By now, we’ve learned to accept that fact a good proportion of the ports on Nintendo Switch are games that released elsewhere years ago. Sure, it often feels like a late-to-the-party cash-in at times, but there are plenty of Switch owners who have likely never played these games previously, having only owned Nintendo-made hardware. And, of course, it always helps if said older title has something about it to help it stand out along its fellow ports. Enter Astebreed, a 2014 shoot-’em-up that mixes break-neck speed, bullet hell mechanics and a 2.5D plane that’s constantly shifting the goalposts.
Its dynamic camera starts off innocently enough, with your otherworldly mech thundering through an alien stronghold in a side-scrolling affair. Enemies fly towards you in synchronised swarms, swirling in the foreground and background before returning to your plane so you fire your blasters or swing your giant sword at them (because who pilots a Gundam-esque suit without an equally gigantic blade?). Suddenly, the camera shifts and now you’re fighting upwards, Ikaruga-style. Then the camera shifts over your shoulder, turning Astebreed into an on-rails third-person shooter.
Mixed with the sheer speed of each level and the impressive amount of action that’s thrown at you from the moment you boot up the game, this constantly shifting perspective gives Edelweiss’ hit shmup a real sense of personality and distinction - which really helps considering just how many other shooters of this ilk are available on the eShop right now. And when we say sheer speed, we’re not kidding. Astebreed moves at a blistering pace, hurtling you through vortexes and cityscapes as you unleash all manner of weaponry on all manner of alien beasts.
There’s a story about a pilot called Roy and humanity’s attempt to hold back the constant threat of an extraterrestrial horde, but it’s pretty rote by Japanese sci-fi standards and the lack of an English dub means the tiny dialogue boxes that pop on-screen during battle are almost impossible to follow since your attention is entirely focused on total chaos unfolding before you. Thankfully, the gameplay itself mostly manages to make up for the narrative tropes going on in the background.
Your powerful flying mech - the X-Breed - comes outfitted with some laser cannons you fire with ‘ZR’, as well as the aforementioned mega blade that can block incoming enemy fire and be used to dash in and slash foes for some up-close-and-personal negotiation. Of course, this being a shooter, you’d be tempted to hang back and let your guns do the talking, but the developer is wise to your ranged ideas and weaves in enemies that can only be dealt with via a swing of your trusty sword. It’s a neat way of urging you to dash in and away at opportune moments, using gaps in enemy fire to level the playing field.
You can unleash a powerful slashing attack that charges over time, launch a barrage of missiles by flicking the analog stick and lock onto any foes in your immediate vicinity by clicking and releasing the same stick. Thankfully, the Nintendo Switch port benefits from ‘Arrange mode’, which remaps the buttons to better suit a controller. Since there are just so many weapons to juggle, and so many foes to track on screen, we found playing in docked mode with a Pro Controller the best way to experience Astebreed.
The Nintendo Switch port offers a decent iteration, but your enjoyment of its wares will depend entirely on whether you’ve played it before on another platform. If you’re new to this over-the-top shoot-’em-up, you’ll likely appreciate its fast-paced action, over-the-top boss battles and bullet hell levels. Performance holds up for the most part, but when things get really busy, the frame rate does start to chug.
If you have played this before, be it on PC or PS4, you will notice that Astebreed has taken a noticeable graphical downgrade to get it up and running on Nintendo Switch. Assets aren’t quite as detailed and the lighting system isn’t quite as striking as it is on other platforms, but bar those aforementioned occasional performance issues, it’s a pleasantly robust port of a four-year-old game. If you haven’t played Astebreed yet, and you love your shmups, its debut on Switch offers a fine place to experience it.
Nintendo Switch has plenty of shmups to its name, so Astebreed finds itself rubbing shoulders with some of the best retro and modern examples the genre has to offer. With its shifting planes and the constant switch between ranged and melee combat, it manages to offer just enough extra spice to help it stand out, although the lack of an English dub makes its story nigh-on impossible to follow unless you understand Japanese. Still, developer Edelweiss has made an effort to make its previously unwieldy controls fit the confines of the Switch's control interface - although you really should invest in a Pro Controller if you want to enjoy Astebreed at its best. It's not a masterpiece then, but remains worthy of investigation if you love the genre.