Blazing Star - Yumekobo

Blazing Star

Reviewed by Postman and Mechaman

Player 1

  Player 2

Once in a lifetime, a shooter comes along that is so mind-blowing, so graphically advanced, so visually stunning that the huddled shmup masses belt forth a collective "ooohhh" and "aahhhh" as the perfectly positioned sprites dance across the screen. Jaws hit the floor with a loud "SMACK", and quarters are feverishly thrown into machines as if they were burning a hole in someone's pocket. This happens to be the deal with PULSTAR, but its psuedo-sequel, Blazing Star, ain't so bad either...

If you're not familiar with Pulstar, it just happens to be, IMHO, the most graphically advanced shooter yet to date. The game is basically an R-Type clone (same enemies and even level designs in some places….) with rendered graphics, which look really beautiful. Smooth animations, detailed and colorful backgrounds, 3-D movement on a 2-D plane; I get a sugar rush when playing because of the high amount of eye candy. And if the graphics of PS alone aren't enough, the gameplay is just as intense. Exactly like R-Type, with the slow, memorized gameplay, and intense pattern based enemies. Blazing Star is done in the same graphical style as Pulstar, but with some major differences that split up the two camps of devoted Shmupees. Where Pulstar is inch-by-inch memorization, Blazing Star is thumb-busting action. Most shooter fans tend to prefer one style over the other, so PS fans may be a little disappointed with Blazing Star.

When watching the intro screens, you can tell why they call it "attract mode". Attract these graphics really do. Rendered ships mixed with anime cutscenes set the mood for a graphical extravaganza. We are introduced to the six different ships, along with the pilots. Each ship has a different strength and weakness, some being offensive power vs. defensive power, speed, or even one ship which can't power up at all. The Pulstar ship is selectable, but you can't detonate the pod like in the first one. After choosing the pilot, call a friend over, because Blazing Star is two player simultaneous, one great improvement over the first one.

The weapons systems of each ship offer two choices: rapidly smashing the fire button results in a left-bar side powerup, which usually acts as a rapid-fire spread pattern of bullets. Holding the button down results in a right-bar side power up, which issues a powerful blast, or in one ship's case a shield. Rather than offering bombs, the second button is called the "breaker button". After using a right-side power up, a powerful blast is launched at an enemy. Pushing the breaker causes the blast to scatter out into several directions…..this technique calls for good timing and decision making. Should you use the power shot or break it up like a shotgun buckshot?

Once you figure out the weapons, start the gameplay which is intense. Fast action, huge bosses, you name it, Blazing Star's got it. Destroying lots of enemies with one shot rings up chain combos for more points (who cares...), and destroying all sections of certain enemies leaves letters which spell out the word "L U C K Y". At the end of each level, a status screen tells how you did, even giving a letter grade for the section! (Gee mom, I flunked Blazing Star and had to be held back a grade….) One annoying part of gameplay though is every time a bonus item comes out, words appear on the screen saying "Grab it" or "Bonus item appears" with an annoying voice over. Even if you die, the game makes fun of you saying "Hey, poor player!" This gives BS a kiddie element, which kinda ruined it for me a little. A serious, hard edged game with pop up wording? Blech.

Being an arcade game, BS was designed as a quarter muncher, which is very frustrating. Some sections you just have to die over and over at. Level six gets so crowded with ships it's impossible to even move, and the end boss alone...I challenge anyone to beat that thing using less than 10 continues... Blazing Star is not too difficult, except for those sections, but with unlimited continues starting right where you died (Yes! No save states here...) you can blow through this game in 45 minutes. Levels are a little short, but there is a cool boss-descending down a spaceport part, and an entire battleship level 6 which is really intense. To top things off, try to spot the SNKglish on the wording... makes me chuckle now and then. Having said all that, Blazing Star is definitely in my top 10, and every shooter fan MUST play this and Pulstar. Or else...

Graphics - 100
Sound - 100
Gameplay - 90
Overall - 95

- Postman


The first time I read SHMUPS! at college, I remembered all the good times I'd had playing shooters on the NES and SNES, as well as arcade ones. In one of those strange coincidences, in the next week or so I was walking by the arcade in a nearby mall, and noted some weird anime-based cut-scenes on a NeoGeo machine. Being the type to be distracted by pretty pictures, I immediately had to go over and have a look. The little frontspiece said "A Shooter With The Ultimate In NeoGeo CG Is Here!"
(cue dramatic Babylon 5 voice)
The year was the latter half of 1998.
The game…was Blazing Star.

OK, a bit dramatic, but I'd never seen PULSTAR before. In fact, when I got back I ran to look at the Xenocide Files, and was shocked to discover that Blazing Star was in fact Pulstar 2! Yes children, the love-child of R-Type has its own successor-and this time, it's been caught pants-down with Thunderforce! Blazing Star modifies the Pulstar gameplay to present a much faster, bullet-dodging, over-the-top-firepower game-no longer do you need to grab speed-ups or choose your shots carefully. Along the way, it's lost a bit of the classic Pulstar difficulty and some long-time fans despise it for that. However, Blazing Star still holds up on its own, and I for one find it an excellent shmup for those times when I'm bored.

Graphic-wise, Blazing Star maintains the Pulstar tradition-semi-rendered sprites, with animation sequences for big ones. While actual in-game graphics haven't changed too much, there is a LOT more animation than in Pulstar. The game opens with a jaw-dropping CG animation interspersed with pictures of the main cast(half of which look like they've escaped from a Tenchi Muyo episode being filmed nearby). In-game, we've got enemies reconfiguring their shapes, bosses that transform to attack-modes(with loving design and detail), and even some actual morphing a'la the Pulstar first-stage boss. But where Blazing Star has a massive lead on Pulstar is the backgrounds and the situations you fly through. In the first stage, you'll fly through an oddly-shaped desert-and the battleship that appears far in the background launches a few drones that animatedly fly out to engage you. Second stage has you eventually come to a series of doors that lock in front of you. Just as you start to wonder if you can shoot through them, a series of massive laser blasts rip the doors apart. As the debris spirals outward in decompression, you find that you've been flying through a massive space colony. And the list goes on; every level has some amazing situation or lovingly-animated background for you to stare at. It's also just as much fun to read the in-game text; each boss has more wacky English than Radiant Silvergun("Dangerous! Pay attention to backwards!", "Don't be panic! I have a bad feeling!"). The game even taunts you if you get killed, like "You Poor Player!" and "Waking Up?".

This time around, you also have multiple ships to choose from. Among the roster, Kaoru and the Dino 246 from Pulstar are yours to choose from(and it looks like she brought her sister). Each ship has its own attack pattern, super attack, and play style to choose from. You can still get "heightened" shots by smacking the fire button rapidly, although some ships are easier to do it with. Super attacks are analogous to the charge beam from Pulstar(in fact, the Dino 246 maintains its single megablast). Everything to a flurry of hyper-shots, to exploding plasma "fireworks", to even a massive "energy chainsaw" are available depending on the ship. Instead of allowing the B button to lock guns into position(and it seems only the Dino ships have them)though, pressing the B button when you fire a super varies the attack's effect. Some ships like the Hellhound scatter lots of smaller(but still deadly) blasts around the screen. However, using the B button causes the charge meter to flash for awhile, and you can't charge while it's blinking.

Much more emphasis is placed on scoring this time around as well. You have a hit meter, similar to Einhander, that tracks the current largest amount of enemies you've whacked with a single blast. Enemies also release bonus icons, and destroying single groups of targets will release "Lucky" panels(L, U, C, K, Y), that are also added up at the end of the level. You're ranked on score at the end of each level as well-zap everything skillfully and get an "A" rating. Most fans will probably toss it off as unworthy of their attention, but I quite like it-it gives more incentive to play BS as an arcade shooter rather than by yourself. I just wish there were secret bonuses to be gained, or accuracy ones so that skilled players could have an extra bragging point.

I may get in trouble, but I like the music in Blazing Star more than in Pulstar. Every level has its own distinctive tune, and they're more "danceable" than in Pulstar. The opening music is also dramatic. Sound effects have been ripped from Pulstar, no change there. However, you now have an announcer! Bonus items, powerups, and hit streaks are all shouted out energetically by a female voice. I know some people get annoyed at the voice yelling left and right, but it gives the game that much more of a "crowd" feel(and you do even get cheered at the end of a level by a crowd), sometimes I get long hit-streaks just to hear "Pinpon!" or "Yay!" again.

Where Blazing Star eventually falls down though, is replayability towards the end of the game. Starting at the end of level 3 and really making itself felt in level 6, it almost seems as if the programmers decided that they were making an overhead shooter instead-many bosses simply shower you with bullets and attacks at the same time, with virtually no safe spots. In fact, at the end of level 6 it's quite possible to have lifespans measured in less than 5 seconds. Moreover, there's no point to having them; since you promptly start where you died(and even with full power, if you continued), it becomes die-shoot-die-shoot-continue-shoot-die-die, etc. Especially in the emulated arcade version, where you effectively have unlimited continues. Maybe you can get around it by using the Pulstar ship(what a twist of irony, that), but it still smacks of hurriedness to me.

Overall, Blazing Star is a worthy followup to Pulstar. Because of their differences, it's almost like playing two separate games instead of sequels. Those who found Pulstar too "cheap"(and you lot know who you are) will probably find Blazing Star to be their cup of tea. Pulstar fans may not find it to be nearly a challenge, though. Still, Blazing Star is at least worth a look, and most will probably stay for a full-length stare.

For those who need cold, hard numbers:
Graphics: 90
Sound: 80
Gameplay: 60
Overall: 80

Mechaman -

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Cheers for the reviews, Mechaman and Postman! Blazing Star really is a great game IMO, though I am one of those who prefer Pulstar to Blazing. Must be the R-Type tradition I have inside =P

Great points are the eyecandy, the choice of ships (I always love games that let me choose ships, like Raiden Fighters), and the tight gameplay. Surely a game not to be missed by any Neo-Geo fan or collector.

- Akira


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