When it comes to old-school gaming, no genre has stayed as true as the arcade shooter. In a modern rendition of the classic formula, Astebreed takes familiar gameplay to a new level by setting it in an evocative anime world and the result may surprise you.
Astebreed's developer has come a long way since their fantastic 2007 shoot 'em up Ether Vapor. Following an aspiring mecha pilot who desires to be as good as his father, there's a lot more story here than you would expect. Throughout the journey, many sequences unfold that tell a brief albeit powerful narrative featuring familiar subject matter such as artificial intelligence and the importance of family. The plot points are portrayed through still-image cutscenes and in-game voice acting. It's all spoken in Japanese, so it can be difficult to follow the dialogue when you're focusing on the action since letting your eyes wander to the subtitles could easily result in your demise. Nevertheless, you'll be glued to the screen from start to finish in this captivatingly cinematic and exhilarating adventure.
As you start playing, you'll be amazed at how beautiful everything looks from the breathtaking backgrounds to the flashy projectiles and unique swarms of enemies. Probably the most impressive aspect is how seamlessly the perspective shifts from horizontal to overhead to behind your mecha (where the gameplay suddenly transitions to the third dimension). This is the only shoot 'em up I have ever played that someone who knows nothing about the genre can watch and actually be entertained. It's gorgeous, relentless, and intriguing. The soundtrack is composed of music that sounds like it's straight from a late-'90s arcade game which manages to perfectly match every action-intense moment. Sound effects consist of laser-like slashes, subdued blasts, and high-pitched blips that bring life to every on-screen occurrence. This is one great looking and sounding game!
Superficial elements aside, Astebreed features some frenzied shooting action with incredibly intuitive and responsive controls. First off, you can choose between the original PC version and an updated version that adapts the controls for playing on a console. In this mode (which I highly suggest playing in), every control is mapped to the sticks and the shoulder buttons. The left stick moves your mecha around while the right aims your homing attack's radar. The shoulder buttons allow you to pull off moves such as your standard stream of projectiles, a melee blade weapon, a quick dash attack, and a powerful special move that you can execute in various ways whenever your meter is full. If you're the kind of gamer who likes to get high scores then you won't be disappointed since there are a few mechanics in play that force you to be strategic if you want to score big. Overall, Astebreed's modern approach to the old-school shoot 'em up will easily wow both genre veterans and newcomers alike.
While Astebreed doesn't fail to offer a fresh take on the genre, its most significant downside is that there simply isn't enough content to keep you entertained for longer than a few hours. This is due to the fact that there are only six short chapters (with a rather impressive prologue when you first turn on the game). You can breeze through the entirety of the campaign in well under an hour which is to be expected when it comes to arcade shooters, but as you watch the credits roll you'll simply wish there was more to it. Thankfully, you can unlock plenty of extras in the gallery, try for higher scores, and play on harder difficulties if you're inclined to do so. The only other complaint that I have is that the visuals can get downright confusing when a lot is going on at once to the point where focusing on the gameplay can become tricky. Enormous explosions and large numbers tend to obscure the action, so be prepared to squint your way through a great deal of the campaign.
Astebreed is a must-download title for any gamer who loves shoot 'em ups. With pitch-perfect gameplay and eye-melting visuals, you'll be on the edge of your seat for the entire thrilling yet brief adventure.
- + Seamlessly switches between three distinct gameplay perspectives
- + Gorgeous graphics and storytelling
- + Tight yet manic shooting action
- - Sometimes the visuals get so chaotic that gameplay suffers as a result
- - An overall short experience