Blue Rider (PS4) Review
Games started out very simple. As time has progressed, they have gotten flashier and more cinematic. From Pong to Horizon: Zero Dawn, Super Mario Brothers to Zelda: Breath of the Wild, games are reaching deeper to attach to our hearts and minds. While I've enjoyed the ride, there is something that has been lost: the traditional arcade "twitch" game. Even Pac-Man has evolved, either into the Championship Edition with high-beat sound and graphics, or over to the phone on Pac Man 256, with microtransactions and timed play. Dropping a quarter into classic Galaga, walking left-to-right on Final Fight, games like this hold a certain charm. Don't worry about storyline, just play.
Blue Rider does have a bit of a storyline: basically there are bad robots and you need to kill them. It feels like an old "bullet hell" shooter, but with a twist: instead of simply staying in one spot and awaiting the oncoming horde, there are nine mazelike levels that you have to push through. Instead of simply working on a flat plane dodging bullets, you have to twist and turn your ship around obstacles and in circles, strafing the enemy for the kill. Each level ends with a unique boss with a pattern to analyze and attack.
As you make it through the levels, you will find various power ups to help you on your quest. Most often this will be in the form of newer stronger bullets and wider attack patterns. During my play time, I found very few health power ups. It could be luck of the draw on drops, but I soon found myself under the attitude that I really had to watch my health, because dying meant going all the way back to the beginning of the level. Luckily, stage unlocks stay open even after a game over, letting you have a "checkpoint" every time you defeat a boss.
As you can see in the trailer below, action gets fast and frantic. There are plenty of enemy types, but most of their shots boil down to one or two particular bullets that go set speeds. For a Bullet Hell Shooter, this is a good thing, as you can plan your maneuvers appropriately, but as a game in general, it made it feel a little bland to go through a level over and over after dying. I wanted to see a little more leniency in the checkpoint system, but the brutal design "flaw" actually made me feel extremely accomplished after beating a level.
My only beef with the game was the floatiness of the player's ship. Bullets come toward you steadily, but sometimes it feels like it takes time to get stopped or turned around. A few times I found myself running straight backwards away from bullets, like an action movie star on a train track, because I couldn't get my ship to go the opposite direction in time.. Not a huge deal once you get the general mechanics of the game down, but still pretty annoying. Even after I got used to it, I felt there were a few shots I saw coming but simply could not avoid, even with the ship's boost button. I would have loved to see some of the power ups go to extra shields or maneuverability, but I had yet to see those in my play through, and all media advertisements talk about the weapon power ups, so I'm pretty sure that you just have to "git gud" and power through the bullets.
Bosses are very unique, and fun to defeat once you reach them. The levels themselves are lush and inviting, though the repetitiveness of enemies in early stages does get monotonous. It feels like the game isn't much on your first play, but as you get into later levels and start seeing the bullet patterns present in the trailer, you have to have your skills ready to blast through to victory.
The lack of any sort of manual (physical or online) is a bit frustrating. As I said, I felt that there was no real increase to my strength, armor, or maneuverability as I worked my way through the game, short of the weapon power ups. After a death, a loading screen said "wanna get stronger? Start over at stage one!" While my weaponry carried over on one playthrough, my next death brought me right back to the basic weapon again, and I don't really see anything else better. Perhaps it would be a challenge to get from Stage 1 to 9 without dying, and you'd have plenty of ammunition to take on the final boss, but I would have liked to have a bit more explanation than some abstract loading screen to indicate I could do more with my ship. I'd also get "rampage multipliers." What they did, I couldn't tell you. As a reviewer, it's my job to find these things. Perhaps it increased my score? But the amount of gusto that "rampage multiplier" is spread across the screen for no reason as to why just made me wish the game had a bit more meat on it's bones.
The game was released on March 10th, with a retail price of $9.99. The official website states that there will be a physical release on April 10th. At just under $10, Blue Rider is an easy reccomend for anyone who is a fan of classic arcade bullet hell shooters. Your little ship might be a bit floaty, but after a few levels you compensate and are exploding robots like a pro. It's fun to power up your ship to blast the enemy to bits, but I'd have loved to see some power ups help protect you as well. The nine levels are just challenging enough that only pros will be able to blast through with no difficulty, meaning that it will take you a few gaming sessions to get through it all. After that, it's back in to find a few mysterious relics or to try to beat your high score. Extra and extended carnage translates to a higher multiplier and better score to brag about.
Special thanks to the developers for providing a code for review.
Final Review Score: 4.25/5