As its He-Man and the Masters of the Universe-inspired name and neon vision of the future suggest, Blasters of the Universe is a humorous homage to the VHS era. Grandmaster Alwyn, an arcade gaming savant, is so dominant a player that he’s become one with the eponymous game, prompting you to challenge his throne across four levels of intense shoot-‘em-up action.
By tapping into the bullet hell subgenre, the game takes on both a fierce urgency and an enticing element of performance.
This cumbersome issue isn’t something the pulsing synth soundtrack and sharp presentation can’t remedy, the pair drawing you back for another hit in tandem, but perhaps not before altering your loadout. Guns are crafted by choosing a frame and associated special ability, barrel, magazine, ammo type, and a module that provides a passive buff. A lot of possibilities open up as you progress and unlock new weapon elements, allowing you to rock an arcing beam rifle, explosive shotgun, ricocheting assault rifle, or really whatever you can dream up to fit your play style.
The game can only be played with two Move motion controllers (which are tracked particularly well here), one corresponding to your bespoke gun and the other being used to deploy your choice of ammo clips and a limited-use shield. This opens up a further layer of customisation, allowing you to, for example, equip a recharging magazine and focus exclusively on shielding with your off hand, or a small magazine with increased damage output that’ll need reloading on the regular, but should, in theory, eradicate enemies before they ever give you reason to deploy your shield.
If you’re anything like us, bigger will be better when it comes to the magazine, as the manual reload process is quite particular and differs depending on your choice of frame. Such is the precise art of reloading that we’d actually recommend using your dominant hand for it.
A lot of weapon crafting possibilities open up as you progress, really allowing you to rock whatever gun you can dream up to fit your play style.
Though swapping hands can initially prove disorienting, it ultimately lead us to slay all of the game’s long-form, large-scale bosses and emerge victorious on the other side. These battles require specific aiming and avoidance techniques that make them a challenging treat, though a glitch we encountered whereby each loss to the final boss caused an obnoxious buzzing sound until the game was rebooted did make the final leg slightly laborious. Fingers crossed that bug is squashed, which seems likely enough judging by the patch support already offered since launch.
Completing the campaign should take around three to five hours, though the exact number is really dependant on player skill and fitness levels, and that’s without taking into account time spent climbing online leaderboards and interacting with a couple of additional modes that round the package out. Challenge mode hands you a pre-built loadout and an objective to complete as quickly as possible, with the task at hand rotating after a set period of time, whilst Endless mode sees you, shockingly, survive for as long as possible to gain the highest score before meeting an inevitable end.
Despite relying on a played out concept, Endless is a highlight, placing trophies just out of reach to encourage a ‘one more go’ mindset. It randomises spawn patterns with each attempt to keep things fresh, though this does also affect balance, as luck of the draw can vastly impact your performance.
Still, with this mode in its repertoire, Blasters of the Universe might actually prove endlessly entertaining. Its thoroughly rewarding combat encounters can’t be bested with a lackadaisical approach, resulting in not just a fantastically fresh take on the bullet hell shooter, but also a workout regimen that makes you feel like a virtual deity... until your humanity comes a-knockin’ and the lactic acid takes hold.
Yes, you read that right, folks: Aperion Cyberstorm is a brand new twin-stick shooter for the dusty, clapped-out Wii U (it’s also available on the Switch and PC, plus it’s on the way to Xbox One, if you’re suitably modern). We enjoyed our brief hands-on preview with the game at last year’s Rezzed, but has that early glimpse of glitter faded, or blossomed into something altogether more splendid?
Cyberstorm’s gameplay is pleasingly simple: blow everything up, look for collectibles and survive - not necessarily in that order.
We would’ve loved to have seen more emphasis on the calmer, explorative sections, as, although the arena and boss encounters are regularly thrilling, juxtaposing moments serve to make them all the more special. A stronger story and deeper exploration would’ve elevated the campaign on the whole, though that doesn’t do too much to detract from the fabulous, frenetic combat and boss designs that are on display and can be tweaked to your liking with a well-balanced array of difficulty settings.
Versus mode brings the party to your front room, in a way only a handful of titles do these days. Get four friends over and you really are in for a treat; you’ll fight each other in a variety of arenas, across nine different match types, in a sea of retina-obliterating colours and patterns.
There’s good ol’ fashioned arena fragfest, a heart-limited survival mode, the you-only-live-once anarchy of Last Stand, timed matches, standard King and Control match types, and even more. This Doctor recommends a prescription of pop and pizza to perfectly compliment the glorious, is-it-skill-or-luck fracas on offer in Versus. If you do happen to be a William-no-associates, fear not, as aPriori have been decent enough to include an option to add bots instead of flesh and blood players.
Onslaught mode is the tenser, Gears-esque Horde mode, where you smash endless waves of radiant rascals, achieving a star rating based on your lasting power. These stars then unlock new, trickier Onslaught maps to weather.
Versus mode brings the party to your front room... Get four friends over and you really are in for a treat!
It’s hard to deny the sheer amount of content on offer here, both in single and multiplayer, but there are a few areas that could’ve done with an extra bit of chim-cheroo. Aside from the Campaign mode misfires, the chief culprit here is the music, which just doesn’t quite achieve true synergy with the game's visuals. Fights generally develop into bullet hell madness, so it’s strange that the techno doesn’t follow suit and amp up the rhythmic intensity.
So, in spite of its limitations, it’s hard not to recommend Aperion Cyberstorm. The music might be a bit of a letdown, the campaign might be a tad corpulent, and the gameplay might not be particularly innovative, but what is here is just ruddy good fun. Get some friends round, bust out those Wiimotes (or Joy-Cons) and enjoy £10.99 well spent.
Nex Machina is a top-down twin-stick shooter from Resogun developer Housemarque. Its arcade-style design harkens back to retro classics like Robotron and Smash TV, which is no surprise considering the famed designer of those projects, Eugene Jarvis, was aboard the development team.
Nex Machina demands speed and precision to the point we find ourselves playing perched on the edge of our seats, leaning into the screen with a laser-focused gaze.
That’s a lot to tackle, especially with no tutorials or hints of any kind, but by bravely leaving you to uncover its many nuances through observation and trial and error, Nex Machina ensures its self-learnt intricacies are cemented in your mind. The gameplay communicates information fluently, steadily introducing an evolving range of baddies to illustrate what attacks you can and can’t dash through, what you do and don’t have to kill to progress, or who’s the biggest overall threat and resulting primary target of a given wave. Knowing how to correctly manage enemy types to stop them controlling portions of a stage is integral to your survival, while identifying those that target helpless AI humans and dealing with them quickly will work wonders for both your score and your conscience.
That said, choosing whether or not to save humans is a constant risk vs. reward minefield; you’ll need to put yourself in harm’s way to grab them and gain the associated points to climb the online leaderboards, but, if you die in doing so, you’ll end up worse off than if you'd left them to their doom and saved your own skin.
Any single blow is fatal in Nex Machina, and death carries some significant repercussions. Not only do you lose a life and a chunk of the score multiplier you’ve worked to build - along with your all-important, trance-like flow - but you’ll also drop one of the upgrades (increased range, bullet spread, etc.) or secondary weapons (these range from a sword to a rocket launcher, with use limited by a brief cooldown period) you've collected. This often leads to multiple consecutive deaths as you foolheartedly rush to pick it back up from the spot you died, or just struggle on in its absence if it was something you were relying on. All too often we’ve been on a perfect run only to lose multiple lives and upgrades successively to the mechanic, leaving us caught in a rut and faced with besting that same difficult section now at a marked disadvantage.
You can keep retrying while you maintain a stock of continues, but when they run dry it's a legitimate game over and you have to start back at square one. Whilst that’s somewhat jarring by today’s standards - especially when you consider the fact you also can’t save, so you’re in it for the long haul when playing Arcade mode, the game's main attraction - forcing you to replay sections helps to develop your skills, which will see you glean more from the game in the long run. It might seem irritating if you don’t remember a time when this was the industry standard, but the extra practice really does make perfect.
You’ll never actually be at too significant a loss, mind, as the game only takes around two hours to play from start to finish. Despite what you might be thinking, that isn’t any real cause for concern when it comes to Nex Machina’s value proposition, as it’s massively replayable. Memorising enemy spawn patterns and the location of secrets unearthed by destroying environments is endlessly rewarding, allowing you to implement that knowledge into future runs to achieve lofty new high scores.
Arcade and Single World modes (the latter allowing you to practice Worlds out of sequence) can be played in co-op if you have a nostalgia-hungry pal to hand, which we mean literally, as it’s fittingly (though still disappointingly) local only. The suite of modes is rounded out by Arena, which tasks you with meeting gold, silver and bronze score thresholds whilst wrestling with modifiers like limited timeframes and increased tempo. They take place in the same familiar Worlds, but are just about different enough to provide an engaging break from the main thrust now and then, which is perhaps how they’re best consumed, with only eleven challenges on offer.
Housemarque proved themselves capable of keeping arcade-style games relevant in the modern marketplace with the release of Resogun, but in partnering with Eugene Jarvis on Nex Machina they’ve surpassed themselves. Filled to the brim with pulse-pounding, nail-biting and addictive action on a gorgeously impressive scale, never skipping a beat, constantly complemented by the standout, retro-infused soundtrack, the game is a modern shoot-’em-up masterpiece that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the 80s classics that inspired it.
Are you missing the Dreamcast-era glory days of bullet hell shoot ‘em ups? If, like me, you’re firmly in the ‘yes’ column then look no further: Ghost Blade HD brings the staples of intense techno, big bosses, vivid colours and classic art design together to concoct a smashing shmup that manages to stay the right side of entertaining, despite its lack of originality.
If you’re a big shmup fan then we’d recommend adding this one to your collection, but for the non-believers, there’s nothing groundbreaking here to warrant your attention.
Star Ghost proves yet again that the Wii U’s lack of third party support is insignificant when you have top quality independent developers on-board.
Upbeat, electronic music drives you forward on your quest.
The visuals are beautiful too, with the crisp bright colours of the enemies and pick-ups juxtaposing nicely with the dark backdrops of space. The way enemies and asteroids dissolve under the might of your guns is immensely satisfying and commendable, especially for a game built by one man (and off the back of initial iOS game Star Drift). The fact that these enemy patterns and terrains are procedurally generated makes the game even more impressive.
The music and audio are also splendid, with another Rare alumni, David Wise, providing the soundtrack. Upbeat, electronic music drives you forward on your quest - our personal favourite piece features at the end of each stage, and is reminiscent of the tunes from TV show The Weakest Link, something that brought a smile to our cynical faces. The sound effects from the guns and enemies works fantastically well in tandem with this (especially the laser power of the vaporiser!), add to that the warm yet sardonic voice over (“great run, Commander”) and you have an aural success.
The only issue we have with Star Ghost is the lack of online leaderboards, something that would add so much life to the game. For an arcade shooter to be missing that in this day and age is a real shame, but we’re sure we’ll get over it. There aren’t any other game modes either, but this really isn’t a big deal when the game provides such a steep difficulty curve and challenge.
If you’re looking for something new to play on your Wii U, then we strongly suggest you get yourself Star Ghost. £7.99 is a steal for the sheer amount of hours you’ll get out of it, blend that with the satisfying control scheme, gratifying guns and super duper soundtrack and you have a real treat.
Have we left you wanting for more from Squarehead? Why not check out our developer interview.