A choice of characters and colourful, frantic shooting action across several stages is typical for the Psikyo titles that Zerodiv has been bringing to the eShop. In that regard, Gunbird 2 is more of the same, with a similar look and feel to the Strikers 1945 titles, Samurai Aces and (obviously) the first Gunbird. It should not be dismissed, however, as like those games it is a lot of fun and has some new features, too.
For all their similarities, there are a few things that alter between the Psikyo shmups, so know that in this game you can continue in the second loop, which sees you resume the action from where you fell, but also resets your score. As always, there are two buttons for firing your primary weapon, one of which can be held down for auto fire. The second button (as in Strikers 1945 II) makes use of an energy meter that builds up as you shoot the enemies down, and should you hold this button you can unleash a charged attack.
The charged attacks vary from character to character, some being a single energy blast or barrage of missiles while others will send out a support unit of some kind to slowly fire away at the enemy forces. Letting the meter build as much as possible is advisable to increase the efficiency of these attacks, but you don’t want to get greedy and run out of room to manoeuvre before you can make use of them. Characters also have a short-range attack (which is entirely new to this game) that also makes use of the energy meter. These can prove very effective, but due to how close you need to be to the enemy, they have an obvious risk factor.
In addition to those methods of attack, power-ups are available to increase the spread of your main weapon and you have a limited number of bomb attacks. Bomb attacks again vary between characters, some being powerful blasts and some calling in reinforcements, while main character Marion has a candy attack; candy that then drops down the screen and can be collected for bonus points.
Marion is the only returning character from the first game, although Ash’s adventurous niece Tavia is here. Similarly, big robot Valnus has gone, but big robot Valpiro is selectable. Rounding out the cast are rotund carpet flyer Hei-Cob and vampire Alucard (no, not that one). Also selectable as a hidden character is Aine (aka Flush) from Samurai Aces. Alas, Darkstalkers’ Morrigan (exclusive to the Dreamcast port) is not included, but there’s still a good range of characters with plenty of entertainment on hand as their stories play out between levels.
This time around our heroes are seeking to mix a magic potion and upon clearing the final stage are presented with two choices. As with the first game, things don’t always go the way our heroes would like. In addition to these endings there are endings for the various character pairings should you be playing in two-player mode, which adds some replayability if you’d like to see them all. These multiplayer endings are also available in single player as the game includes a “2 characters mode” where you pick two heroes and then alternate between them as lives are lost.
Levels four through seven are the same on each playthrough, but the first three (from a selection of four) vary and this adds a little bit of unpredictability on subsequent playthroughs. There’s a good range of locations to visit, such as a castle, icy sea and various fantasy-style settlements. There’s good detail in the surroundings, such as people wandering (panicking) about, and this gives a good sense of depth to the levels, although the action becomes so intense at times that you may not appreciate it.
You’ll encounter a wide variety of robotic enemy types on your adventure, from bug-like flyers, tanks, turrets, walkers and flying mecha. Naturally, these have different ways of attacking (and some are harder to dispatch than others) which helps keep the action interesting. Boss fights feature large constructions like hovercrafts and battleships, and, in true Psikyo fashion, they transform mid-fight.
The action is not too fast, but you need to keep alert. While some of the time you can gently nudge left or right to slide out of the way of bullets you’ll often find yourself weaving about the screen avoiding enemy fire to take out the source. With fire coming from multiple directions at multiple speeds in lines and arcs, the screen can get very dense with bullets, requiring a careful hand to move through the gaps and sensible use of your various abilities.
The game is short, but on its default setting it can provide a stern challenge. Set on difficulty five (of seven) with three lives and two continues, and the challenge ramps up dramatically; as you progress there's less safe space to manoeuvre in and fiery death comes much more often. Things can be made easier, not just from bumping down the difficulty, but by diving into the options menu to increase your lives (up to nine) and continues (unlimited, if you wish). After clearing the seventh level (unless playing the easier difficulties) you proceed to the second loop of the game, which ups the challenge considerably.
Elsewhere, Zerodiv has included its usual option of rotating the screen to play the game in TATE mode (which works great undocked) and the ability to add scanlines for that all-important retro look. Should you be playing in the default landscape orientation the action is confined to the middle third of the screen with a choice of clouds/character art or plain gradient borders down the left and right side. One other option of note is the ability to fight a different end boss, although this is just a cosmetic change; they both fight the same way.
Like all of these Psikyo re-releases, there’s no online leaderboard to try and improve your placement on, but there's still fun to be had from improving your own score. If you do decide to compete with other people either on your own Switch or sharing screenshots online, be aware that all scores go on the same leaderboard irrespective of settings, so make sure you are playing the same setup.
Improved scoring comes not just from surviving longer and blasting more stuff, but from some neat additions. As before, points can be gained from collecting gold, with extra points awarded should it be collected at its brightest, but now chaining your gold collecting will result in even more points. Further bonus points can be earned from getting in an attack on a boss’s exposed weak spot or firing a bomb when a bullet (or bullets) are very close to your character.
It plays a lot like the other Psikyo shmups that are on Switch, but that's no bad thing considering how well put together they are. Gunbird 2 also adds a risky close-range move and some new point scoring opportunities. Finding ways to improve your score adds replayability, but even if you have no interest in high-score chasing there's a lot of fun to be had here. There are multiple endings courtesy of the wacky cast of characters and a good range of enemies, while the frantic action and a number of options to consider when attacking make each playthrough an enjoyable experience, whether playing alone or with a friend. Gunbird 2 joins the growing list of great shmups on Switch, and shouldn't be missed if you're a fan of the genre.