Bullet Hell for a New Age, Blasters of the Universe Takes Aim (REVIEW)
Picture this. It’s the 1980s and the arcade scene is booming. Though representative of the beginnings of computer gaming as a reputable social outlet, it wouldn’t be long before the home console market would send gamers back indoors in droves. During the height of the arcade era, gamers would gather around now legendary games like Galaga and Galaxian, paving the way for genre cousins Commando, Contra, etc. Though the term is new, “Bullet Hell” games have garnered an interest with casual and hardcore gamers for decades. Published and developed by Canadian studio Secret Location, Blasters of the Universe seeks to take gamers back to the era, both thematically and mechanically. No quarters needed, but at $14.99 is Blasters worth its muzzle flash?
The premise is simple. Gamers are active players in the titular Blasters of the Universe video game after being whisked away by its overlord Grand Master Alwyn. In life, gamer Allen Fitzpatrick was king of the local arcade, but rather unimportant everywhere else. After stealing the arcade’s new virtual reality machine, Allen is mysteriously transported into the game and adopts the Alwyn persona, forcing other players to fend for their lives in the world he now controls. With a variety of unlockable and completely customizable weapons, Blasters boasts an impressive 130,000 weapon configurations. Just like the games that inspired its premise, players take out wave after wave of enemies all while trying to attain a higher score.
How about a fully automatic cluster spread shot? Within 130,000 weapon combinations, if you can dream it, it’s possible.
Though Blasters of the Universe was just released on PlayStation VR on February 27th, it is a port of an HTC Vive title, also available for Oculus Rift and released summer of 2017. The game will draw immediate comparisons to another VR breakout for the PC, Space Pirate Trainer. Two PlayStation Move controllers are required for gameplay, which consists of four stages. Each of the four stages has “Casual” and “Hell” difficulties. There is no forward or lateral motion, nor is the game set on rails. Stationary players hold the line and fend off attacks from virtually every direction armed with a shield and blaster. At the end of each stage, players face off against a unique boss, each rendered with a convincing scale, and a little foreboding up close. The presentation may even justify a new gamer’s venture into in VR entertainment.
“Shield and blaster,” may sound a bit rudimentary at first, but after completing even the first stage, combat capabilities become increasingly more effective. There are no player levels to track, but Blasters of the Universe rewards gamers for progressing through its stages. The further you make it into a level, the more rewards are unlocked at completion. The player’s life bar stands at 5 hearts, of course indicating the amount damage that can be taken. Gamers only suffer damage by taking a direct shot to the head, so get ready to get active. An athletic background isn’t necessary, but you may want to do a few stretches before you really get going. Extra points are awarded for near-misses, or perfectly timed bullet deflections in later stages.
Back to the progression system. Say you make it only two-thirds into a stage before death. There’s a progression bar that fills up along with your end score. As the bar fills past certain markers, new weapon and shield upgrades are unlocked for the Armory. Weapon parts, ammo types, shield configurations and more can be customized and tailored towards your individual style of play. Do you want a concentrated laser weapon with high damage output but low-capacity magazine? How about a fully automatic cluster spread shot? Within 130,000 weapon combinations, if you can dream it, it’s possible. Feeling confident that your new blaster could shave a minute off a speed run attempt? New weapons can be tested on the fly from the game’s Armory complete with stationary targets, all before entering a stage.
Once the main story is over, Blasters of the Universe does provide a bit of replayability. Each stage has an Infinite mode, the equivalent of Horde mode in recent shooters. Enemies continue advancing until eventually the player is overwhelmed and overtaken. There’s also a Challenge mode which is updated weekly on a worldwide leaderboard. Challenges are varied. One week the mission may be to earn a certain quantity of headshots in a specific time frame, the next week, deflecting bullets with your shield is the task at hand. The game’s presentation matches the decade to which it pays homage by way of its sound effects, background music and character design. Think Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon for an idea of the overall aesthetic. Blasters of the Universe is a great entry point into VR gaming, and a considerable update to a tried-and-true gaming subgenre. At just fifteen dollars, there’s no reason not to dust off the nostalgia goggles and give this one a go.
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