Switch owners sure have been treated to a lot of arcade buried treasures over the past months. Samurai Aces (AKA Sengoku Ace) is Psikyo's first game ever so how does it compare to their more contemporary shmups?
Samurai Aces is a rather simple shoot 'em up that defined Psikyo's unique take on the genre. You'll come across familiar-looking power-ups that make your shots more powerful and bombs that you can deploy whenever you're disoriented and need a quick breather. Also, there's a fun selection of characters that each have their own unique stream of projectiles, bomb attack, and charge attack. Whether you're controlling Jane the Ninja, Turbo Monk Tengai, Ultra Genius Kenn-O (or is that Kenn-0?), Flush The Samurai, Holy Tomboy Miko, or Gadget Gen; weaving through oncoming projectiles while blasting away the hordes of enemies will feel right at home for any genre fan, especially those who enjoy Psikyo's unique flavour. Overall, the shooting is a blast (pun intended) and playing cooperatively with a friend makes it all the more enjoyable.
One thing that Sengoku Ace accomplishes very well is blending an ancient Japanese setting with steampunk aircrafts and action-packed shooting. First of all, when you see a game called "Samurai Aces", it's easy to assume that it's some sort of sword fighting game. However, upon booting it up and seeing the unconventional blend of imagery; you know you're in for a unique arcade experience. As you progress through the stages, you'll come across mysterious mech-like beings with different colours. Upon defeating them, you're usually awarded a power-up but the coolest part is when you have to face them all simultaneously near the end of the campaign.
Although the setting is unique, I wish I could say the same about the stages. None of them are particularly memorable as they're mostly brown and don't have any stand-out features. They're incredibly short, too. On the other end of the spectrum, the boss fights are very cool (as to be expected from a Psikyo shoot 'em up). Even though they don't have amazing transformations like in Strikers 1945, they do gradually get destroyed as you shoot them and become more aggressive in the process. In the end, I'm glad to see that the bosses are fun to battle because the stages themselves aren't all that noteworthy.
The biggest downside of Samurai Aces is that it is incredibly simple and doesn't feature any defining mechanics besides the ability to unleash charged shots. This reminded me a lot of Psikyo's sophomore shmup Gunbird because both games feature very similar gameplay. However, Gunbird's stages and characters offered a lot more variety and personality. I wish there were interesting scoring mechanics, some sort of power gauge, optional satellites that you can configure, or anything besides just shooting.
Finally, I know I mention this in almost every review that I write about these sorts of classic arcade ports but why can't there be any bonus content? I'd love to browse through a gallery of images, watch an interview with the developers, or simply listen to the soundtrack. Even an extra mode or two would be a fantastic inclusion. The fact that none of this sort of content is present makes the overall package feel like you're missing out on the full nostalgic experience.
Samurai Aces is a solid debut shmup from one of the most notable developers in the genre. It may be a bit too simplistic for some gamers' tastes but what's here does a good job of showcasing Psikyo's humble origins.
- + Simple classic shmup gameplay that you can enjoy cooperatively with a friend
- + Cool ancient Japanese setting
- + Awesome boss fights
- - Gameplay could use additional mechanics as it's a bit too basic
- - Stages are mostly unmemorable
- - Why can't there be cool bonus content?