Japanese publisher Zerodiv has done a sterling job of bringing Psikyo’s classic arcade shoot ‘em ups to the Nintendo Switch. Their latest offering, Samurai Aces (Sengoku Ace in Japan), released in arcades in 1993 and is actually Psikyo’s first shooter.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it
If you’ve played any of Psikyo’s vertically-scrolling shoot ‘em ups such as Strikers 1945 or Gunbird on Switch, you’ll know exactly what to expect here, as their games are very much in the same mould in terms of features and gameplay. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though as Psikyo are very good at what they do.
This game contains many features which are characteristic of their later games:
- A choice of seven difficulty levels from ‘monkey’ to ‘very hard’.
- A choice of unique pilots/planes, each with different weapons and bombs.
- A straightforward control scheme using 3 buttons: A = autofire, Y = charged attack (hold button for a few seconds) and X = heavy bomb.
- Power-ups and bombs can be collected to increase firepower.
- Randomly selected starting stages (one of four) help keep things fresh.
Big in Japan
What makes this game really stand out is its lovely feudal Japanese steampunk theme which is a diversion from the usual aircraft and spaceship shooters of this era. The game looks, sounds and plays beautifully and if you’re after a shoot ‘em up which is a bit different then look no further: it’s certainly one of the most visually intriguing games of this genre.
You take on the role of one of six pilots tasked with stopping an evil cult and rescuing the Shogun’s daughter before she is sacrificed.
The pilots are an eclectic bunch, consisting of a dog that flies an F15, a one-eyed samurai, a female ninja, a monk with huge eyebrows, a young tomboy and finally an old man who flies an X-Wing from Star Wars!
Evil cult bad guys are equally as bonkers: they include fish with baby faces, a giant flying turtle, a giant flying ninja, a giant spider-like house etc.
Gameplay is as expected for a shmup of this type – fly up the screen avoiding sprays of bullets and shoot wave upon wave of bad guys. Crazy morphing bosses at the end of each level take some beating so use your bombs wisely. There is quite a lot of variety in the way enemies behave: some fly at you quickly and others stand back and spray bullets. There is a mixture of air-based and ground-based enemies and the environment can also be destroyed in parts to release gold coins for a higher score.
Zerodiv has put a lot of effort into the visual presentation of this game. From the main icon on the Switch menu to the lovely wallpaper that borders the screen, everything complements the games Japanese theme and oozes quality.
The game on Switch also comes with the following features:
- Three visual filters: sharp pixels / soft CRT / scan lines.
- The option to set the number of lives and continues within the games menu for a ‘console-like’ experience.
- A high score table which unfortunately isn’t online.
- Video capture is supported.
- The ability to rotate the screen 90 degrees taking advantage of the Switch’s excellent TATE mode, as shown below:
The game can be played in standard ‘landscape’ view which is fine on a large TV but the playfield is tiny in handheld mode. Switch to vertical ‘TATE’ view though and detach the Joy-Cons for a fantastic portable arcade experience for up to 2 players. The game looks and plays fantastically in this mode and it’s worth investing in a stand for games like this. I bought a cheap little portable stand from Amazon priced at £6.99 and it does the job perfectly:
Value for money
The game costs a reasonable £6.99 (UK price) from the Nintendo eShop. The randomised early levels and variety of aircraft and weapons on offer give this game great replay value. If you’ve enjoyed playing other Psikyo shooters on Switch then you’ll no doubt love this game. Some may feel it’s a bit ‘samey’ though in terms of gameplay, despite the unique theme.
This is a fun and interesting little shooter with nice graphics and gameplay. If you’re looking for a vertical arcade shoot ‘em up that is a little different then this is a great choice. If you want something a bit more mainstream though, perhaps check out Strikers 1945, which is another excellent game by this developer. In truth, I prefer the gameplay of Strikers 1945 which is my favourite Psikyo shooter. Samurai Aces is still a fun and challenging experience though with bags of character.