A 2001 arcade title, Psikyo’s Gunbarich is now available to purchase from the Switch eShop. A Breakout/Arkanoid-style game, the aim is to bat a ball around the screen destroying all the blocks to move on to the next stage where there is a new arrangement of blocks for you to remove. Along the way there are hazards to mess things up and power-ups to aid you. At times feeling shooter-like, gameplay can be fast, frantic and very addictive as you look to improve that all-important high score.
The game's story that sees you training to be a magician, although quite how all the paddle-and-ball action aids in this is unclear. In any case, you have two characters to choose from: the witch Marion (from Psikyo’s Gunbird titles) and the also young Grutan who, based on his love of skull-emblazoned clothing and parrot companion, is presumably a pirate. Each has different stats which cause the paddle to handle differently.
The first thing you’ll notice about your “paddle” is that it is actually a pair of pinball flippers. Whilst you can use it like the bat you’d normally get in games of this ilk, the ability to tap a button to send the ball flying off in different directions proves very useful. The paddle itself has the simple left/right movement you’d expect, controlled with the analogue stick. If you prefer you can of course also use the D-pad on the Pro Controller or the four-button cluster on the left Joy-Con.
There are seven worlds to work through comprised of three levels (the seventh has a fourth). Though you are repeatedly clearing blocks, different worlds have different features and enemies to prevent things feeling too samey, and for a change of pace the third level of each world features a boss battle where your ball is used to wear down its energy bar.
With a screen full of blocks to remove, there’s a simple appearance to things, though it is enhanced by a wonderful bright, fun style with a number of good creature designs for the enemies that float about the screen. There are different themes for the worlds you visit during the game that include fancy rooms, a leafy area, and a cosy wintry land. Amusing character poses in the brief story scenes that play out towards the end of the game add even more appeal, and special mention should be made of the large boss characters who have great designs. They include a fearsome pumpkin fella, an un-cuddly teddy bear and a creepy mechanical clown-face.
Accompanying the onscreen action is upbeat, sometimes adventurous, sometimes whimsical music that gives a considerable amount of charm to the game. Various bumps, bloops and explosions add to the atmosphere and overall this a well-presented game despite some decidedly iffy Engrish: “It’s easy win, easy win. What?”
The game was designed for a vertical monitor, which by default results in large borders. Luckily publisher Zerodiv has included the option to change the screen orientation and undocking your Switch means you don’t need to turn your TV on its side to play in TATE mode. You can also turn on a filter to give that old CRT monitor look to the visuals.
As you knock the ball about the screen racking up points from block destruction, there are some things you need to be wary of. As well as falling off the screen, you can lose a life should you run out of time. Each stage gives you 60 seconds, which seems plenty at the start of a level, but that quickly disappears as you try desperately to hit that final block. Indestructible blocks can be a nuisance and although enemies blink out of existence when you hit them, the change of trajectory the ball experiences can catch you off-guard. Similarly, when one particular enemy type is hit it will actually teleport with the ball and spit it out elsewhere on the screen, so you need to pay attention to where that’s going to be. Some stages feature switches that turn unbreakable blocks on and off which can be troublesome when they protect the final bricks you were aiming for, or suddenly send the ball hurtling towards the bottom of the screen.
Not everything onscreen is out to cause you trouble; some objects give you extra points, and time bonuses and power-ups periodically fall down the screen. These include one that slows the speed of the ball, one than lets it tear through even the indestructible blocks and one that turns your paddle into a dual laser cannon to blast away at blocks rather than faffing about judging angles. Particularly useful is the multi-ball power-up which - as long as you keep an eye on the original (it’s pink, the others are blue) - will see you take out multiple enemies and remove large amounts of blocks very quickly.
Although enemies initially just float about, from the second world onwards they can fire paralysing bullets. Should one explode near you, you are temporally shocked and unable to move; a good touch being the brief rumble from your controller (this also happens when you lose a life). You can avoid the enemy fire, but you can also bat it back and this is often the best way to deal with baddies; once you master this the game starts to play like a shooter. This is particularly true against the bosses when a lot of bullets rain down on you and sending a barrage back at them is a good way to chip away at their health.
The difficulty in the game is well judged in the early worlds, with the first seeing you mainly focus on getting the right angles and on keeping the ball on-screen. As you progress enemies and indestructible blocks increase in number. The first four worlds do not play out in the same order each time and the levels may be different (less blocks/obstructions) depending on when you encounter them.
Later stages can be very tough and see you frequently having to concentrate on multiple things as you rush left and right avoiding some bullets, sending other bullets towards a creature and also keeping an eye an where the ball is. Clearing the 22 levels in the game would not be easy, but Zerodiv has included some options to help. You can increase your lives to 9 (default 3) and have unlimited continues. Unlimited continues provides an easy way to see the whole game, but every time you use one it results in a score reset. Mostly. The game actually gives you a few points depending on the number of continues used, so 2 points for your second continue, 6 for your sixth and so on. A little strange, but it’s not really going to mess up the high score table.
There’s a lot to like about the game, but it’s the presence of said high score table that makes it hard to put down. Unfortunately there’s no online table, so you can’t see how you compare with players from around the globe, but you can still let your friends have a go or have another attempt yourself. Maybe you remember some missed opportunities for bonuses, maybe you have a better idea for quickly dispatching a boss or maybe you’re just hoping for a bit of good luck; there are lots of reasons to think you can do better next time.
This Breakout-like game may not offer massively varied gameplay or an engrossing storyline, but as ball and paddle games go, Gunbarich is superb. Different enemy types and hazards keep things interesting with power-ups giving a range of ways to remove the blocks, and while it's easy to play, the game offers a stern challenge. Good music and visual design add to the appeal, with fun character designs and some great little touches; blocks grow eyes and look worried when their neighbours are destroyed, for example. There's a lot of replayability in trying to improve your score and although there's no online high score board to aim for, Gunbarich offers plenty of entertainment and is a recommended download.