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Psyvariar 2: Extend Edition (Xbox) artwork

Psyvariar 2: Extend Edition (Xbox) review


"To be sure, watching an experienced Psyvarian in action is like knowing someone that's always trying to kill himself without ever actually finishing the job. Disturbing yet utterly fascinating in a bleak, life is black kind of way, it becomes almost impossible to take your eyes off the action for fear of missing their next maddening step into Brownshortsville USA. Soon to be population: you. "



Upon entering the new millennium, a funny thing happened to the old school shooter... it found complexity. Once the very definition of pick up and play simple, the vertically scrolling 2D shoot'em up has been undergoing something of a renaissance of late. Partly inspired by the head scratching delights of Treasure's smash hit Ikaruga, the genre's recent face lift has worked its magic by driving a healthy number of 20 somethings to revisit their arcade going past. And as Psyvariar 2: Extend Edition is about to demonstrate, that's something the vast majority of us have been neglecting to do for far too long. Twitch reflexes? Hand eye co-ordination? Please, don't even pretend to be up to speed. You're simply not as good as you used to be and the less said about your staggering over confidence the better. It's with self-improvement in mind then that players should view Psyvariar 2 as being the closest thing gaming gets to Jazzercise 101. For it not only manages to redefine complexity, but forces players to adapt and improve if they're to survive this, the most impenetrable of bullet soaked hells. Oh yes please believe me when I say, this is one workout that's sure to make you sweat...

Old school gaming goes suicidal...

As those among us who have played the arcade original will no doubt testify, first impressions of Psyvariar 2 can be down right intimidating. Setting aside the frightening levels of technicolor death for the meantime, many of the new play mechanics initially seem to make about as much sense as a slap on the arse from your own best mate. It's not that the ceaseless angry hordes of 2d alien vermin are any more confusing, it's more a matter of how the all important technique factor has been cranked up for maximum WTF-style effect. A few words of advice then if you will, read the instruction booklet and read it good. The rules have changed, the techniques are different, and you're going to cherish that fountain of knowledge more than you'll probably care to admit! For instance Psyvariar 2 features no power-ups to speak of what-so-ever. Well that is to say they're there but not in the atypical "blast the big red glowing nasty" kind of fashion you're probably expecting. Rather than anything so mundane, players are rewarded for shooting down as many ships as possible in the smallest amount of time. Splash 98% of a stage's inhabitants and your once simple looking mecha will have morphed into a single serving power house capable of ripping the galaxy a new corn-hole. Only manage a measly 50% however and you'll find yourself shooting something that would drive most women to tears. And as strapping young lads, we simply can't afford that now can we?

In order to truly hammer home exactly how masculine this game wants you to be, players are also expected to "Buzz" any and all forms of enemy firepower thrown their way. Translation: you're not going to dodge these projectiles so much as rub closely up against them. And yes, it feels just about as odd as it sounds! By successfully buzzing each attack, your score will double, treble, and eventually sky rocket its way through the roof, leading to some well deserved glory on the Xbox Live leader-board. To be sure, watching an experienced Psyvarian in action is like knowing someone that's always trying to kill himself without ever actually finishing the job. Disturbing yet utterly fascinating in a bleak, life is black kind of way, it becomes almost impossible to take your eyes off the action for fear of missing their next maddening step into Brownshortsville USA. Soon to be population: you. Whoa, are you sure you want to be doing that? OH MY! That was close... good golly gosh man, are you insane??! Oh dear... so far against the grain is it that players are probably going to need a few cracks at the title in order to truly acclimatize themselves with the action. To borrow a catch phrase from another similarly themed game of self destruction then, risk equals reward. And I'll be damned if such a daring mindset doesn't work wonders in the guise of a shooter.

Not that you're really given much of a choice in the matter as Psyvariar 2 quite literally forces players down through all seven layers of bullet hell, often pushing them to the very limits of human endurance. But that's ok, this is a workout remember? No pain, no gain and all that jazz? When the action begins to get the better of you though, there's always the dreaded option of last resort. By rotating the control pad through a series of full 360 degree circles, players will find that not only is their mecha granted a limited window of invulnerability, but it also concentrates their firepower in such as a way as to punch sizable holes through anythying that moves. Which where the end of stage bosses are concerned, is exactly the type of bang you'll be needing. Toss in a couple of genre standard mega bombs, an awesome frame rate that never says die, and low and behold we're talking instant recipe for success. It should be noted however that players who lower themselves to Psyvariar 2's easier skill settings are likely to find a horribly underpowered experience. There's little to no excitement, no challenge, and as one would expect, no sweet kudos from your arse slapping friends. It's the hard way or the highway I'm afraid, get used to it or die.

As it turns out, this ethos of Psyvariar 2 remaining a wimp free zone is pretty much spot on. Not because of its overt difficulty, nor due to its incredibly complex, technique laden gameplay. No, more than anything you'll be wanting the game presented hard and fast in order to compensate for the limited number of stages it brings to the party. A quick adrenaline rush is all you can expect, want it to the last the weekend however and you'll sadly find yourself Schmitt out of luck. And while the eye pleasing anime-esque character designs divert some of the player's critical attention, such cool modern aesthetics certainly aren't capable of filling the gap left by Psyvariar 2's woefully inadequate longevity. The 2d/3d backgrounds may look all that, but come on guys where's the meat? It would have been nice if we had more than 5 similarly themed stages to play around with. And if you couldn't deliver on length then why on God's green earth would you call your creation "Extend Edition" then? Substitute the blatant lie for Remix however and we'll find ourselves happily talking turkey all night long. New enemy formations, a re-sampled soundtrack, and a fresh coat of graphical polish spells R-e-m-i-x to me. A sore point that's sadly left a bad taste in my mouth, even if the gameplay has kept me pushing hard long into the night.

Given the fact that the Xbox has little to offer genre fans outside of a handful of Shikigami no Shiro sequels, Psyvariar 2's fresh gameplay elements come as a long needed breath of fresh air. It's authentic arcade action is sure to impress those with a taste for old school mayhem, that it also dares to be different only makes the overall package that much more enjoyable as well. And while some may argue that the limited number of stages are a genre specific hazard, it worries me no end that others will step up to be plate with expectations that simply cannot be met. A miscalculation that's unfortunately been made all the more serious by the unlimited continues thrown our way. Huzzah, maybe... if you're so inclined. Players that deal with this and any other outstanding self control issues however will be good to go. There's much to learn on this journey into shoot'em up nirvana and plenty more to kill besides. It's zap, bang, buzzzzz all the way, perhaps leaving you enamoured with a genre that sadly needs as many fans today as it can possibly get. But still, so long as the shooter continues to evolve as Psyvariar 2 has just done, our retro gaming thrills will be safe for another year. So go on then, check out the leader-board and aim for the stars. This is a workout that's going to hurt like all hell. Make sure you enjoy it while it lasts...

Pros
----

* Bullet. Hell. Like. You've. Never. Seen. Before.
* The tight and responsive controls will serve players well
* All new gameplay techniques are sure to keep things interesting
* It's one hell of a challenge!
* Horizontal, vertical, all the usual video display modes are available for selection
* 2d/3d backgrounds provide all the eye candy you'll ever need
* Great character/mecha designs round out the overall feel of polish
* Xbox Live based leader-board will always give you something to aim for

Cons
----

* The easier skill levels lack excitement.
* Unlimited continues lessens the challenge
* Even for a shoot'em up Psyvariar 2 is short

Rating: 7/10

midwinter's avatar
Staff review by Michael Scott (November 28, 2004)

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