Ghost Blade HD
Now Available on Steam (Also on PS4, XboxOne, and WiiU)
Developed by Hucast Games
From their name alone any keen arcade shoot'emup player should recognize Hucast Games dabbles in the Dreamcast-era of what we call retro. With a clear loyalty and passion for this golden age of shmups they've set out to keep the traditions of Japanese STGs alive with an explosive and intense modern polish in both visuals and gameplay. Ghost Blade HD takes this fierce and energetic take on the shmup genre across 5 mesmerizing extraterrestrial stages, seeking to find its spot in history among the most classic of arcade shooters.
The visuals here set a standard in shmups of their own, and unlike its gameplay are not comparable to anything released in any arcade in the past. The settings range from sand-storm inflicted deserts to lush alien planets with autumn-red trees, and always pack a vibrant punch of color. With extra sharp, crispy high resolution textures and mind-boggling amounts of enemies and items on-screen at a time Ghost Blade HD also manages to capture the visuals of its roots through old school polygonal ship designs and giant-robo bosses that'll make any sci-fi anime geek's mouth water. This is a different kind of shoot'emup that is unparalleled in its visual chaos of bullets and celestial settings.
Ghost Blade HD presents an arcade shmup soundtrack that is nostalgic on levels I cannot articulate properly through words. Somewhere between the surreal and otherworldly compositions of Zuntata's Darius Gaiden soundtrack and the heavy, chaotic and beats of Manabu Namiki's work for Battle Garegga this soundtrack assaults the senses in secret and majestic retro ways that modern game creators and companies have been trying to tap into for a decade. It might not be something someone who didn't grow up with obscure Japanese shmups would get, but the sounds of the warm synth-y and space-y melodies couldn't make me any happier.
The action of Ghost Blade HD as with any shmup is focused on overwhelming blankets of bullets. It's of a more twitch and reflex based nature, as opposed to the geometrical pattern memorization seen in Cave-styled Bullet Hells, with curtains of bright shrapnel flying in your direction at all times. Instead of sitting inside of small triangular safe-spots like in the aforementioned Bullet Hells, you'll constantly be on the move as to avoid the fire. Luckily, many of these bullets can pre-emptively be cancelled with careful thinking and aiming by neutralizing their source, the baddie firing them. This gives Ghost Blade HD a classic and hyper kind of perspective like Toaplan shmups, and feels to me almost like a much snazzier, modern, and crazier Tatsujin.
Even on the easiest setting the later levels become increasingly insane and unpredictable leading to many deaths, which is great for a shmup. With such an accessible and exhilarating start but such a daunting and seemingly impossible end it means that Ghost Blade HD has a high skill ceiling, and a whole lot of replayability. It's easy to hop into for a few easier levels but will take you dedication and patience to fully complete without embarrassing errors and endless continues.
The game has a relatively simple scoring mechanic that should be familiar to arcade junkies. With each enemy or crate hit and destroyed your combo multiplier rises, and as they are destroyed shiny and attractive medals pour out. The amount that these medals give you is of course raised by the multiplier, so score chasers will be making a mad dash to kill and collect. It's simple but very effective, and incredibly rewarding watching streams of loot pour from your successful strikes as you rise through the Leaderboards.
When it comes to arcade shoot'emups Ghost Blade HD is the ultimate bliss-out. The Zen-ful state of mind needed to dance between the ballet of bullets, the mysteriously obscure and nostalgic soundtrack, and the gorgeously detailed modern visuals with a touch of retro sci-fi design come together for an unworldly and addictive score-chasing package.