The original Psyvariar was released nearly two decades ago, developed by Success Corporation (of Cotton fame) and taking full advantage of Taito’s G-NET arcade board to effortlessly shift around simple polygonal models and hundreds of bullets on screen; any freeze frame taken could have passed as an impressionist painting. You might have already deducted we are plunging once again into the corner of the shooting game genre populated by bullet hell, a subset that has unexpectedly exploded on the Switch in recent times. Can Psyvariar Delta still compete with the rest (and the best) of them today? We're inserting our imaginary coin to find out.
A quick glance at the game ticks all the checkboxes expected from a manic shooter. You control a small ship and only really need to be cautious with the pixel at the centre of it – don’t allow it to come into contact with enemies or enemy projectiles. Controls too are as basic as they come: one button fires your regular default weapon while another is used to deploy one of your limited stock of screen-clearing bombs.
However the real treats are under the hood. What made this game stand apart from the genre at the time of its original release was the implementation of RPG-style levelling system; players are encouraged to fly as close as possible to enemy fire to receive experience points (also known as the ‘BUZZ’ reward system) that level-up your ship. There are no power-ups here; instead, at certain levels your ship will evolve, rewarding you with both a visual and firepower upgrade. The faster you level-up our ship, the further (and harder) stage variations you can visit in a single play session, which is essential if you want to maximize your run score. You will only be able to play on all game stages if you reach a high enough level, so if you play it safe you will always experience a shorter run.
The other distinctive feature to Psyvariar is ‘rolling’. If you quickly reverse your direction, your ship will start spinning, increasing the movement speed and narrowing your firepower into a straight line. Mastering this skill is essential if you’re aiming for the online leaderboards, since it is the most efficient way to deal with the many screen-sized bosses at the end of each level. The whole risk-reward system is taken up a notch when you’re trying to dodge bullets while your ship is moving at a faster pace and unable to rest in one place, but it's immensely satisfying when you pull this off successfully. It is one of the main reasons that, despite its fairly short levels, you will keep coming back for another run, time and time again.
Several months after Psyvariar: Medium Unit’s release, the game was given an upgrade, the appropriately named Psyvariar Revision. Not only did it feature a brand new playable ship, but all the stages were revised with added enemies and more bullets as well, making an already hard challenge even tougher. Despite this, levelling up your ship was actually made easier since you could now buzz the same bullets as many times as you wanted. Psyvariar Delta includes both Medium Unit and Revision features, allowing the player to freely customize the experience with a combination of each game’s features – right down to the thumping soundtrack of either game (the opening level theme is one of the best in the shooter genre, if you ask us). Exclusive bonus DLC allows you to play as BLANCHE, the mech from Jaleco’s 1993 Cybatller which comes with eight-direction fire, further adding replay value to the whole package.
The original game's graphics were given an HD overhaul for this release. If you are a hardcore fan of 2D sprites we assume this game won’t change your mind on that subject, but the simple visuals combined with the 2.5D gameplay means you get a clean view of all the action, an essential feature in any good manic shooter. The relatively short complete run allows for a quick 'pick-up-and-play' shmup fix if you are short on time, but dedicated players will also find the previously-mentioned online leaderboards keep the challenge fresh for much longer. Add some meaty explosions, colour-coded enemy bullets, spot-on responsive controls and an appropriately fast-paced electronic soundtrack, and there's a lot to like here.
Psyvariar Delta truly is a comprehensive package that combines all the features from both Medium Unit and Revision, giving the player the chance to customize the experience in a way that has never been possible in prior releases. Add in the graphical upgrade, Tate support (which is perfect for the Flip Grip, by the way), an exclusive level, a new optional character to use and smooth performance either docked or portable, and this becomes a must-have for any Switch-owning shooter fan; however, casual players or those who simply aren't fans of the genre may find the focus on high scores and short length off-putting. Still, it's a fine shooter, and we can but hope the Sega Naomi-powered Psyvariar 2: The Will to Fabricate will eventually receive a similar deluxe treatment in the future.