The shoot ’em up genre is as popular in 2019 as it ever has been. One of the easiest genres to enter into, the core gameplay is as old as time itself. You aim your character or ship and shoot at a series of enemies until they are no longer there. Pretty simple. However, when you throw a wide array of bullets coming from every which way, then it gets a little tricker.
Enter the bullet hell subgenre of shoot ’em ups. A whole microcosm of games that feature, as the title suggests, an unrelenting storm of bullets flying across the screen. These games take you from a cosy mentality of running or hiding from threats if it gets too much. And then you get thrown in a realm where you best hope you have enough lives to make it through.
But boy, is it a fun and addictive genre.
SHOOT! SHOOT! SHOOT!
I recently had the
horror joy of being able to review Ghost Blade HD on the Nintendo Switch. My previous experiences with shoot ’em ups did not make it out of the 1990s. However, two of my earliest go-to games to play on the SEGA Megadrive were Gunstar Heroes and Battletoads. Apparently, I was a bit of a masochist in my childhood.
So, my abilities to shoot and run were older than I would like heading into Ghost Blade. And boy did it show.
Ghost Blade HD sees you control one of three spaceships with the simple aim to destroy everything you see. You dodge (or at least attempt to dodge) an aimless array of bullets from enemy fleets. Taking action in space, your mission takes you from outer-space to the planet Mars, to several indistinct locations. The scenery is as pretty as the gameplay is frustratingly difficult.
For God’s Sake, SHOOT!!
The game starts off easily enough. In this context, “easy enough” is more akin to smashing your head against one brick wall as opposed to ten. The game welcomes you in with the choice of jumping straight into the main single-player mode. Or you can bring a friend along to rain hell down in tandem. You also get a chance to take some training for when the game just gets far too difficult. And, unless you’re a veteran of the genre, it will.
You will find yourself dying umpteen times before you even complete the first level. And when you realise there are only five levels, you start to feel just a little bit winded. But that’s the appeal of such a game. You fail, you try again. You fail again, you try even harder. You fail once more, think *%$£ this game, put it down and end up picking it back up because you can not be beaten by it.
And, with a smidge of luck, a lot of patience, and just as much psychic wherewithal to avoid 12 million on-screen obstacles at any one instance, you’ll make it to level two.
The game itself is pretty basic. You have a choice of three ships and three difficulty modes. Each ship offers slightly different shooting arrangements, but overall, there are no real differences beyond the colours.
Naturally, a wide range of ships and customisation/upgrade options was never going to be the selling point.
The gameplay harkens back to classic arcade space shooters. The title capitalises on this offering you three “credits” per playthrough. When you lose all of your lives, you need to play another credit into the machine to carry on. No more credits mean no more playtime and you’re kicked out to the high-score screen.
In any other genre, the constant and incessant dying would be frustrating. However, in a game such as Ghost Blade HD, every game over is a lesson. You start to see patterns in the enemies shooting and learn when to move and where to move to. Trial and error looked so good.
Beyond the main “story mode” – there is no story, just a range of bosses – you have the score attack mode. This will see avid players come back for more misery as they try their hardest to beat the world high-scores.
The game won’t necessarily hold your attention for hours. But you will want to come back time-and-time again just to see if you can get a little bit further. And by that time, it’s too late. You’re a bullet hell addict!
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Ghost Blade HD Review
- Overall - 7.5/107.5/10
Ghost Blade is easy enough for newbies to be able to pick up the gameplay (with enough practice) and solid enough to present a challenge to veterans. So, whatever your skill level, you’ll be able to appreciate the moments that you aren’t cursing at the screen in dismay. The title plays very well on the Switch despite the constant on-screen action, suffering no noticeable lag. But the ability to take the game on the move might present a problem for players. Mainly as you’ll have to try and avoid cursing loudly when out in public!
ABG’s Senior Editor (News), YouTube content creator/streamer.