As a fan of bullet hell shoot-em-ups, I’ve been patiently waiting for a traditional style game on consoles. Shmup heavyweights Cave Interactive have yet to make their debuts on either Xbox One or Playstation 4, leaving independent developers to fill the void. In my experience, most indie shmups try to be too different for their own good, with a rare exception now and then. Earlier this year I overlooked the launch of Ghost Blade HD, a shmup from German developer, Hucast Games. The art and screenshots are reminiscent of Cave Interactive games, and I wasn’t quite sure how it would differentiate itself. After spending some time with Ghost Blade HD, it’s clear that the team took a quality of quantity approach, and it paid off big time.
There a story in Ghost Blade HD, but I doubt anyone will care much about it. Basically, a rogue A.I. known as Shira became corrupted and attacked the colonies on Mars that it was built to protect. You are a pilot in the Earth Defense Force and it’s up to you to destroy Shira before she threatens the universe. There no cutscenes or storyboards to get you engrossed in the story, in fact I didn’t even know about it until I searched the developer website. I appreciated the background, but 99% of players only care about the action.
Less is more when it comes to Ghost Blade HD. Most games would overload you with modes like EX, Arcade or time attack that offer only slight differences. In Ghost Blade HD, you have the story mode which consists of 5 levels, each with their own boss fight. The story is also fully playable with two players locally! Training mode allows you to practice either a level or jump straight to the boss, toggling your bombs and lives. Lastly, score attack mode challenges you to earn the highest score in a single level and reach the top of the leaderboards. Simple, easy to understand game modes with no filler is a refreshing change from the norm.
Gameplay is a major strength of Ghost Blade HD. After choosing one of three pilots and your preferred difficulty (either easy, normal or hard), you’re off and flying. It plays similarly to most vertical shooters, where the environment moves along and you have full control of your ship. Holding down the A button fires your basic attack while pressing X will fire a more concentrated, yet powerful attack. Lastly with the press of the B button you will unleash a bomb, helpful for when you’re about to be overcome by bullets. The left thumbstick controls the pilot and everything feels smooth and intuitive. If you aren’t a fan of the layout you can even customize the controls to your liking.
As you progress through the short-but-sweet levels, the game factors in your completion time, life remaining, bombs remaining and stage stars collected to determine your score. As your character takes down enemies and picks up power ups, their projectiles become more abundant and spread out. There are some slight differences between the pilots, but I enjoyed the time I spent with all of them. For some reason the developers chose to have scantily clad anime girls as the main characters. Although it personally doesn’t bother me, it might give some parents pause about letting their children play. Ghost Blade HD is very accessible thanks to a nice balance of easy difficulty being mostly lenient and hard difficulty being challenging.
Graphically the game looks nice and runs very smoothly, even with multiple enemies and projectiles flying all over. The music was composed by Rafael Dyll and is inspired by J-pop and 90s syths. It looks and sounds very nice. There is no waiting around for loading screens, just don’t expect any flair like voice acting or CGI cutscenes. One very small complaint I have is that every time you pause, the game will put the cursor on quit game instead of resume game. I always had to be careful that I accidentally didn’t exit out of my run.
The majority of bullet hell shooters last too long for my liking. When a simple run can last over a 40 minutes, I tend to get bored and force myself to finish. Ghost Blade HD remedies this by having shorter levels in different environments, each with a unique boss at the end. When I eventually master easy difficulty, I can move up to hard (hopefully). The challenge is there as well as accessibility for genre newbies. Priced at $9.99 USD there is a lot of replay value with meaningful modes and 2-player co-op. I earned a lot of achievements through normal playing, but there are a few on the list which aren’t so easy. Overall it may look like a typical shmup, but Ghost Blade HD is an exceptional shooter that holds its own against genre heavyweights.
Ghost Blade HD is available on Xbox One, PS4, Wii U & Steam. A press copy was provided by EastAsiaSoft Limited for the purpose of this review.