Although there are plenty of shoot 'em ups to pick from on the Wii Virtual Console, new games in the genre tend to be quite rare; as a result it's always exciting to see a new addition to a challenging field. Developed by a relatively unknown developer that's only dabbled in mobile phone games before, this particular shoot 'em up is of the vertical type, utilising the enchant.js engine through the Nintendo Web Framework. The question is whether it hits its target as a mid-range priced entry on the Wii U eShop.
If you're not familiar with how this type of game works, it's pretty simple — the screen slowly scrolls forward while masses of enemies pop up and attempt to shoot or ram into you. Naturally, your task is to avoid the hail of bullets and shoot down the enemies before they can cause any trouble. When you've fought your way to the end there's a big boss battle, and then you're off to the next stage.
While at first sight GAIABREAKER is pretty similar to other games, it deviates from the norm in a few ways. Most games of this kind allow you to fire regular shots, with upgrades and, in some cases, screen-clearing nukes also being available. There's none of this in GAIABREAKER, because you've only got two attacks — normal shots, and a Star Fox 64-esque homing missile that you can fire after locking onto enemies. While the missiles do more damage it takes a while to lock on, so it tends to be better to only fire them sporadically.
However, that's not the biggest oddity about the game. As most shoot 'em up fans know, these games tend to allow you to freely move around the entire screen, giving you plenty of space to dodge and weave through all of the enemy attacks. GAIABREAKER does things a bit differently and only allows you to move left and right, basically locking you on one line at the bottom of the screen. With all the bullets being fired at you, this means you'll very frequently end up in scenarios where you need to squeeze through enemy fire very carefully and quickly. Luckily, this is similar to other shoot 'em ups in that your ship's hitbox is actually much smaller than its sprite would suggest, so you'll only go down if enemies strike its very centre.
Although there are only six levels to play, GAIABREAKER's main replay value seems to come from various awards and honours you can receive, for clearing stages while meeting specific conditions or scoring a certain amount. There's also some minor Miiverse integration, allowing you to share scores with others and attempt to beat the records of friends or strangers.
One cool feature is that if you're playing on the GamePad it's possible to flip the game so that it covers the entire GamePad screen, meaning you'll have to hold it on its side to look at it correctly. While you can still play with the GamePad's buttons while doing this, it's also possible to play with the touch screen, which is interesting if slightly clunky. This full-screen mode is actually the way the game is set by default, so if you plan on playing on your TV, be sure to flip the GamePad screen first - otherwise you'll be pushing up to move left and down to move right!
While in most ways this is a fairly competent shoot 'em up, when it comes to the actual entertainment value GAIABREAKER falls a bit flat. The levels aren't very long, but they're also not very exciting, with repetitive backgrounds and no cool events to speak of, just wave after wave of identical enemies.
Since you're locked on one line, the enemy formations also never really get too complicated — a strength of the genre is when you're flying all over the screen to dodge bullets from all directions, but you can avoid almost everything in this title by just slowly moving from one side of the screen to the other and going back the other way as soon as there's a short break in the enemy assault. The boss fights are ever so slightly more exciting than the stages, but all of them tend to fight in exactly the same way, alternating between firing some small bullets and then firing a big laser with plenty of warning beforehand.
Unfortunately, that's not the end of it, because GAIABREAKER's also a bit disappointing in the technical area. The music is fine, but the graphics are fairly unimpressive, with the aforementioned repetitive backgrounds in addition to barely animated sprites. Perhaps the biggest crime is that the game seems to lag for no apparent reason, every few seconds it'll stutter for the slightest moment, which can really mess up your dodges. It even seems to lag on the main menu occasionally! This doesn't seem like a game that pushes the Wii U to its utter limits, so this is pretty much unforgivable — these games require absolute precision, and running the risk of losing that at a critical moment the entire time is not particularly fun.
While it hits all the marks to be at least competent as a shoot 'em up, GAIABREAKER doesn't really go out of the way to make itself particularly interesting or fun to play, with fairly bland stages and little challenge. The extremely frequent stuttering further drags down the experience, making this, all in all, not much of a joy to play. For now, we'd recommend sticking with some of the great shoot 'em ups on the Wii Virtual Console!