I can still remember the countless days of my childhood spent smashing my thumbs into that awkwardly shaped Sega Saturn controller, playing games like Galactic Attack.
It would be years before I would be able to get a more traditional education in the realm of gaming so, in many ways, shoot ’em ups – or shmups – were what I grew up on. Even after all this time, it’s the classics of the genre that have stuck with me as fundamental pieces of my gaming palate.
Games like Darius Gaiden, Radiant Silvergun, and DoDonPachi turned me into the sort of gamer I am today – no doubt as they must have for the developers of the retro shmup, Fast Striker.
Developed by the German indie studio NG:DEV.TEAM, Fast Striker initially launched on the Neo Geo and Sega Dreamcast in 2010, long after both consoles’ life cycles had ended. Hardcore followers of the homebrew Dreamcast scene may be familiar with Fast Striker and its place amongst other independently made shmups like DUX and NG:DEV.TEAM’s other title, Last Hope. Yet, it’s only now that Fast Striker has found its way onto a modern home console, and while the developer’s credibility as true-blue genre fans cannot be questioned, its game is another story altogether.
Lightning hasn’t struck twice
From the outset, Fast Striker doesn’t intend to impress anyone with innovative mechanics or exciting enemy encounters. Instead, it merely opts to act as a love letter to the genre itself. While most of the basics work as you might expect, the predictable eight directions of movement for instance, there’s also plenty of spin to keep things interesting.
The most noticeable example of this is its many different game modes, which take the place of more traditional difficulty settings. Although don’t be fooled; Fast Striker does more than merely tweak the number of lives and continues on hand. Instead, each mode uses a different ship (and thus different tools) to handle each scenario. The most challenging mode, for instance, dubbed ‘Maniac’, has you firing a ‘Grind Beam’ rather than your average projectiles. Doing so will activate ‘Grind Mode’ (you can hear the chuckling from here) which can help you chain together bonuses for a higher score.
With such an emphasis on leaderboards, Maniac mode offers more opportunities for bonuses than either the Original mode or its more casual Novice mode counterpart, which both opt for a more traditional focused and spread shot attack system.
It’s unfortunate, then, that your ship moves at such a slow pace. Since Fast Striker tends to lean more towards the bullet hell end of the spectrum, you’ll often run into scenarios where hundreds of projectiles are on the screen at once, making it all the harder to move and avoid them. Not to mention that the game’s pace can sometimes slow things down to a crawl, losing the excitement found in many other games of the genre. Although Fast Striker does pack quite the punch, hearkening back to an era defined by other ludicrously difficult games, it fails to keep that same edge-of-your-seat type of tension that made so many shmups so memorable.
A blast from the past, only an echo today
It’s painful to admit that despite Fast Striker’s promise of the shmup’s grand revival, it never able to reach the grand heights of its inspirations. For all its aesthetic sincerity, perfectly capturing the look and feel of turn-of-the-century shooters, I couldn’t help but be reminded of countless other, better games while playing it. Although its cardinal sin was not merely that it had reached for the stars in replicating the legendary shmups of the past, but that it only goes so far in its replication, becoming a blatantly transparent imitation rather than anything worthy of comparison.
On the PlayStation 4, Fast Striker is removed from the gimmick and charm that may have made it interesting in the first place. Instead of playing it on a Neo Geo or Dreamcast as it was originally intended, instead, it finds itself on the same console that houses any number of modern classics. With the Dualshock 4 in my hands and Fast Striker on the screen, what would be a whimsical appeasement of the past instead transforms into a regurgitation of old tropes. With only six stages to play through, there’s also too little to bother with. As someone who hase fallen so deeply in love with the genre, whose itch for a new brilliant shmup has been left unscratched for years, I can’t help but feel disappointed – especially because of how promising NG:DEV.TEAM seem to be.
Alas, Fast Striker isn’t what it should have been.