Ghost Blade HD is a SHMUP that was originally released on the Sega Dreamcast. It's not quite as well known as its original DC counterpart, Ikaruga, but nevertheless, like the genre itself, Ghost Blade has kept a cult following, and Developers Hucast Games decided to bring the game back with HD graphics and updated features. The game is a top-down, bullet hell shooter that definitely feels like a blast from the past. The gameplay is quite simple by modern standards, but the game is concise in what it offers and allows both newcomers and veterans a chance to enjoy a classic genre that usually flies a bit under the radar.
The game has been released for multiple platformers including all three major consoles as well as Steam. The PS4 version can be found on PSN for the retail price of 9.99.
Ghost Blade HD is very much a retro shooter, and as such, the story is essentially non-existent. As soon the player gets past the beautiful title screen and the menu, they're cast into the first level. SHUMPS like these offer the player extraneous aesthetics that can often allow them to imagine what their role in the universe is. The game, however, does have a backstory: the Mars colony was protected by an artificial intelligence system called Shira that has become corrupted. Mars has called for help, and you are the pilot who has been summoned to answer the call. Though level two is very explicitly Mars, there is no real way outside of online research to give you any of the story details, but with or without them, most players enjoy SHMUPS for the frantic, on the edge of destruction gameplay and intense visuals.
Ghost Blade HD is a top-down shooter where the ship moves up and enemies mostly swarm from above. The game only uses directionals and three buttons. One button shoots a standard attack that is weaker but covers a larger radius and allows faster movement. The second button is a focused attack that is about twice as powerful but hinders speed and range, while the third button uses bombs that can wipe out the projectiles and some of the enemies on the screen if the player gets in a bind. It's a simple and familiar recipe in the SHMUP genre. Initially, it definitely felt outdated and too simplistic, but the game has a lot of smaller intricacies that will make your simple controls important to master and switch between. There are three different ships that feature slightly different weapons such as bullets that shoot diagonally or a larger radius of head on fire. Outside of the main attack, the ships have little to no real difference. There are three difficulties in the game, and the player is given multiple continues and a few lives per continue. Each life has three bombs that can be used, but not using bombs and combos bump up the score.
The first thing I noticed in the game was that there were borders and that they used widescreen mode. This isn't a huge issue, but in a world where most games use full screen, it still felt hindering to me, and I was often wishing that I could drift further to the left or right. On top of the narrow screen, there is A LOT happening visually in this game. It was definitely confusing when I first started. Golden stars (points) are flying at you as well as other upgrades and enemy projectiles of many colors. It took me a while to get used to everything, and I think that there are many occasions where there are just too many items and colors on the screen to fully grasp what is happening. That is part of what bullet hell is all about, but the screen is narrow, and there were times I just couldn't keep enemies, points, and bullets apart.
A huge mechanic in this game is that certain projectiles vanish when you destroy the ship that is firing them. This makes for some really interesting decisions between your two guns and whether or not you can defeat a large foe before getting hit or whether you should release a bomb. At its best, I found that I had to switch between weapons for faster, smaller foes and focus my attack when hulking crafts began assaulting my fragile ship. These moments had a cadence that completely sucked me in the game. It's one hit and your dead, so you can't afford to get hit too often. Quick decisions are mandatory and offered me the greatest sense of gratification and hope as well as wracking moments when I dropped two or three continues in one level.
The gameplay is fast paced and addicting, and the levels definitely felt easier as I played them more. There are only five levels, and each level is about four-seven minutes long. All in all, the game runs only about a half an hour if you successfully finish it. Each level has a boss as well, but true to retro-gaming, there is no real way to tell how far you are in a level unless you have memorized it. The bosses had really cool designs though their attack patterns all seemed too similar. They require some serious speed and dodging ability, but there isn't anything truly thought to provoke about the boss encounters.This HD remake does also come with some extra features. There is a training mode where you can play any level you have already seen in the campaign as well as being able to fight any boss without having to run through the level. On top of that, you can customize difficulty, lives, and bombs. There is local multiplayer and a leaderboard where you can keep track of local and online scores. Though the game is short and has simple mechanics, there is no doubt enough here for the asking price of 9.99.
visuals and sound
Looking at both versions side by side, Ghost Blade HD looks much more impressive than the original game. The multi-colored projectiles have a sheen and glimmer whereas they looked relatively monochrome in the original; the new backgrounds seem to pop out at the player due to their intricate details and vivid color schemes. Each level features an entirely different setting that grabs the player, particularly level four where the cherry blossoms sit under your craft like a dainty home that you can never return to. The backgrounds, vivid colors, and explosions are all beautifully intact and though often overwhelming, this HD remake received a serious cosmetic makeover that still reminded me of an old school 90s game accompanied by the best of modern 2D graphical capabilities. Some shooters have awkward ship movements and enemies that forcefully fly onto the screen. There is an even ebb and flow that the developers have created in Ghost Blade HD that is truly seamless. Nothing feels manufactured, and the ships all float and fly onto the screen in what felt like a naturally cinematic presentation.
The soundtrack to Ghost Blade HD pays homage to the original game and the synths and bombastic compositions of 90s SHMUPS. I enjoyed all the music in the game, though only the fourth level's soundtrack truly stood out to me. It had the epic wind up and crashing melody that awoke the nostalgia inside my inner childhood gamer and reminded me of a time before video games were centered around voice acting.
Though this game will never define the SHMUP genre or bring it back into the mainstream, Ghost Blade HD is a great intro to the genre and has enough staples to attract older players. The game is definitely a bit short, and the gameplay is meat and potatoes next to many other space shooters. Still, the game flows better than many other SHMUPS, and the price tag makes it well worth purchasing and sinking at least a few hours into, especially with multi-player and difficulty options.
The presentation, flow, and natural aesthetics all look wonderful and remind us why HD remakes are so much fun and can unite different generations of gamers. Rarely does a shooter have the natural rhythm and organization that the enemies and their swarms of projectiles have in Ghost Blade HD. Everything seems to dance on the screen in a feral symphony that will absorb the player in each crucial second of gameplay. The game rewards quick decisions and replaying through the levels, and I always felt like I would have a chance to succeed if I was given just one more chance.
On the flip side, the small screen definitely takes away from the modernity and beauty of the game, and I wish that the points were not quite so flashy. The screen is sometimes just too narrow to handle all the colors and moving objects that are on screen. The confusion occasionally robs the player of an opportunity to test their own ability and feels like a cheap way to either add more flair or challenge to the game.
Ghost Blade HD is not for everyone. Long time SHMUP fans may find the lack of depth and options to be a letdown, and some newer gamers may find this game to feel too archaic and challenging. At the same time, the difficulty settings and shortness will offer newbies a chance to see if they may want to try other SHMUPS in the future and allow veterans to rock the cockpit once again, even if the experience isn't as encapsulating as some older shoot em' ups. In the end, Ghost Blade HD is a very refined package and offers nothing more and nothing less than was intended by the developers.
|+ HD Remake looks great||– Too much happening on screen|
|+ Simple with nice nuances||– Short with only five levels|
|+ Gameplay feels fair but challenging||– Widescreen mode|