Fullblast is the latest indie title to make the transition from mobile platforms onto Wii U, having been available on iOS and Android since the end of last year. Harking back to the days when arcades were king, Fullblast is an old school vertically scrolling shoot-em-up presented with modern 3D graphics. The gameplay remains firmly locked inside a 2D plane of movement; the graphic engine is used to chuck in a few little flourishes of depth that wouldn't be quite as easily achieved with hand drawn sprites.
It's fair to say many modern day 'shmups' are arguably too intense for newcomers to cope with. The bullet-hell trend (championed by prolific Japanese developer Cave) combines insane levels of difficulty with incredibly complicated scoring systems that require hours of mastery to understand. It's therefore slightly refreshing to pick up and play something a little more back to basics – no complicated scoring system or walls of projectile death to navigate; you simply shoot enemies, avoid some bullets and get some points.
With its roots in mobile, it's clear from the off that the game structure was conceived to allow for pick-up-and-play commuters. There are 12 separate stages, with only the first accessible to begin with; the others remain locked until preceding stages are completed. From then on, it's your choice as to which unlocked stage you begin from. This serves to alter the standard flow of play; should you wish to not keep starting from the beginning you can simply play any stage in isolation or continue onwards no matter which you selected. Of course, high score chasers will want to build their maximum score by going from start to finish, but those just aiming to see what's on offer can play in tiny chunks as desired.
The 12 stages take place across 3 different landscape backdrops – a city, a forest and over icy waters. Due to this slight lack of variety each of the 4 grouped stages can feel like one long, huge slog which gets tiresome when attempting to play through in one credit. Breaking up the stages are cut scenes of sorts, but there is a lot of repeated dialogue and the English translation is laughably bad in places (which is possibly intentional, but if not it's at least quite amusing).
The gameplay is smooth, and controls are responsive – even the analogue stick works well, which isn't always the case in this genre; arcade joysticks are the usual required weapon of choice. Your ship handles just fine, which is a good thing as there are no speed altering pick-ups. In fact, in terms of power-ups it's rather thin on the ground; there are two different weapons to swap between (via pick-ups) - a forward shot and a slightly spread out shot, both of which can be powered-up multiple times until a bullet colour change signifies the maximum level has been reached.
Unfortunately a misguided gameplay decision means that loss of life drops you right back to square one, and suddenly you'll find yourself reverted to a pea-shooter with no chance to gather back any of your lost power-ups. Another quirk is the 'smart bomb' quantity of which you have only one per game, not per life. This means dying on any of the boss battles not only puts you back to the lowest power, you don't even get your bomb replenished; this can prove quite brutal. Occasionally, extra bomb pick-ups can be found within a stage, but they are few and far between. You'll also need to keep an eye out to avoid pick-ups which decrease your power – as if avoiding bullets wasn't enough…
Thankfully, you are given a decent amount of chances not to die as your ship is blessed with an energy bar that can sponge up a number of hits before you explode into flames. Given that Fullblast isn't a bullet-hell shooter (it's more bullet-not-too-bad) it's actually a feasible challenge that's not too daunting for a decent first time player to get good at. (It's worth pointing out that there are no continues at all; a game over forces a full restart of the stage).
If you've played a lot of this type of game before, the graphic design and enemy patterns will be very familiar – there's nothing here that's out of the ordinary or spectacular. Tanks, ships, aliens that look like insects; it's all very much a homage or copy (depending on your viewpoint) of past classics but it is well drawn, smooth and nicely enough animated – it's just not going to blow you away.
Fullblast also comes equipped with other expected features - the simultaneous 2 player mode is very welcome; even with a friend in tow (local only – no online play) everything runs smoothly and there's no slow down apparent. There are also online scoreboards keeping the challenge alive and aiding longevity.
The soundtrack consists of a few different heavy metal tunes with chugging riffs and wiggly guitars, which are a decent compliment to the action though they aren't exactly hummable classics. A good effort, though, and you'll not be reaching for the volume too quickly.
At the end of the day, there's not much especially wrong with Fullblast. It plays fine, looks quite nice and even with its minor flaws it's a pretty fun little game. If you haven't experienced much of this genre before you'll probably find it quite refreshing and great fun. Veterans may get an all too familiar feeling of déjà vu and it's definitely not up to the standards set by the true classics, however it's a good enough distraction for a few hours. Let's be clear; there aren't enough of these types of game as it is on modern home consoles, so it's a welcome addition to the Wii U library and it's not going to break the wallet either due to the (current) reasonable price point.