Written by Mark Turcotte
Before the first-person shooter there was one genre that dominated arcades and even the early home console. The shmup or “shoot-em up” was everywhere. Games like Galaga, 1942, and Commando, just to name a few, were all the staples of video games of that early era. Your high score and ability to stay alive all helped determine just how good you were as a gamer. As the years passed and the industry changed this genre became niche, and not as abundant as it once was. Today, that has not stopped some developers from pursuing this genre as they continue making those heart racing, sweaty palm moments that the genre is known for.
Developer Hucast Games is one of those developers. With Ghost Blade HD they set a goal to create an intense and adrenaline pumping shmup. For the most part they achieved that. The game is a vertical, top down shooter in every sense of the description. Players are quickly thrust behind the controls of a ship that is almost instantly under attack from bullets in nearly every direction with little end in sight. Navigating through the constantly moving wave of bullets requires skill and focus with one hit destroying your ship.
The player’s ship is not defenseless of course as shooting your own bullets is a staple of the shmup genre. New power ups wield new and lethal weapons that can be used to fire back at the ships raining hell on the players from the top and sometimes sides of the screen. Players have the option to focus their built up power into a single power beam that quickly clears the screen of anything in its path. This attack is extremely powerful against bosses too, so knowing when to use it or when to save it is a key to success.
The game offers players three lives to use to continue a run as they try to progress through the levels and increase their high score. Bosses cap off each of the games five levels and though they are intense, most just continue the chaos that players lived through to get there. The balance of trying to juggle defensive maneuvers all the while trying to aim becomes intense quickly. The game at times seems a bit forgiving with hit detections possibly not registering, but as a run progresses it quickly delves into pure chaos and can end in an instant.
The game offers a tutorial for players looking to better their skills and that is definitely a welcomed addition as the game can become rather difficult as levels progress. The game is short however and there isn’t a ton there outside of mastering the levels and chasing high scores. I found myself becoming a bit bored with it after playing just a bit of a level or two. While the tense gameplay and action is fun in the moment, it quickly loses its luster and tends to become a bit repetitive. Players can choose to play the two-player cooperative mode which is fun, but with two ships firing relentlessly, the challenge is almost immediately gone. This is only worth trying once or twice.
With Ghost Blade HD Hucast Games has delivered a competent and overall solid addition to the shmup genre. It plays as intended and provides a few moments that will have players wiping the sweat off the palms of their hands. It doesn’t however really do anything that makes it stand out or be memorable in the niche shmup genre. A decent narrative or more diverse content could have possibly made this otherwise bland title into a memorable must play for fans of the genre.
Overall, I think Hucast Games played it safe for those niche shmup fans and created a average title and not a great one that could have crossed over to more players.