With its sumptuous graphics and manic gameplay, Astebreed is an indie Japanese shooter that you should take notice of.
Previously only available on PC, its developer Edelweiss has spent considerable time polishing and fine tuning its bullet-hell opus for release on the Playstation 4, making this a somewhat definitive version of the title.
Like nearly all retro-styled side scrolling shooters, Astebreed is a short game; its six stage campaign will fly by in less than hour for all but the most incompetent of gamers. But with both the original PC mode and a new arrange mode specifically made for this release, as well as three difficulty levels, there’s enough here to make you feel you are getting value for your money. There’s also a very extensive gallery, featuring story background details, concept artwork, character models and more, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Gameplay is typical for the genre. Mostly you’ll be controlling your flying mech on a 2D plane, evading and eradicating bullets and lasers whilst wiping out a legion of mechanised foes with your own arsenal. I say mostly, as Edelweiss like to occasionally break with tradition by gracefully moving the camera around to give you another perspective to the battle, and who can blame them when the game looks this good. Character and enemy models appear to be lovingly created, full of colour and detail, whilst bullets, lasers and explosions constantly litter the screen like a prize-winning firework display. In fact, sometimes there’s just too much going on at once for you to comprehend, but you won’t really mind as you’ll be too busy having eyegasms. All this and the framerate remains rock solid. You can’t ask for more than that.
Unlike most shooters there are no power ups to be had, but to compensate there’s so many combat options available to you as standard that you won’t really care. You have your standard rapid fire shot for mopping up enemies in front, melee energy blade attacks for when enemies are up close and lock on missile attacks for when you want to target a large number of adversaries at once, each with their own strengths and weaknesses that you’ll need to harness in order to remain unscathed in combat. You also have special EX attacks that are available only once a yellow meter under your mech is full, such is their immense power.
Effectively using the right attack in the right situation is critical to success in Astebreed. With enemies spewing bullets at you like they’re going out of fashion, you’ll need to thin them down by neutralising them with an appropriate attack if you want to stay alive. Like a deadly game of rock, paper, scissors you’ll find that your standard shot negates purple bullets, whilst blade attacks negate purple and yellow bullets. Red attacks on the other hand cannot be neutralised with anything, so you must avoid them like the plague. The savvy player may think it’s a good idea to constantly use the standard shot and blade attacks at the same time, enabling them to just concentrate on avoiding red attacks, and whilst this is a feasible tactic it restricts your movement speed making it even harder to pull off evasive maneouvres. It also hampers your ability to achieve high scores.
Featuring a robust score system and both local and online leaderboards for you to show off your efforts, Astebreed has a lot to offer high score chasers. Destroying enemies and their projectiles with your standard shot raises a score multiplier in the top right hand corner of your screen, and while ever your shield is full this multiplier is doubled. The trick to getting high scores is to build up this multiplier with your standard attacks before switching to your blade and EX attacks, as they are the only attacks that benefit from the score boost provided. Both being hit and using blade attacks lower the multiplier, so you must be mindful of this when playing and carefully balance the use of your blade.
Whilst Astebreed has a story which is accompanied with some nice 2D artwork, the truth is it’s largely passable, especially for those of us that don’t understand Japanese. Whilst the game has full English subtitles, the frenzied nature of the game means that you miss the dialogue text in the bottom left corner of the screen whilst you’re in the midst of battle, preventing you from fully following the story.
Overall, Astebreed is a fantastic indie old school shooter that is fun for both veterans and those new to the genre. It may be short, but the action comes thick and fast, and the inclusion of the high score system gives the game longevity to those who wish to better themselves and prove their worth on the leaderboards. A pleasure to look at and play, Astebreed deserves to be in any shooter fan’s collection.