ACA NeoGeo: Blazing Star (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Rudy Lavaux 10.06.2017

Review for ACA NeoGeo: Blazing Star on Nintendo Switch

Hamster Corporation keeps pushing out the goods in terms of Neo Geo MVS arcade classics for the Nintendo Switch eShop, where the company has found moderate success so far, at time of writing. The Neo Geo was home mostly to fighting games, or at least that's what the platform, both at home and in the arcades, was known for first and foremost, but that's not to say that the entire catalogue of potential Neo Geo games that Hamster could bring out has to be comprised solely of 2D fighters. The Neo Geo also saw its fair share of good classic shmups, a genre probably even more niche than 2D fighting games, which are still doing good enough for themselves in 2017, whereas most 2D shmups nowadays rarely make an appearance outside of Japan. The title being reviewed here, Blazing Star, was released quite late into the life of the system, in 1998, and as such it remains one of the most impressive titles of its kind on the platform. However, that was almost 20 years ago, and time doesn't necessarily do any favours to games that were deemed visually impressive in their time, so it's time to see how well it holds up.

One of the most immediately striking features of this title is its use of CG pre-rendered sprites, a style of presentation that exploded around the time that the original Mortal Kombat and Donkey Kong Country came out, and which was really popularised by the latter two first and foremost. This style of presentation allowed for weaker 16-bit 2D systems of their time, such as the SNES, or in this case the Neo Geo platform, to showcase visuals that were more akin to what someone would expect from their 32-bit competitors.

However, while this style of presentation was ground breaking in 1994, not all of the games that used it back then have stood the test of time nearly as good as other contemporary titles that used perhaps cheaper techniques of rendering, but which manage to style look very clean today. Blazing Star is no exception in this regard, and while the game certainly isn't ugly by a long shot, pixelated CG-rendered sprites don't hold up nearly as well as the likes of Yoshi's Island on the SNES, or for comparison's sake on the Neo Geo, Metal Slug, for example.

Screenshot for ACA NeoGeo: Blazing Star on Nintendo Switch

With that light criticism out of the way, the main attraction in any shmup is its gameplay, as well as the systems that the action is built upon. Blazing Star doesn't stray too far from the flock of other contemporary shooters, offering very basic action at its core, where the player advances through auto-scrolling stages automatically, piloting a space ship with unlimited ammunition, shooting down everything in sight, while avoiding enemy ships, their shots, and physical obstacles found in the scenery.

The player has a regular shot at their disposition, which varies depending on the ship selected, and that shot works in two different modes: one where the player taps the button at a normal pace, and an alternative mode, generally more powerful and wider, for as long as the player can keep tapping the button fast enough. With this mechanic in place, an auto-fire is not included, making this a game requiring the hand of an arcade shmup expert that won't get tired so easily, though the expert should not need to quick shoot all the time.

Instead, holding down the button charges the player's shot for a completely different kind of shot altogether. The charging bar increases in length as the player collects power-ups, and the power of the shot itself increases accordingly as a result. The type of powered shot depends on the ship selected, but what they all have in common is that the charged shot, once released, can be exploded into more tiny bits, as it travels across the screen at the press of a different button than the one used for shooting, which is probably the most original feature in terms of gameplay to be found within Blazing Star.

Screenshot for ACA NeoGeo: Blazing Star on Nintendo Switch

As for the regular shot, the fact that there are times where the player has to tap really quick, as well as more quiet times where this is not nearly as necessary, is a traditional trope of classic arcade shmups devoid of an auto-fire that makes Blazing Star and other games of its kind all the more interesting. It forces the seasoned player to learn to manage its arm strength if he or she is to hope to see the ending in one sitting, so the fact that there are two types of shots dependent on tapping speed makes that aspect of shmups as witnessed here all the more interesting within Blazing Star than within the vast majority of shooters.

With that said, however, this being an ACA Neo Geo title, interrupt saves are in place to allow the player to take the game in smaller sessions, taking a rest before continuing playing, but the challenge is still there for hardcore players to tackle if they so wish, old-school style. For that matter, the fact that there is a pause menu at all, where there would be none in the arcades, alleviates this sort of issue. In High Score mode, however, pausing the game means ending the game, so those that want to illustrate themselves on the online leader boards would have to learn said techniques, anyway. On the subject of High Score mode, it is, as usual in an ACA Neo Geo release, also accompanied by the Caravan mode.

Screenshot for ACA NeoGeo: Blazing Star on Nintendo Switch

For those who don't know, High Score mode pits the player against the game in its default arcade difficulty settings, disables not only the pause, as mentioned above, but also interrupt saves, and allows the player to post whatever score they manage to achieve to the online leader board, whereas Caravan mode does the exact same thing, but within a strict time constraint of five minutes, forcing players to play creatively so as to manage the highest amount of points possible in very little time.

Beyond these two specific modes, there are, as usual, plenty of options to tweak in the game's original modes in terms of difficulty, so that this doesn't prove to be an impossible task even for the faint of heart. Blazing Star isn't exactly the hardest shmup out there either, anyway. Its predecessor, Pulstar, also developed by Yumekobo for the Neo Geo when they were still going by the name Aicom, was quite harder, and Blazing Star was made easier on purpose so as to appeal to western audiences more than its predecessor, according to the developer itself.

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Blazing Star offers no less than six different ships to choose from, each with its own pilot, some being easier than others to master, due to how differently they play. It's never explained in-game who these pilots are or what they are fighting for, as the game itself doesn't really give any backstory for the action inside the game itself. In the absence of any kind of virtual manual in this Switch release, the only place to this day where this was ever explained was in the manual for the Neo Geo AES release of the game (home version), exclusively in Japanese, but a translation of that can (at time of writing) be found here.

Whichever ship players choose, they will have to travel through the game's seven stages, either in one-player or two-player cooperation, it should be pointed out, making this game awesome to enjoy with someone else. Each stage has the player doing the usual shmup thing of blasting everything in sight, while avoiding getting killed in one hit, all while trying to score as many points as possible. In each stage, letters will appear upon defeating certain waves of enemies to the last ship that together spell the word LUCKY.

These add up to a bonus count at the end of each stage, but the main way to score a lot of points is to destroy many enemies at the same time and to collect as many bonus items as possible along the way, not missing any so as to keep the value of said bonus items on the high.

All of this is set to an upbeat catchy soundtrack, with sometimes a 1990s electronic vibe, and at other times some more jazzy tunes. However, the one definitive and memorable aspect of the game in the sound department is its voice commentary. The Japanese voice actress doing her best to speak English is priceless and works to give the game its unique personality, as the Engrish that almost never stops coming out of the speakers, repeating "Bonus" or "Get ready," and so on, works surprisingly in its favour.

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Engrish doesn't stop at voice samples either, as text will flash constantly across the screen for any kind of event, like warnings indicating incoming waves of enemies from outside the screen in front and behind, or announcements of bonus items appearing, right down to mocking comments every time the player loses a ship, like "Waking Up?" or "Seriously?" Blazing Star is a great shmup to boot, looking great and sounding great, affording to be original enough that it doesn't play completely like any other shoot 'em up released up to that point... but it is in those original, funny parts that it finds its true identity.

Last but not least, like other ACA Neo Geo games, this one allows it to be played in either its Japanese or English forms, although the differences between the two only seem to pertain to some on-screen text being either in Japanese or English. If there are any other visual differences, they must be hard to spot. All in all, this re-release of Blazing Star, which hadn't happened since the release on smart devices, as well as the original Wii Virtual Console, packs the same punch still as it did back on the Wii, and comes highly recommended on the Switch given its added comforts. However, to be perfectly appreciated, a controller other than the Joy-Con should be considered for anything but on-the-go play, as mashing the tiny buttons of the system's bundled controllers doesn't prove to be super comfortable.

Screenshot for ACA NeoGeo: Blazing Star on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

One of the most famous Neo Geo shmups, Blazing Star fetches a pretty high price online these days for a full copy, so its inclusion at such a comparatively low price on a digital platform, on a system in which it is actually very playable (unlike the release on smart devices), both at home and on the go, is hard to miss out on for fans of the game itself in particular, or shmups in general, or even Neo Geo far and wide. Even those who already own a physical copy should not find it difficult to consider rebuying. Indeed, if anyone can afford a physical copy of this, then the small price of this digital rerelease, which comes complete with online leader boards for them to show off their skills for the world to see, should not prove too hard to swallow. It is a great classic that deserves to be experienced today just as much as back when it just came out, if not for history's sake, then for its intrinsic quality alone.

Developer

Yumekobo

Publisher

Hamster

Genre

Shooter

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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