If you’ve ever subjected yourself to the surreal and brilliant horizontal shooter that is Konami’s classic Parodius or if you’ve yearned for the glory of those relentlessly goofy and bizarre shooting galleries filled with every unrelated object the developers could seemingly stuff in at random, then step right this way because Q-YO Blaster would like a word.
Developed by Team Robot Black Hat, Q-YO Blaster sets its mad stall out early doors with a long-winded, nonsensical and hilariously badly-translated backstory to its tight shooting action. Essentially, and we’re trying really hard here, some “insects” have invaded earth and you and your pals – who include a decapitated dog’s head, Bender-esque robot, sentient killer tomato, and a guy called Brian – set out to aid the planet’s top defence scientist, Mr Cheeks (Rambo hamster), as he prepares to engage the alien insect invaders. Q-YO Blaster has a real sense of swagger about its silliness, as well as solid, addictive gameplay and a beautiful art style that in places evokes the recent Cuphead; backed up by a great soundtrack, it all just sucks you right in for the duration of the ride.
You’ll begin by selecting a team, of which there are three in total, each comprising a different special ability activated in-game by filling up a gauge as you down enemies. 'Microwave' temporarily increases your endurance, 'Blood Presence' flashes across the screen dealing out damage and 'Boom!' is a mixture of both. You’ll then choose from the fifteen heroes on offer and finally pick your superpower – either laser shot or shield, both activated when you fill up your super meter by collecting gems dropped by exploding enemies.
On top of these straightforward mechanics, Q-YO Blaster adds a Pulse ability which turns all onscreen bullets into gems, enabling you to time its use in order to fill your super power at just the right time whilst pulling yourself out of a tight spot – handy for turning the tables on a boss who thinks they’ve got you cornered – and a couple of pickups that will randomly float around the screen topping up your Pulse, or adding two flavours of temporary firepower upgrade.
Levels, of which there are ten, are short and sweet, taking place across some madcap environments and ending with a selection of brilliantly bizarre boss battles. Each one of these is unique and pleasingly tactical, and you’ll need to learn attack patterns here if you want to come out on top without eating into your all-important stack of continues. At the end of each level you’ll also be given the chance to choose a power-up, ranging from speed increase, bullet dispersion improvements or even an extra 1up, and, depending on which difficulty you’re playing on, these choices really do make all the difference to how you fare later down the line when the bigger bosses come out to play.
There are three difficulties on offer: beginner, normal and an unlockable Arcade Extreme mode, each coming with a different number of continues to eat up in order to get across the finish line, nine on easy, seven on normal and infinite on extreme (because it’s that difficult). On easy it took us around thirty minutes to blast through the entire game, which may seem short but the levels are so well designed and the bosses so fun to take on that you’ll instantly be jumping in again and again to try to improve that high score and complete the thing using fewer and fewer continues.
Alongside the standard arcade action, there’s also local split-screen co-op, dividing your Switch screen in two horizontally, one Joy-Con per player, to get stuck into some tag-team insect destruction with a pal. It’s a really tight little package at a budget price and it’s easy to see why it’s been so widely praised over on Steam, where it was released way back in January of 2018 (it’s just a shame we don’t get the CRT scan filter that version comes with, a tiny complaint in the grand scheme of things).
Performance-wise, Q-YO Blaster performs pretty much perfectly in both docked and handheld mode; we may have noticed the tiniest amount of slowdown when things got really hectic, but it’s certainly not a deal-breaker by any means and it’s really just a beautiful thing to behold – bright and energetic and filled with ludicrously inventive enemies blasting spirals of neon bullet chaos in your direction. Also, following on from Rolling Gunner, which we reviewed recently, here is another bullet hell shooter that is surprisingly accessible to newcomers. Sure, it’s horrifically difficult on extreme, and even normal will give you a stiff run for your money, but easy really does strike a sweet spot, and each run starts with a little tutorial to make sure you know what’s what.
If we must be negative, Q-YO Blaster certainly isn't reinventing any wheels here and its gameplay, while fun and addictive, doesn't do anything you haven't seen before; it's straightforward stuff for sure and it's really in its art style, sense of fun and zany collection of heroes and enemies that it truly excels. There are also moments when you'll wish you could manoeuvre just that little bit tighter when surrounded by enemy fire and this is down to controls that, while perfectly functional, aren't the most precise or responsive we've ever seen in the genre. It's got a budget feel, which sounds damning, but we mean it in the best way possible; they do their job fine, you just won't feel like you're a super slick ace pilot at any point, which is probably par for the course when you're actually a decapitated dog's head floating across a science lab with neon bullets shooting out of your mouth.
Q-YO Blaster is a great little tribute to Parodius, filled with inventive enemies and brilliantly designed boss battles. Its gameplay is solid and addictive with a beautiful art-style reminiscent in places of the mighty Cuphead. It’s short and sweet for sure, but it’s got lots of replayability and is perfect for whipping out for a quick blast on quick journeys and, all in all, is yet another cracking addition to the Switch’s ever-growing roster of top quality shmups.