Following the release of the shmup Aero Fighters, several members of developer Video Systems left and formed a new company: Psikyo. Aero Fighters 2 still turned out rather well without them, but Psikyo would release some high-quality titles itself. Zerodiv has already brought some of those to Switch, but now it's bringing Psikyo’s first game to the eShop: Samurai Aces (aka Sengoku Ace).
Like many of the games Psikyo produced, Samurai Aces is a shmup where you pick one craft from a selection of choices and then go through several levels shooting down anything in sight. It was also designed with a vertically orientated monitor in mind and should you be playing undocked this experience can be recreated by playing in TATE mode; optional scanlines can also be added to the image. Play on the big screen and the default display makes more sense than flipping your TV on its side, but naturally this restricts the action to the middle third of the screen.
There’s a similar art style to Psikyo’s later released (but already on Switch) Gunbird and Strikers 1945 games, with the same powerup and bomb icons and similar bullets, explosions and colour choices. The locations are different however, with a variety of rocks, greenery, water and villages flown over. There’s a wide range of enemies encountered with different aircraft types, insect-like attackers, tanks and turrets. In other instances statues rise from the water to attack and large armoured warriors appear on screen to unleash bullets or shuriken in your direction. Similar to the Strikers titles these enemies are more technologically advanced than the setting would normally allow, but aesthetically fit right in.
There’s also variety in the six aircraft availabl, with regular designs included alongside bird-like craft and a wooden X-Wing. Each has different attacks that become more apparent when you collect weapon upgrades as well as having different bomb and charged attacks. As is common with Psikyo shmups there are two buttons for shooting your primary weapon, where one is held down for the charged attack and the other is held for rapid fire.
Set across seven levels, gameplay is enjoyable as you move about the screen dealing with the various enemy attacks and movements. You need to keep alert as buildings can slide aside to reveal more dangers and other enemies can emerge from clouds. Bullets come from multiple directions and can crisscross to make safe passage tricky. The pace of the game alters too, sometimes enabling you to make slight adjustments to gently slide out of the way of a stream of bullets, where as other times enemies streak towards you requiring quick reflexes to if not shoot them down, then to at least get out of the way.
Boss battles put you up against large mechanical creatures or constructions and require you to blast pieces off before their ultimate destruction. They can be tense affairs when low on lives and/or bomb attacks, with the screen getting dense with bullets as you try desperately to navigate a safe pathway whilst also trying to get in attacks of your own.
If struggling with the game, there are seven difficulty settings available (default: five) and your three lives and two continues can be increased to nine and unlimited respectively. Whilst this can certainly aid in clearing the game it doesn’t completely remove the challenge as after the first few levels, failure sends you back to the beginning of the stage. After clearing the game (apart from on the easier difficulties) a much tougher second loop begins, although (unlike some Psikyo games) you can still use continues.
The game is fun to replay, with each craft having a different pilot that results in different between-stage dialogue and endings. Two-player mode is also available if you’d like to have a friend join you to help vanquish the enemy forces, whilst also adding an element of competition as you look to see who has the highest score at the end of it. Hi score chasing can add a lot of replayability to a shmup in single player mode, but here the scoring is flawed due to there being no score reset upon continue. Struggle on a stage and replay again and again and you will score higher than a player who has breezed straight through.
Psikyo's Samurai Aces plays a lot like its Gunbird and Strikers titles. As they were both great shmups, however, seven more levels in that style is no bad thing. Dealing with attacks and utilising your own offensive options leads to varied and enjoyable gameplay and the changing pace of combat keep you on your toes as you anticipate the next attack. With no credit/life limited mode included, the hi score leaderboard is flawed unless you and those using your Switch agree on what settings to use. It is a well put together shmup however, so whether playing alone or with a friend Samurai Aces is fun to replay whenever you choice to boot it up.