Earlier this year Zerodiv brought some excellent shmup action to the Switch in the form of Psikyo’s Strikers 1945. Having rummaged around in the developer’s back catalogue, the publisher is now bringing Gunbird to the eShop, a similar proposition with a shared range of options (and the added ability to record video clips). Taking control of one of five colourful characters, you blast through a variety of (mostly) flying foes as you seek out fragments of a magic mirror, which must then be taken to a temple where the genie of said mirror will grant a wish. Spread over seven levels, this is another fun shooter.
As with Strikers 1945, there are two buttons you can use for shooting. One you can hold down for rapid fire, while the other can be held for a charged attack. Upgrades can be collected to improve your firepower (homing attacks, scattershot) and you have a limited number of bomb attacks. The charged attacks, upgraded firing and bomb moves vary from character to character which provides a bit of variety when replaying the game, with the story also varying depending on your choice of hero.
The line-up includes the witch Marion, adventurer Ash and robot Valnus, and between levels a brief scene will play out, with the leads pointing out where they are off to next; play in two-player mode and there will be some interaction between your characters. At the end of the levels you’ll run into a trio of rivals who have a brief exchange with you before battle commences. All of these scenes feature good art work and feature suitably enthusiastic performances from the Japanese voice actors.
Elsewhere in the audio we have some exciting and adventurous music, as well as the usual explosions and effects for your various attacks. The music is quite low in the sound mix by default (and some effects ring a bit), but the prominence of music, effects and voices can be adjusted in the options to your liking.
The visuals work well, with a wide range of locations visited packed with fun details. Walkers move across cobbled streets with washing lines hanging between buildings and people can be seen scurrying around below. The trio of baddies can also be seen running from place to place or climbing into machinery before trying to take you down. In other instances there’s a good sense of altitude; one stage begins with waves crashing against the bottom of a tall stone wall which you fly over before the combat begins.
There are a couple of filters that can be applied to the visuals. By default there is a slight blur applied that smooths out the otherwise blocky edges, and it’s also possible to add scanlines. Originally played with a vertically orientated monitor, this TATE mode can be experienced when playing with an undocked switch – or you could play like this on your TV and just tilt your head, we suppose.
Combat is fun thanks to a range of different enemies sending spreads of bullets from different directions. It doesn't move at a fast pace, but you will still find yourself frantically weaving around the screen when bullet density increases and you thread your way through a safe pathway, looking for opportunity for a charged attack or resorting to a bomb if things aren’t going so well.
Objects shift out of the way to reveal new dangers, or you may clear a screen only for the camera to shift and reveal a new swarm of enemy attackers. Boss battles are also enjoyable, with you fighting large constructions that have a few different phases; something often breaking away from the smokey wreckage just as you think you are done. A train boss works particularly well as you slowly blast away each carriage of death, before tackling the next one.
If you find the game is too tough, the difficulty can be adjusted. There are seven difficulty settings available (the fifth is the default) and a visit options can increase your stock of lives to nine (from three) and have unlimited continues, rather than just the two. This doesn’t completely remove the challenge from the game, however as (apart from the first few levels), using a continue sends you back to the start of the stage.
After clearing Gunbird (unless you are on one of the easiest settings), the game begins a tougher second loop which provides a tricky challenge as the screen quickly fills with bullets. You can still use continues (unlike in Strikers 1945) however, so you can concentrate on surviving one level at a time. There’s entertainment to be had from beating the second loop, but fun also comes after the first loop courtesy of the humorous endings. Play solo and each character has a choice of two endings, and there’s also an ending for each of the pair-ups when playing in two player mode, which adds to the replayability if you want to see them all.
The two-player mode itself also adds a lot as you have someone join you to clear away the bad guys, then check to see who has the highest score at the end of things. There’s not much point in going for a high score during solo play as while the game does have a scoreboard, there’s no score reset upon continuing and consequently a bad play-through can result in a higher score than a good one.
Gunbird is a lot of fun, both in its gameplay and the use of a wacky cast of characters. A single-credit mode similar to the Hi Score (with online leaderboard) one that features in Hamster's ACA Neo Geo/Arcade Archives series would have been a good inclusion, but the game is still very replayable. The co-operative/competitive two-player mode works particularly well, whether on the big screen or playing undocked in TATE mode. There's a good challenge with the default settings, and tweaking the options can make things easier if you'd like to see all the ways the story can play out. Gunbird is another great option for shmup-loving Switch owners.