Visco Corporation may be best known for making 'unremarkable' games. We don’t mention this in a derogatory fashion; the games under their belt are far from bad, just arguably derivative and somewhat “safe”. Most of their arcade games were never given home conversions to begin with, making their original output even more obscure. For the first time released on any home format, can a bundle of both Vasara titles make a dent in the impressive Switch shmup library?
Manic shooters, bullet hells, ‘danmaku’ - love them or hate them, we can’t deny they have certainly become one of the most proficient shmup sub-genres on the Switch. Yet ask about the very best of them among aficionados and its unlikely any will yell out “Vasara!” as their first choice. Things might be about to change thanks to this overdue (the original title was released 19 years ago!) compilation by QUByte Interactive shining a spotlight in what was undoubtedly Visco’s finest hour... and sadly also their last in the video game industry.
It is hard to believe this game was not made by Psikyo. From the similar steam-punk feudal Japan aesthetics to the tight controls and 2-button scheme, both Vasara titles seem straight out of the Samurai Aces series. But upon closer inspection, we do find some unique features that will most certainly warrant your time, namely the melee system.
Riding on steampunk versions of “Return of the Jedi” hover-bikes, each of your playable characters (very loosely based on Japanese historical figures) can chose to charge up a melee strike instead of the traditional shooting, a skill that is mandatory for survival since it not only takes nice chunks of damage from enemies, but also deflects all incoming orange bullets. It is a compelling risk/reward mechanic most bullet hell veterans will certainly welcome. You can’t die from physical contact with enemies, you just harmlessly bump into them. Some bosses however will do their finest to bump you into their bullet patterns, so don’t mistake this feature as a green light to run up to everyone and melee them to oblivion unscathed – this is a thinking man’s bullet hell… unless you turn on ‘Freeplay’ and just mash away at the buttons.
Presentation and graphics hold up extremely well for both original titles in the collection. The impressive amount of on screen enemies and bullets are nicely complemented with a Donkey Kong Country style CGI-to-2D sprite aesthetic along with some really nice portraits of enemy commanders and generals, whose ships usually display extra banners in order for the player to better distinguish them from regular enemies among the frantic action. High score runs depend on how efficiently you get all of these while collecting as many dropped gems as possible. It is hectic, but manageable, more so with two players fighting co-operatively to better manage the screen.
Vasara 2 is the slightly more challenging game of the two, doing away with the second button for the screen-clearing, lifesaving smart bomb and introducing sneaky purple enemy bullets that you can not deflect with your melee attack. With the provided infinite credits it will probably not take you much time to clear both games in a few sessions, but the real depth here is trying to achieve the highest possible score on all stages, a compelling gimmick that ensures you'll be coming back to both titles often. In case you are wondering: Yes, you can indeed chose to rotate the screen and play them in TATE orientation, a little extra we all appreciate.
Having both Vasara titles on this collection is great value, but QUByte went the extra mile and reimagined how the series would have evolved in the polygonal age. Vasara Timeless ditches the 3:4 screen ratio for full widescreen support, increasing the gameplay area. This proves slightly too hard for a single player to handle, even with the new rechargeable dash function. Find a few friends (up to 3) and this brand new game really shines the brightest, with enemies, bullets and your own characters bringing some smooth scrolling light shows to life at every moment. The new polygonal graphics are a bit hit and miss – the terrain looks amazing, specifically the water surface, but some of the regular enemies do feel a bit generic when compared to their original sprite counterparts. This mode retains the enemy general pre-boss fight presentations, now showcasing the boss contraptions in full 3D. Full online leaderboards, no continues and stage order randomisation ensure that this is a proper third Vasara game option and not just some cheap extra added to the package for the sake of it.
Vasara Collection jumps from obscurity into the top tier of bullet hells on the Switch by offering both original brilliant titles without any technical hiccups and supporting the ever popular TATE option along with a whole new game that proves to be one of the few proper four-player options of the genre on the system. The zany characters and plot just make things sweeter, and make up for the somewhat derivative origin of the series. Considering the relative obscurity of the original releases, for a reasonable asking price you might just end up with three quality, 'brand new' manic shooters in your collection.