Also On: PS4, Wii U
Publisher: Hucast Games
Developer: Hucast Games
In case you've never heard the term "bullet-hell" shooter, let me break it down. A vertical shooter where one ship goes against an entire army of enemies with insane amounts of bullets filling the screen every single second. Games like this littered the arcades in the early to mid '90s and all of them tried to outdo each other with the sheer amount of bullets on-screen a player had to dodge. Companies have tried to bring this feeling back with re-releases and games inspired by these classics, but Ghost Blade HD is the only one so far that has done it right.
As with almost all shooters of this type, the story is not important at all. 3 Pilots of the Earth Defense Force set out to stop an evil force trying to take over the planet… it's all standard stuff. We're definitely not playing this for the character development, we're here to destroy waves of enemies and dodge their never ending bullets, while causing destruction and taking out huge end level bosses. That's what these games are all about, and Ghost Blade HD certainly brings all that wonderful pain in a nice package. You start out by selecting one of 3 different ships (or pilots) and then select your difficulty level. Most players will play on the Normal Mode, where your bullet dodging skills are put to the test. As you progress you can power up your ship, but are limited to only one type of weapon that is associated with the ship you chose.
You can power up this weapon by collecting power ups, and you will want to do this quickly as you can since the enemy is relentless right from the start. You have 2 forms of firing for your ships, and using both will be necessary to make any progress. First is standard shot that can hit multiple targets on screen. The second is a focused shot that uses all your power to hit targets right in front of you. This is definitely needed for the bigger enemies and bosses to take them down quickly. You'll be switching between both rates of fire often in order to stay alive. Also available are bombs that can clear the screen of enemies and bullets. You can use these to avoid getting hit and try to get the battle back in your favor if you are overwhelmed, plus deliver heavy damage to the boss ships. Using focused shot will allow you to collect bomb material from destroyed enemies. Once you have enough you will have another bomb in your stock. Unfortunately this is the only way to acquire more bombs outside of dying and using another life, so make use of that focused shot.
If you are having trouble progressing in Normal Mode, playing on Easy Mode can help a little. It's the same game as Normal Mode, but it uses Auto Bomb. This will detect when you are about to get hit by a bullet and (if you have one) will automatically deploy a screen clearing bomb. Sort of like an auto-correct if you make a mistake. The disadvantage to this, if you rely on it, is losing all of your bombs quickly and not having any for the boss battles. There is also a Hard Mode for those who enjoy getting trashed in the first 30 seconds of play. I didn't last very long here and quickly returned to Normal, as that mode is just insane. Champion bullet-hell players may find Hard Mode to be quite a challenge, but for me and many players like me, it's just too much.
Graphics are a nice mix of 3D rendered backgrounds and sprites that do very well at resembling the classic shooters while still feeling modern. I noticed some slowdown when too much was happening on the screen, but soon discovered that this was a feature and not the fault of the visuals. The slowdown can be turned off in the options menu, leaving you with fast and flowing game play that is as fun to watch as it is to play. Sound effects are reminiscent of the classic shooters as well, with huge explosions and fitting music that really gets you into the action. Granted it's not soundtrack worthy, but it's somewhat memorable. Control is a absolute joy. I had no problem controlling anything as everything works perfectly. Switching between the shots and firing bombs all work 100% of the time. If you constantly get killed, you only have your own skills to blame. This is definitely not a game where you can blame the controls for a cheap death.
I highly recommend Ghost Blade HD for fans of these type of shooters and even newcomers looking for a challenge. This is a great game and really captures the spirit of classic arcade shooters like Raiden, Giga Wing and others. I really had a surprising amount of fun with this one, and I'm sure you will do. Pick it up if you can, you will love it.