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Gunbarich (PlayStation 4) artwork

Gunbarich (PlayStation 4) review


While the Psikyo devs are well known for creating the Strikers 1945 games, a series of aircraft shoot 'em up titles set in a post-WWII alternate reality, they weren't afraid to dabble in other concepts. The Gunbird games are such an example, placing players in the role of characters like a witch, a genie, or even a vampire named Alucard as they fight steampunk contraptions. These games have more whimsical designs in comparison to the former, but stay true to the team's talent for cranking out hectic shooters that keep players alert. Again, however, Psikyo decided to do something different when it came time for the third outing of the series, 2001's Gunbarich. But it's safe to assume the game follows suit with more hectic, bullet-laden action, right? Oh, the comical steampunk setting is the same and you definitely have projectiles bouncing everywhere.

Except there's one "minor" divergence: it's actually a block breaker title.

Using the template of Breakout and, more closely, Arkanoid, Gunbarich's core requires your bottom-positioned character to destroy all breakable blocks within each section. You do this with a pink ball that moves of its own will, changing directions whenever hitting a surface. Thankfully your character, who can only shift left and right, also has an object that can deflect the ball, which is pretty useful considering there's a death pit behind said character. This all sounds simple, but you have to take factors like attempting to knock the ball into the general path of bricks. There's also the aspect that every stage, each with two sections and one boss, have different layouts. Some sections have gold bricks that can't be destroyed, and there's even a Christmas-themed stage that has pinball bumpers as obstacles.

Even with those stage gimmicks, this still sounds like a typical block breaker title; what makes Gunbarich any different? The developers, while seemingly diverting from their specialty of making shoot 'em ups, actually found a way to have enemy projectiles occupy the screen. Starting with the second stage, this is done with the inclusion of foes who periodically appear and drop sparkly orbs that fall towards the bottom. If one reaches the pit, it'll temporarily electrify that area, and if your character happens to touch that same spot, they will be shocked and unable to catch the pink ball for a few seconds. On the upside, you can deflect these orbs upward like your pink ball and, if aimed right, can also be used to destroy blocks.

Early on these yellow orbs can be kept in check, but classic escalation rears its head a few stages later. By the time you reach the final leg of the game, it will literally look like a bullet hell shooter; projectiles are being tossed and bounced everywhere in a bid to prevent the entire floor from being covered in electricity. Further helping the calamity are unique enemy types and hazards for each stage area. Such examples include arrow tiles that fling your ball elsewhere, or plant foes that capture your ball, disappear, and then shoot your ball back after reappearing in a different location. However, there's occasional power-up drops that help turn the tide, such as spawning multiple balls or the temporary ability to shoot projectiles from your character, both a nod to Arkanoid's power-up system.

Some of these elements add unique twists to the block breaker genre, but there are gripes to be had. The aforementioned "object" that your character is wielding happens to be a pair of pinball flippers. This sounds fascinating, but all it does is make the pink ball move faster when you flick the flipper. That's it. Unfortunately, it's a visual gimmick more than anything else, which feels wasted. The next issue is an actual annoyance due to its coin muncher mentality: a one minute time limit per area. Unless you're absolutely perfect with aiming the ball in the correct direction, this is an irritating addition. The port makes the frustration "somewhat" bearable since you can flip on infinite continues.

In regards to how many options are available, don't hold your breath. It's bordering on nonexistent, only offering a lone display alternative for orienting the screen in case you want to turn your monitor on its side, or providing a single screen filter that looks like it's a parody of one rather than a genuine effort. Hilariously, fiddling with these options will change the language for some reason. The lack of choices is pretty ironic since the options interface looks identical to the one Hamster uses for their Arcade Archives titles, a company known for giving their titles a slew of options.

Furthermore, the main content itself is surprisingly bare minimum, only offering so few stages that you can complete in about 25 minutes. In comparison to the likes of the Arkanoid series, which offer games with double or triple the amount of stages, it makes Gunbarich feel like a demo. Psikyo could've curbed this with another shoot 'em up staple by offering loops that make the game more hectic... but it concludes after the final boss. You can try imposing a goal on yourself by beating it on limited continues or try going the distance in Time Attack mode on one continue; however, Psikyo's combination of a stubborn timer combined with the block breaker template makes that attempt an annoyance instead of an actual challenge.

Gunbarich is a neat idea, but it's fleeting. As an arcade experience, it's perhaps a fun minor distraction, but as a bare-bones home port, the game is restricted and severely lacking. In contrast to other Psikyo titles released on the PlayStation Store, this game has "wait for a sale" written all over it.

dementedhut's avatar
Community review by dementedhut (April 25, 2023)

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