Every time I see a site pull up a new “Top X shmups for Y” article or video, I immediately rush to watch it. Nowadays I am more informed in what is occurring within the shmup realm, but on the past these publications were my window into more obscure and hardcore shmup world. Several of these lists even included video recordings of super plays by top players reaching crazy hi-scores.
One of these lists showed me a shmup where the ultimate goal was to graze as much bullets as possible. Memories eventually become fabrications of your mind trying to remember. I remember to main ship spinning as it grazed bullets, or was it a robot? I didn’t get to play this game at the time, but I believe I might have finally found it!
Developer: City Connection
Publisher: Dispatch Games
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release date: Jul 11, 2019
Psyvariar Delta is a super enhanced vertical shooter with an unhealthy obsession with grazing bullets and leveling up. That sounds like quite a mouthful, but I promise that I will try to break it down as much as possible! In a nutshell, the goal is to graze as much bullets as possible and level up to reach the harder levels.
Psyvariar also features a very surprising addition to movement: spinning. By alternating left and right repeatedly, your ship will start spinning. When you are spinning, you move faster, which allows you to dodge better. You can also alternate between ZR and ZL to start spinning without having to move from side to side. You might notice that if you only hold ZL or ZR the ship will spin, but you won’t get the movement bonus unless you alternate.
Leveling up… in my shmup?
The one system that is completely integral to Psyvariar is the Buzz system. By increasing your EXP gauge to 100%, you will gain a level and 2 seconds of invincibility. EXP can be increased by either grazing bullets (buzzing) or defeating enemies.
Leveling up has many different effect, but the most important one is allowing you to progress to the harder levels. After you beat a stage, you are given a choice of which stage you want to take on next. Higher levels means you have more choices. For example, if your level is low you might be forced to go to 2-A after the first stage. If you are a high level, you will have a choice of 2-A, 2-B, 2-C, etc.
While not as important as progression, the other effect is that leveling up actually makes you stronger! By reaching certain level thresholds, your firepower increases. You physical shape also changes, which takes you from a cool ship to a cooler ship! Whether you want to use the increased power to tackle higher levels or blitz through the -A series is up to you.
Strong and mighty
If there was anything I really felt like I needed to praise in the game, it is this leveling up system. While I already laid out everything about it, I really want to talk about how it made me feel as a player and how I came to love it.
For one, the level up sound effect and accompanying rumble became a feeling of bliss. If anything, it became instant gratification that showed me that I was doing well. Leveling up gave me instant feedback that I was doing some progress, regardless of how I may have felt at the time.
There’s also the powerup and progression aspect of it. A lot of games rely on you reaching higher scores or beating the game with less deaths to give you a feeling of progress. The level up system is a much more basic number, but at the same time more meaningful. Starting a brand new playthrough and finishing it 10 levels higher is fantastic and screams “You are doing better!” much more than any score could. This doubles-up because in many other games, you can get varying scores within the same skill level thanks to random occurrences like dying at the wrong time.
Finally, the ship upgrades. Being able to reach new levels and unlock higher forms is one of the most amazing feelings in the game! You might think you reached the final form, but then you improve enough to gain 20 more levels and a new form emerges.
Before I got my hands on the game I always wondered what Delta meant in the context of the game. It turns out that Psyvariar has seen more than one release, and Delta is the latest and most complete of them all. The first version of the game was “Medium Unit”. This was followed by “Revision”. Now we have “Delta”.
I tried to find the specifics of the 3 different versions with varying results. For simplicity’s sake just think of Medium Unit as the base version of the game, and the others as improvements such as increased difficulty and re-arranging of the levels.
What makes this package so nice is that you can choose which of the 3 versions you want to play at any given time. You can also select the OST from each version individually, so if you want to play “Delta” with “Medium Unit” music then go for it! This is your game and you decide how to play it!
The new lambda assist
As with most vertical shmups, there is a bunch of unused screen space to the sides of the screen. Psyvariar Delta features a UI called the lambda assist on the empty space. This UI gives very detailed information on a lot of different things such as:
- A history of experience acquired
- The current song
- The score for each played stage so far
- The boss HP and his time gauge
- A close up of your fighter for easier maneuvering
- Your EXP gauge and EXP gained per successful buzz
I never knew I needed so much stats displayed on screen, but after spending some time with Psyvariar, I’d say they are completely worth it! Seeing the stats taught me a lot of things, such as how buzz exp gains scale as you level up or how they are significantly lower on bosses. Being able to see my invincibility timer also helped me get better at leveling up. In case you were wondering, after you level up, you can swim through bullets with your invincibility and rack up a lot of cheap buzzes knowing you won’t die.
The close up is the one element that gave me mixed feelings. For one it showcased that the game never taught me what my hitbox is, and it gets much more complicated as your ship changes forms. Another point is that a close up is very clearly intended to help you navigate complex attacks, but enemies have a habit of throwing quick waves as well. The weakness of close up is that you can’t see fast attacks coming from far away, so you are vulnerable to those if you focus on the close up.
Tweaking it further beyond
If all the extra information wasn’t enough, you can toggle extra options from the Ex options menu. This allows you to display visual indicators for things such as your buzz hitbox, the enemy and their shot’s hitbox, your shot’s hitbox and even an additional EXP indicator on the top and bottom of the screen.
While not necessarily being next-level tweaking, you can also adjust common shmup settings like the difficulty, lives and continues.
One of my favorite things about the game is that it is really short. I know this might rub people the wrong way, but for highly replayable games, I prefer if they are under 30 minutes in duration. A Psyvariar run probably lasts around 20 minutes, as you typically go through 6 short to medium stages per run.
That’s not to say that you will be done with the game after half an hour! There are so many perks to replaying the game. For one, while you only go through 6 stages, there easily 3 times as many possible stages you might go through depending on your level and which choice you had. For all those levels, you can also experience their “Medium Unit”, “Revision” or “Delta” versions.
Other than normal play, there are additional ways to play the game. One of the is practice mode, which I actually don’t know what it means as I never played it. But it is there and it will probably help you practice!
If you are interested in online leaderboards, then Score attack is the mode for you! Score attack is the 1CC version of the game for competitive players. Play for as long as you can keep your credit alive and compare your scores with the rest of the world. This is the true Psyvariar online battleground.
My favorite mode that I never knew I wanted is Replay mode+. In this mode, you can pick any level from the game and see a high level replay of it. This is tremendously helpful in learning about optimal play and how to maximize buzzes and levels while staying alive. After you watch the replay, you can try to beat the stage hi-score with your own plane. My only gripe is that X-C and X-D seem to be broken, as their replay never actually did anything other tan feature a still ship slowly dying.
Shapes and colors
One of the aspects that threw me off was the use of colors and scrolling backgrounds. You know I’m very critical of those, and I do believe that Psyvariar edges on the bad side. It features rapidly scrolling backgrounds in the same direction as the ship, which throws me off a lot when my brain is trying to anticipate bullet paths. It is more prominent in some stages than others. Might be just me, but don’t feel discouraged by it, as it doesn’t detract so much from the game to be considered a nuance.
Blanche also features purple bullets for some reason. I find this pretty questionable, as the enemy bullets frequently com in purple, which blends in for some cheap kills.
The base game features the 2 original planes. While they look different and evolve into different ships with different shots, they play pretty much the same. Enter the extra ships.
While the game description promises new planes, at the moment there is only one available. This extra plane is Blanche from Cybattler. Blanche is an armed mech that features a shield that protects her from a single hit. This shield regenerates over time, which lets you play riskier while your shield is on to gain maximum buzzes. She is also the only plane to be able to shoot in 8 directions, as well as using a melee sword attack. It also features a unique Cybattler OST that you can use to play in the main game.
I really like the variety that Blanche brought to the game, and I really hope more DLC planes find their way into the game!
Psyvariar Delta or Devil Engine?
With all that’s being said, I think Psyvariar Delta is an outstanding game that is worthy of the top spots on the list. The spot I believe it directly challenges is Devil Engine’s #2 spot.
Both games are vastly different, so a direct comparison is hard. Devil Engine excels because it is a shmup made my developers who understand the history of the genre and who very clearly put a lot of passion into the project. Just check their twitter account and the number of references they do to classic shmups such as Thunderforce and you will realize they really do put their best into Devil Engine.
Psyvariar, on the other hand, is a classic game that is 2 decades old but which revolutionized the genre and still offer extremely high degrees of fun in each playthrough. The buzz system is amazing and I never new I wanted to level up as badly as I do until I played Psyvariar. It is realy addicting and turns the “One more session” into 2 or 3 more, to the dismay of my sleep schedule.
In the end I have to give the edge to Psyvariar purely because of the amount of value delivered. The price is a very tough pill to swallow, so if I valued the package and its value more, I’d say Devil Engine wins. But in a world where we only take into consideration the game, then Psyvariar is for sure #2.
We do have Devil Engine Ignition coming in the holiday season, so we’ll see how this works out.
- Psyvariar Delta
- Devil Engine
- Rolling Gunner
- Steredenn: Binary Stars
- Stardust Galaxy Warriors: Stellar Climax
- Sky Force: Reloaded
- Black Paradox
- R-Type Dimensions EX
- Shikhondo – Soul Eater
- AngerForce: Reloaded
- Aero Fighters 2 (ACA Neogeo)
- Lightening Force: Quest for the darkstar (Sega Ages)
- Switch ‘N’ Shoot
- Last Resort (ACA Neogeo)