Thursday, March 2, 2017

Blue Rider (PS4)

Ravegan's 'Blue Rider' is a minimalist shmup (shoot 'em up) oozing with vivid visual charm, and challenging gameplay that is spread across 9 environmentally different stages. It is "minimalist" in that everything from the menu to the control layout, and even the gameplay itself is easy to understand, and easy to get into with the only real challenge being the controlling of the Blue Rider ship. At the main menu you'll gain access to 9 different stages in unlocked order as well as a controller diagram via the 'Help' menu option that will explain the controls to you. Your goal in each stage is to simply survive without losing health meter while shooting down all patrolling bullet hell enemies as well as the end boss for a top score. There are multiplier opportunities gained from consecutive enemy kills, and power-ups dropped from the occasional enemy to extend upon further gameplay potential. Each stage has branching paths that are sometimes blocked by enemies of varying types as well as gates that require mechanism destruction/activation to get through. There's even stage specific environmental hazards to avoid along the way. When you make it to the end of the stage you will face off against one of nine unique bosses that incorporates a specific strategy for defeat. Learning this required strategy, and dodging bullet hell spray will help you defeat the boss. As it were the main goal in each stage is to ultimately make it through to the end boss, and defeat it in order to unlock the next stage in rotation. Supposing you fail your score will be tallied up at that end of your playthrough, and you'll have to start over at one of the currently available/selectable stages via the main menu 'Play' listing.

Control functionality, and controls in 'Blue Rider' will afford you some basic options to deal with the various enemy threats facing you in the game. These include bombs (L2) that act like a barrage of homing missles, standard shots that can be powered up via power-ups (R2), a sprint (L1/R1) speed boost, directional movement which is done through the (Left Thumbstick), and rotational aiming which is done through the (Right Thumbstick). While the weapons in the game are limited in the sense that there are only two available base types, and limited in the sense that bombs can be used up eventually your main problem will be steering/controlling the Blue Rider vehicle. The vehicle has a hovering nature about it which causes it to glide about in a slippery fashion. This makes dodging even the simplest bullet hell patterns difficult at times, but not overly so. Even with the sprint button that speeds up the usually slower ship movement dodging bullet hell spray can still be challenging though. In some cases stage layouts also present environmental hazards, and obstacles such as drop offs which can also make things difficult for travel, and dodging.

As far as killing enemies, structures of significance, and bosses go they each have a visible green health bar that will deplete as your shots, or bombs connect with them. Destroying enemies, bosses, and destructible structures will earn you points based on type, and in the collective sense score you some multipliers that will increase your earned score. Sometimes enemies will also drop helmet shaped power-ups that are color coded which do things such as upgrade your shot, add bombs to your stock, and refill health. From experience they usually drop during well timed consecutive kills of more than one enemy. It should also be noted that some mechanical structures house things like helper drones, and large power-up canisters that can also be shoot to loose items which will aid in your survival. These mechanical, and normally non-aggressive structures also have a health meter attached to them that must be depleted in order to reap the reward. As far as collectibles go you will find things that can be shot which will uncover relics. Relics, as they are amount to stacked bonus points further increasing your current score.

The visuals, and the soundtrack ...

Blue Rider is a top-down shmup done up in a 3D style. It's almost cartoon-like in build, and features a palette of vivid colors that bring each stage to life in a whimsical, surreal way. Thus is the "charm" I spoke of. The soundtrack is equally as charming, and is easy on the ears. It features nothing really intrusive on gameplay, but more so a complimentary accent to a beautifully, but simply done gameplay package. I'd say the soundtrack is reminiscent of the Asian shmups such as those of Japanese origin.

The verdict ...

With it's simple nature, and notable charm 'Blue Rider' not only impresses me as a genre fan, but it also does very well in keeping the focus on the challenging gameplay at hand. It's a true shump in that sense, and is definitely more akin to the bullet hell sub-genre even though the bullet hell spray that is included is toned down a bit to account for ship movement, speed, and functionality. I personally loved the visuals, the gameplay, and the soundtrack provided in the somewhat limited experience. I kind of wish it had some sort of story mode though to flesh out the Blue Rider, and give the player a reason as to why they are shooting their way through these heavily policed stages. Perhaps if it does well enough it could get a sequel in which the Blue Rider protagonist is given a proper role. For now though 'Blue Rider' glides by dodging the bullet hell of bad critique with a positive recommendation from yours truly. Definitely get the physical edition if you can as it is limited in number, and comes with some unique perks that the recently released digital version does not! Including a unique PSN platinum trophy only available in the Asian versions of the game.

NOTE: The limited edition physical copy is a PlayAsia (https://www.play-asia.com/info/bluerider) exclusive that is currently available for pre-order. There are only 2,500 copies available. The physical edition will set you back $29.99, and comes with a CD soundtrack, stickers, a manual, and basic physical copy stuff. It is a collector's item so keep that in mind. 

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