Lower letter privilege is a game changer when it comes to huge lists of games. During the Xbox generation, I had a hacked Xbox with a lot of MAME games. At the time, the games I played were either those that I already liked or those that were higher on the list. One of those higher games was Blazing Star.
In a way, it was a very rough gatekeeper to other games. It was next to impossible for me to scroll the list without deciding to stop on Blazing Star for just one more round. There was a good reason for that as well! During my play sessions, Blazing Star because one of my favorite, if not THE favorite shmup I could play.
Developer: ACA NeoGeo
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release date: May 02, 2017
Blazing Star is a 2D horizontal shmup with beautiful pseudo 3D graphics. It has a heavy emphasis on charging your shots and chaining enemy hits for massive scores. Blazing Star features 6 playable ships, each with its own style.
The big one is closing in!
Blazing Star is the shmup equivalent to my favorite pijamas. It is cozy and full of comfort. It has that vibe that instantly makes me feel at home regardless of where I am. If I were to think of a shmup that I would play after getting caught in the rain and arriving soaking wet at my house, then Blazing Star would be that shmup.
The one aspect that makes Blazing Star stand out is the pseudo 3D style. Blazing Star plays entirely as a 2D horizontal shmup, but every single ship, the background, and even the particles feature a 3D effect. Think about the kind of effect you get when you make actual 3D but only capture the 2D rendition of the objects.
The really surprising feature is the amount of detail that is displayed in every single element of the game. The backgrounds are extremely detailed and feature periodic animations that bring them to life. There’s one stage where you can find pipes in the background which continuously pulse. You can easily tell a lot of attention was put into the presentation of the game.
It’s coming! Destroyed the space colony
For as top-notch as the presentation might be, the real reason I love Blazing Star is it’s gameplay. To put it bluntly, you can easily tell that Blazing Star was made by a team that actually played its game. This is a stark contrast to the previous entry in the ranking, which was Sine Mora EX. Simply put, this is the best game to show what a lovingly crafted shmup is supposed to be.
Blazing Star’s approach to combat is to give you a simple weapon and adapt it to several situations. You only have your primary fire button, but it can be manipulated in several ways. The most basic one is to just press the button and shoot. If you press it fast enough, it will become a rapid-fire version of it which changes its properties and color. Holding the button will give you a 4 stage charge shot that is unique por each pilot. Finally, by pressing the “break” button while your charge shot is firing, you will produce a secondary effect.
There are 6 different ships with different play styles. Thanks to the charge and break system, each pilot can focus on different combat strategies and combo chains. For example, Hellhound focus on shredding the screen with a continuous beam while Windina leaves energy sphere to zone areas of the screen. There’s enough variety for each player to find its own play style.
Oh yeah, you can also pick standard or alternate color by using the shoot or break button!
It’s not time to relax yet
Every shmup has a breaking point where you either decide you love it or hate it: when a bullet hits the outer edges of your sprite. It is with the biggest smile of my face that I say that maneuverability in Blazing Star is fantastic!
As hinted previously, Blazing Star follows the trend of having small hitboxes at the center of your ship to ease bullet grazing. Not only that, but I found the ship speed to be absolutely perfect! You are fast enough to move around the screen, but at the same time slow enough to fit into most patterns.
Simply put, nothings gets in the way of the fun!
Hitboxes aside, I always appreciate when enemies DO NOT come out of nowhere without proper foreshadowing. Such is the case for warnings for when a ship is coming from the rear or even during a boss fight where you are reminded to “pay attention to backward”.
Pay attention to backward
I’ll admit that I had been playing Blazing Star for years, but it took me until now to finally understand the scoring system. It turns out, there is a lot more going on than just collecting blue prizes and finding the 5 LUCKY letters.
The best way to approach Blazing Star is as a combo based shmup. The gist of it, is that if your shot kills multiple enemies, then you will get exponentially higher score counts. For example, if your shot hits 4 enemies, you will get x1, x2, x4, and x8 on each enemy’s score award.
If you think back at the different ships, then you’ll most likely find out that each of them has their own ways of maximizing the score. Take Windina as an example, the energy balls she leaves with a charge attack will rack up the combo multiplier by having the same energy instance destroy multiple enemies. What it means to her is that you want to shoot incoming enemy formations to get a multiplier for the entire squad. A melee fighter like Aryustailm has to chase the enemies with his energy charge shot.
Someone wakes the noise up
Event items are the little yellow circles with angel wings and a halo. I never really knew what these little guys did. Little did I know that they enable some very intricate scoring techniques.
So here’s what they do: if you collect an event item, every enemy you kill will start at a x2 score multiplier. They essentially allow you to begin one step ahead on the combo chain. But the fun doesn’t stop there! If you let it fly away without collecting it, then the next event item will have a different color and instead give you a x4 score multiplier. You can keep this going until you find a rainbow colored event that will make every kill x128! Essentially what you want to do is to let it grow until you find a very dense enemy cluster to pump those numbers.
Collecting power-ups not only increases your firepower, but also gives you a hidden level up. Levels go all the way until 255, you probably saw this number on the final score screen and wonder where it came from. The higher your level, the harder the game gets and the enemy count becomes higher. If you are comfortable with the risk of a harder game, then high levels are the way to go for hi-scores.
how huge that is
So, how do I maximize my P items? I’m glad you asked! If at any point you collect en event item, but don’t kill any enemy until it expires, then the next one is guaranteed to be a kanji event. A kanji makes it so that every single enemy drops a P item while the event is running. Like rainbow events, you want to use the kanji buff on enemy clusters. This allows you to drastically increase your level. Be wary of the dangers though.
Aside from maximizing your combos, you can collect the LUCKY items to increase your score. Each LUCKY letter will drop at different points during a stage. If you collect all of them, you will collect a very hefty score bonus. As you play more expert settings, you will realize that this becomes meager in comparison to combo scores. Regardless of that, every bonus counts when going for the record. Also, I can’t find the Y letter in stage 3, so let me know where I can find it.
Don’t be panic
If none of my headers make sense, it’s because they shouldn’t. They all reference some of the english lines delivered throughout the game. If anything, Blazing Star left us a legacy of engrish that is both hilarious and iconic. In a way, it’s part of the charm of the game.
Aside from the stunning visual style and gameplay excellence, the sound department is something I want to shout out. Simply put, the soundtrack of Blazing Star easily ranks amongst my favorites for shmups. It is most certainly an OST that I like to rock while at work or otherwise writing stuff. Phenomenal!
But the price has to go to the sound effects. This is probably something more personal. I just love the sound effects in this game. In particular I have some heavy nostalgia ears for those arcade screams that play when you collect power-ups or respawn.
Your skill is great!
It’s funny how I always thought this would be an easy review, but it turned out to be a challenge. On one hand, it is a game I have played A LOT. However, it becomes harder to try and separate quality from rose-tinted nostalgia. If there’s anything I’d like to add, it’s this: the reason I had so many positive preconceptions about this game is because it is an incredible shmup!
Playing it with notebook in hand reminded me of how fun it is. It is a game that makes you have fun, but also lets you fail. I never got tilted or blamed the design for wacky decisions. The ship became me and it ensured that my victories and failures were my own. In a ranking list that is already full of heavy hitters, I don’t doubt for a moment that it deserves to rank with the best.
THE RANKING SO FAR:
- Psyvariar Delta
- Devil Engine
- Rolling Gunner
- Blazing Star
- Steredenn: Binary Stars
- Stardust Galaxy Warriors: Stellar Climax
- Sky Force: Reloaded
- Strikers 1945
- Black Paradox
- R-Type Dimensions EX
- Sine Mora EX
- Shikhondo – Soul Eater
- Ghost Blade HD
- AngerForce: Reloaded
- Aero Fighters 2 (ACA Neogeo)
- Lightening Force: Quest for the darkstar (Sega Ages)
- Switch ‘N’ Shoot
- Last Resort (ACA Neogeo)