Ashura Blaster - Visco/Taito

Ashura Blaster

Visco/Taito - Arcade - 1990
2-Player Simultaneous

Controls: 8-way joystick, Fire trigger, Bomb trigger - Autofire: None

Reviewed by Alex Stroheim

Welcome to my Ashura Blaster review. Let's get this show on the road shall we? Ashura Blaster is an obsure helicopter shoot-em up, not unlike Tiger Heli. To my knowledge, this game was not released outside of Japan or ported to any home consoles or computers. The word "Ashura" (pronounced ash-ra) in the title refers to a type of demonic warrior in Japanese folklore.

Graphics: The graphics are adequate although they begin to show their age and seem a little washed out. There is a good variety of scenery and enemies, with a selection of wartorn backgrounds to fly through as well as enemies of all shapes and sizes in the land, sea and air. The title screen is well done, and shows the helicopter rising from the background. There are also briefing screens before each level although these are in Japanese. The biggest upside to the graphics is that there is quite a bit of movement going on due to lots of the background elements being animated (such as glowing impact craters left behind by destroyed tanks). Unfortunately, the explosions look extremely weak, especially for the bombs (the Satellite Beam is pathetic).

Audio: The music is made up of typical shooter type tunes, with some inspired pieces such as the music in the first level. The sound effects are adequate and match what you see on the screen. There don't seem to be any voice samples, however they are not really needed. Overall, I would say the quality of the audio ranges from average to above-average.

Gameplay: The gameplay is similar to Raiden, with a better selection of weaponry. The enemies fire volleys of bullets in much the same way as Raiden, rather than the endless barrage one would find in a game like Donpachi. That doesn't mean that the game is easy, actually far from it. The enemies are extremely aggresive. In fact I would have to say that the helicopters in this game, which are the most common minor enemy, are some of the most annoying buggers I have ever faced in a shooter.

Unlike other shooters where the enemy takes a shot at you and flies off, the helicopters in this game act like their real-life counterparts. What I mean by that is, the helicopters in this game will actually swing around for another pass if you haven't shot them and hover behind your craft all the while shooting at you (if you've ever played Command & Conquer, it's just like how the Orcas attack in that game). I thought this was especially cool.

Another nice feature is that your ship actually restocks its bomb supply at the end of each level upon docking with the command carrier. It may be a small detail, but it's nice to see it here, as this doesn't usually happen in other shooters. It shows at least some thought on the part of the developers. However this does make the bosses somewhat easier, since you can bomb them to heck and regain your bombs at the next stage. If you decide not to use your bombs, they are converted into points once the boss has been defeated.

There are four types of icons to collect, which are released by destroying the bigger aircraft. These are extra bombs, power increases for the main gun, armament change (the same icon is recoloured 5 times to match the different weapons), and 1-ups. The main gun can powered up to a maximum level of 6. Your helicopter can only take one hit before it explodes and you lose all upgrades once this happens.

One thing I noticed is that gaining extra lives has been done quite well in this game. You gain just enough lives to see you through (either through collecting 1-up icons or through amassing lots of points), and the rate at which you gain extra lives are staggered evenly and doesn't make the game a cakewalk. In addition, the arsenal of weapons is varied nicely and the game encourages you to utilise all of the weapons in order to progress since there isn't really a super weapon in this game that will make the game super-easy. Instead, the game leans towards letting you choose your weapons depending on your playing style as well as the situtions you are facing at the time.

Also, getting to choose your bomb type is a nice feature (although it would be nicer if you could change your bomb type in-game rather than just at the beginning). Lastly, the game can also be played by 2 people simultaneously (I haven't yet played this in 2-player mode so I'm unsure if there are more enemies or whether the difficulty is lowered by the addition of another player).

Note: I'm not sure if it's just me, but the hit box for your ship seems slighty off, causing unexplainable death at times (or maybe I just suck :)).

Wave Blaster (Green) >>

This shoots bullets in an elliptical pattern from your ship. Similar in concept to the red helix laser from R-Type (or even the fully charged Spiral Motion Gun from R-Type II). Be careful with this weapon, as it will sometimes miss enemies directly in front of you.


<< Lift-Off!

After defeating the boss, your helicopter docks with this command carrier and lifts off at the beginning of the next stage. Bomb stocks are also refilled to 3, although if you have more than 3 in stock you will lose those.

Missile Spread (Blue) >>

This sprays a volley of 5 missiles at an outward angle from your ship. Excellent firing rate and decent spread, which compensates for its rather limited power.


<< Vulcan Cannon (Red)

This is your default weapon. It has decent power and shoots a barrage of bullets forward. Unlike other shooters, you could probably get quite far in the game just by using this weapon once it has been upgraded to maximum.

Back Shot (Yellow) >>

At maximum power, this shoots 2 fireballs forward and 4 fireballs at an angle behind your ship. This is the only weapon that can fire backwards, which means you will probably have to use it at some point. Thankfully its power is quite good.


<< Twin Laser (Orange)

The most powerful gun in the game, the laser can penetrate through enemies. However its coverage is very poor and you can only fire 3 shots on the screen at any one time. Devastating when used on bosses.


<< Bomb Select

At the beginning of the game, you get to choose your type of bomb. Choose wisely, as the bomb type cannot be changed once the game has started.

Ashura Bomb: Creates a huge mushroom cloud in front of your ship, not unlike the bomb in Raiden. Decent coverage and power.

Ashura Flash: Detonates a couple of small explosions, accompanied by an earthquake. Not as powerful as the Ashura Bomb, although the area of effect is larger.

Fire Wave: Scorches the ground with a rolling napalm firewall! The weakest bomb, however it has the greatest coverage both laterally and vertically since it also travels forward a short distance.

Satellite Beam: Press the bomb button once to arm the weapon, and once again to fire the beam. Very powerful, however the splash damage is pathetic as it only affects one enemy!

Alex's Final Word: Overall, the game shows a lot of promise for its time although its presentation is a little dated compared to today's standards.

The game is well balanced for the most part and there is a nice variety of weapon types and backgrounds. Ashura Blaster's biggest downfall is that it tries to do everything at once. Many nice features have been implemented to spice up the game, however none of those features are really too polished, which really hurts the final product.

Its a real shame too since a lot of little things missed by other shooters have been done really well (such as bomb restocking between levels and the annoying enemy AI). The most similar game I can compare this to is Raiden, so if you liked that you will probably enjoy Ashura Blaster.

I would recommend you to give this game a try, but don't expect too much. You might be pleasantly surprised.


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