Tengai, known as Sengoku Blade in Japan, is the 1996 sequel to Psikyo’s first arcade shoot-em-up, Samurai Aces.
Samurai Aces is a vertically scrolling shoot-em-up which stood out from the crowd in 1993 thanks to it’s lovely feudal Japanese steampunk design and eclectic bunch of pilot characters. Read my review of Samurai Aces for Nintendo Switch.
Psikyo’s sequels tend to be similar in approach to their preceding games but Tengai is different: rather than stick to their tried and tested vertical shmup formula they decided to mix it up with a horizontally scrolling approach. The game still shares the feudal Japanese theme from Samurai Aces but gone are the aircraft such as the X-Wing fighter or F-15. Instead our characters can fly around the screen using magical powers. As a result, the game feels refreshingly different to many of Psikyo’s shoot-em-up games.
Two characters from the previous game have returned: the titular monk Tengai, and the lovely Miko who has shed her tomboy image for a more ‘grown-up’ look. One-eyed samurai Ayin also returns as a secret character – to access him you need to select the random character and press up (x3), down (x3), up (x7).
New characters include young ninjas Sho and Junis, and Katana the robot samurai. On the whole it’s an interesting group of characters who all have different weapons and characteristics. What makes things even more interesting is that each character has a special ‘friend’ accompanying them for extra firepower. These companions range from animals such as a hawk and spirit monkey to inanimate objects such as a sword or mirror. My personal favourite is Junis with her fire-breathing lemur called Socrates. You can power up your character and their magic ‘friend’ by picking up power-ups as you play.
In game, the characters have lovely animation: I love the way their hair and clothes bristle in the wind and their legs dangle as you move around the screen. They also have a nice little running animation if you run along the ground.
Whilst hitting a bullet will kill you, if you bump directly into an enemy you won’t die but will instead lose your power-ups. The game’s hit-detection is not terribly clear so bullets won’t kill you if they pass over your legs (only torso/head hits kill). You could look at this as being quite forgiving however I’m sure there are hardcore shmup fans out there who demand pixel perfect hit boxes.
The controls are fairly standard for a Psikyo game with Y serving as shoot button which, if held down, generates a powerful charge shot delivered by the magical ‘companion’ (different for each character). A is a handy autofire and X/B are your ‘bomb’ buttons. The game supports 2 players and handles quite nicely using the Switch’s Joy-Cons.
Another classic feature of many Psikyo shooters is that the first four levels are randomly selected each time you play the game. This helps keep things fresh. The developer Zerodiv have included a little cheat which enables you to choose your starting level from the main screen by pressing Y instead of A to start the game.
Tengai has some lovely parallax scrolling and levels look stunning as you fly high over forests, clouds and Japanese rooftops – levels from the original Samurai Aces game given a new twist thanks to the horizontal view. Even the underwater Buddha heads make a return. Levels are varied and each is beautifully detailed. As with the first game, there are some distinctive bad guys and huge bosses which take some beating so use your bombs wisely. One minor criticism is that although the music perfectly matches the feudal Japanese atmosphere, I tend to prefer banging soundtracks when I play this type of game.
The game has the standard Psikyo 7 difficulty levels from ‘monkey’ to ‘very hard’. The gameplay is very challenging and progressing through levels even on normal difficulty is very rewarding. You can increase the number of lives from the in-game menu but I recommend you stick to the default credits and attempt to master the game. It’s just a pity that Zerodiv hasn’t included an online scoreboard as Hamster do with their ACA Neo Geo games.
Zerodiv has included options to widen the screen (not really recommended) and graphical filters to add scan-lines. The game also has some nice wallpaper to fill the sides of the screen which complements the game’s style.
Tengai is available to download now from the Nintendo eShop for £6.99 (UK price). This represents good value for money for fans of shoot-em-ups. Overall, the game’s positives far outweigh the slight negatives such as lack of online scoreboard.
In summary, Tengai is an unusual, beautiful and very challenging shoot-em-up. Its departure from the signature Psikyo vertical scrolling levels makes a refreshing change and as a result it feels a bit less dated than Samurai Aces. Although different in style, Tengai stands shoulder to shoulder with Psikyo’s other classic titles such as Strikers 1945 and Gunbird, and for fans of this genre, it is yet another must-own title added to the Nintendo Switch’s growing library of shoot-em-up classics.