Playing a new shmup is a lot like ordering a hamburger. Sure, there are wildly different variations of the same hamburger, but in the end you kind of know what you are getting into. You know that you will get some sort of meat between 2 buns of bread. In many ways, when you order a burger, you already know you are going to get a certain degree of satisfaction.
Shmups are the burgers of video game genres. When we are picking up a new shmup, we know there is a “guaranteed” amount of fun we are going to have. While some shmups go above and beyond to become the best burgers, not all of them do. And that’s perfectly fine! Even if we aren’t having the best burger of our life, we are still savoring a delicious meal.
Developer: Hucast Games, 2Dream
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release date: Oct 24, 2019
Ghost Blade HD is a vertically scrolling bullet hell shmup. As a shooter, it is a surprisingly familiar one. If you were asked to make a list of all the things that are required to make a shmup, Ghost Blade HD would mark all the checkboxes.
Laying the foundation
For me, shmups have the unique characteristic of being pretty chill games that free my mind. It is the same effect as when you are taking a shower and you have your shower thoughts. The one word that came to mind during my play sessions was “safe”, so I owe it to you to expand upon the premise of the game.
Ghost Blade HD sticks to the formula of bullet hell shmups and keeps only the tried and true mechanics. There are 3 main ways of attacking. You can use your rapid shot for wide coverage. Or hold the focus button for a concentrated beam that also slows your movement for higher maneuverability. Finally, you can use a limited amount of bombs to clear the screen and be briefly invincible.
Shmup comfort food
The best way I can describe this game is as your shmup comfort food. As a game, Ghost Blade has everything you need to have a good time. If I were to continue with the food metaphors, Ghost Blade HD is the restaurant were you would order on the food court of a mall. It might not be your favorite dish or your favorite restaurant, but it is something that you know you will enjoy.
Ghost Blade HD, as a game, plays it safe in many regards, but fortunately for us, that means that it does shine with the power of a legacy. All the refinement that has been introduced to the genre is present in this game.
The tech choices in shmups
As refined and perfected as the shmup formula has been, there are many small tweaks that can make or break an experience. Fortunately, I come here with only brilliant design decisions that are sure to increase your enjoyment of the game!
One of the cornerstones of difficulty in shmups is knowing how to dodge bullets, or at lest how to reduce their danger. Think of your favorite shmups and you might notice these mechanics that save your life in clutch situations. Be it a bomb to clear the screen, a burst to remove surrounding bullets like in rolling gunner, or even the trance mechanic in Danmaku Unlimited.
In this game, you can use bombs to clear the screen, but more importantly, you will manage the enemy fire is by controlling its source. If there is a bullet, there is an enemy ship firing, but if you take care of the enemy, then the bullet disappears as a result! Defense through offense has always been one of my favorite compromises, as it makes games more action packed. If you can find out who is firing a tough bullet pattern, you can always focus on destroying that enemy and the bullets will be erased.
While not being the most flashy, or even easy to notice mechanic for that matter, eliminating bullets by taking out its source feels very intuitive. You might not have noticed at first why some basic hygiene was being performed on the screen, and that’s because this mechanic really is that intuitive. It feels right.
Very honest difficulty
In terms of shmup difficulty, I gotta say that this game falls under the easier titles. There are several things that make this game easy, but the biggest one is that it is all very honest. Bullets come at you from far away and at decent speeds (even on the harder difficulties). The visuals of the game make the patterns very easy to see, and as a result very easy to avoid.
When thinking about the bullets, the predominant thought in my head was that their speed was very uniform and the acceleration non-existent. Perhaps that is why I felt it all was too predictable.
The one thing that really threw me off is my ship’s hitbox. I can’t really figure out why, but I find myself underestimating the hitbox more than in any other shmup I played. The hitbox is super visible, but a part of me feels like it is noticeably lower than where the center of the ship should be. Not on the visual of the ship, mind you, but on the imaginary zone that is painted by a player while following a ships movement and mapping the beginning of the player’s area of attack. I also feel like the hitbox is actually pixel perfect collision, unlike other shmups where even the outer edges of the visible hitbox are intangible.
The pretzel dodge
There is one more thing I gotta mention about the bullet patterns, and that’s that they come as somewhat “uninspired”. I have a very easy way of categorizing easy patterns. You might have found yourself, at some point, moving left and right to dodge bullets, but also up and down while your ship draws an imaginary pretzel. That is a very natural response caused by dodging left to right, but also moving slightly down to “gain more space” to squeeze into bullets. Naturally, you eventually reach the corner and need to go up, and to the same motions to the other side.
Hence, the pretzel.
If there is one thing that must be said about the game, is that it is incredibly gorgeous. From the ship, to the enemies and their animations, and even the backgrounds, they all look beautiful. My favorite was easily stage 4 with the japanese cherry blossom motif on space. You can really tell that even something as basic as a bullet was carefully drawn with an appropriate color palette in mind.
I also found the music to be incredible. Perhaps this would be something that is considered, and pardon my french, a “bangers” soundtrack. While I don’t find myself humming the tracks on my day to day, I do find the music to be a delight when I’m playing. So I guess that would make it really good, but generic or otherwise unremarkable. Comfort music, I would say.
Some aspects did feel a little underwhelming during the gameplay. The biggest turnoff for me was how stuff simply happened. Little things such as a mid-size enemy ship going down without much of an animation or sound effect. Or the player dying and just being treated with a minuscule explosion with minimal fanfare. Death and rebirth marks a playthrough, and it always went as a fleeting moment that felt unimportant.
So the lesson is: important moments should be impactful. Sound effects, strong visuals and even some mild screen shake help drive a momentous event.
Campaign and playtime
In terms of length, Ghost Blade HD is a pretty short game. The main campaign is only 5 levels long, and can be cleared in less than 30 minutes. Aside from the main campaign, there is a training mode where you can tackle individual stages or a score attack mode that has you play a single predetermined level and go for a high score. None of these modes do much to extend the playtime.
I’m a huge advocate of short games, and that goes double for shmups which are typically shorter experiences. This time, however, I feel like the offering is pretty barebones. Without additional modes, there is only a matter of playing for fun and chasing high scores. I could be totally wrong, but I didn’t notice any super deep or rewarding scoring system to play with. Getting high scores feels like it can be accomplished by collecting most gold prizes, not using bombs and killing all enemies for a high combo.
It does feature achievements, which is nice. If compared to other achievement listings, I would say you just get the essentials. Stuff like beating the game, getting a high score, reaching a level, etc. I do appreciate that they track the 1CC achievement for bragging rights.
All in all, Ghost Blade HD is a fun game. The best way I can put it into words, is to say that this is a game that would made me happy if I received it in a christmas gift exchange. It wouldn’t be my first choice of a compelling shmup to purchase, but if given a chance to play it, I would sure as heck do it and love every second of it!
Ghost Blade HD is jolly good time.
The ranking so far:
- Psyvariar Delta
- Devil Engine
- Rolling Gunner
- Steredenn: Binary Stars
- Stardust Galaxy Warriors: Stellar Climax
- Sky Force: Reloaded
- Strikers 1945
- Black Paradox
- R-Type Dimensions 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)