so poor it might as well not exist in the collection, but Samurai Aces Episode 1 and Gunbarich are stronger than Alpha’s Sol Divide and Zero Gunner 2, so which collection is better is mostly going to come down to preference between the Gunbird or Strikers series. Another constant between them, sadly, is the high level of input lag and lack of bonus material to make the collection really stand out.