When you think of the vast library of SNK games, you probably picture dozens of fighters. However, they also published some fantastic shmups and Blazing Star is definitely one that no genre fan should overlook.
Blazing Star originally debuted in arcades back in 1998 which makes it not as retro as many of the other shoot 'em ups that we've been seeing pop up lately. Keep in mind, R-Type Delta came out the same year and that game is a masterpiece. Anyway, Blazing Star is quite a simplistic shooter at its core as you control your ship with only two buttons. The first button actually has three functions: tap it for a shot, tap rapidly for a more powerful shot, and hold it to charge a shot. The second button is only used after you unleash a charged shot in order to break it up so it covers more of the screen. It's a handy advanced move for whenever the screen is full of enemy forces. Overall, this simplicity is met with a decent level of challenge that makes Blazing Star a perfect shoot 'em up for genre newcomers. Veterans may find it a bit too basic and easy but it still remains an enjoyable arcade experience.
Graphically, Blazing Star features gorgeous environments and nifty pseudo-3D ship sprites that pop off the screen. The soundtrack is fantastic, too, with tracks that sound like they're lifted from a mid-'90s Capcom game which only makes sense because one of the composers (Harumi Fujita) also worked on many Capcom titles. Blazing Star is notorious for making fun of the player with poorly-translated taunts whenever they perish and that adds a sense of levity to your demise. Unfortunately, there's also an annoying voice whenever you collect items. In fact, I found myself dodging bonus items just so I didn't have to hear it.
Blazing Star provides you with an array of six characters / ships to select from upon starting a game. Each ship has unique components such as homing missiles, defensive modules, wide shots, and satellites. A few ships are even built specifically for experts as they may have weak firepower or a close-range shot but you get more points by using them. Experimenting with the ships to find the optimal one for your play style is a lot of fun although none of them change up the core gameplay as substantially as in some other shmups.
On top of the variety of ships, you'll discover a few different collectibles along the way such as angels that increase your score multiplier and panels that spell "LUCKY" which grants you a wealth of points if you collect them all in a stage. You can also play simultaneously with a friend which makes more enemies spawn. During this mode, you can pick up a power-up that'll make the enemies aim for you if you want to take some of the heat off of your pal or another one that has the opposite effect if you want to be a jerk.
Finally, let's discuss Blazing Star's less desirable aspects. In most shmups, the enemies spawn from one side of the screen so you can feel safe while hugging the other edges. However, enemies here may come from the ceiling or floor which may result in a surprise death here and there. This can be exceptionally irritating if you flew up just to get a power-up then a foe swooped in to end your life before you knew it was coming. Next, shmups like Darius, Axelay, and S.C.A.T. have memorable boss fights but the ones here are mostly generic robots that don't have any substantial definable traits. Along those same lines, Blazing Star certainly doesn't do much to stand out in the genre. Considering it debuted in 1998, you'd expect it to go above and beyond games like Life Force, Xevious, and TwinBee but it unfortunately isn't a very unique experience. In other words, Blazing Star has little to no revolutionary aspects to offer.
Blazing Star is a solid classic shmup that doesn't quite stand out in such a crowded genre. That being said, the amount of fun to be had with its selection of ships in the gorgeously-presented world more than makes up for its shortcomings.
- + Simple and intuitive shmup gameplay
- + Fantastic audio and graphics
- + The diverse variety of ships are great fun to experiment with
- - Surprise deaths can be annoying
- - Bosses are generally unmemorable
- - Gameplay doesn't do much to differentiate itself from similar shmups