Air Blade is unique among shooters, and not in that "it does something
that nobody's managed to do better since its creation" sort of way.
No good sir, I mean it in that "it does something that never been
done before, and to date has not been done again" sort of way: It
takes the typical vertical shooter and turns it a two-player competitive
experience by pitting you not against hordes of ships but against
another ship similar to your own. Is it any good? Good question. Let's
find out, shall we?
Air Blade is a vertically-scrolling shooter whose field of combat
is divided in half horizontally. For the most part the player is
confined to the bottom half of the screen, while the computer-controlled
jet (or the other player) has to remain in the top half. From their
respective locations the crafts in question must try and deplete
their opponent's three lives (represented by the three armor bars
at the top of the screen) through canny use of bombs, bullets and
support attacks while simultaneously trying to avoid getting shot
down themselves. Having an armor bar whittled down with conventional
jet fire won't result in your ship getting destroyed, though the
standard orange-red shmup bullets can and will result in the loss
of your current bar and destruction of your craft. Win and you go
on to the next stage, minus whatever you lost from the previous
battles. Lose and you're forced to try again... provided you choose
to continue of course. Defeat all eight opposing ships and you win.
Air Blade uses three buttons, cleverly labelled A, B and C. Tapping
the A button rather predictably fires your plane's main weapon,
while holding down the button causes it to fire a stronger version
of said weapon at the cost of slower movement. Upgrades come in
the form of metallic canisters with green "P"s on them. As an aside,
after a few seconds of continuous fire there's a short pause as
the empty ammo canisters are ejected and new ones are reloaded.
This isn't a major issue, but it is worth noting.
are dropped, fired or otherwise launched with the B button. Actually,
"bomb" is sort of a misnomer as the effects range from lasers to
micro missiles to the more typical fiery blast. The one thing they
have in common is that both the blast/shots and the green aura that
surrounds your ship upon activation negate projectiles. Unlike some
shooters, however, they do not confer temporary invincibility upon
your ship. I discovered this the hard way after the second or third
time I panic bombed and still ended up dying when a bullet slipped
through the shots. You begin the game with one and acquire more
by collecting the small canisters with orange "B"s on them. Sixteen
small canisters equals one bomb, but if you're hard-pressed for
explosives you can trade in however many of the canisters you have
for a shorter explosive effect.
the C button controls support weapons, which are single-use items
that come in three varieties: Linear (a blue triangle), Homing (green
crosshairs) and Exchange (two orange arrows pointing up and down).
Linear is a temporary supplement to your own ship's weaponry that
relies own your aiming skills to connect, whereas Homing causes
your ship to emit a radar pulse, targeting the enemy craft with
auto-aiming or homing attacks should the pulse hit. Both of these
are fairly common and the exact attacks vary for each ship. The
third is much more rare, due to the powerful effect it has: It switches
the positions of you and your opponent, thereby opening up a new
set of offensive options.
you're on top the A button still controls your main weapon but this
time it's fired backwards and, when powered up, it fires those tiny
little reddish-orange bullets at the opposing ship in addition to
your normal weapon. Yes, the same little reddish-orange bullets
that show up in every shmup ever made and kill you instantly, which
is sort of weird. I mean, wouldn't you think that the shot that's
as large as the fuselage of your ship would be more dangerous than
a dinky little bullet? Well, whatever.
B button is... well, different. You see, when your ship is on top,
instead of a row of bombs you get something which for all the world
looks like the Super meter from Street Fighter Alpha. This three-level
meter slowly fills over time, filling up faster when you deal damage
to the opposing craft. Once you've got one or two levels in it you
can press the B button to release a large fireball that erupts into
a variety of shots shortly after leaving the rear of your ship,
with the Level 2 version usually being much more annoying and prone
to killing your opponent in one shot than the Level 1 version.
there's the Level 3 version of the above attack, which does not
release a fireball and indeed is so important as to warrant a paragraph
break, as it calls in a giant plane, tank, spaceship or otherwise
giant boss-like mechanized death-dealer with which your (or your
opponent's) ship docks, thereby putting the "Change" in "Change
Air Blade." Once docked, the A, B, and C buttons fire off boss-like
attacks, which usually translates to giant missiles and spreads
of bullets. You're not invincible, though: Your Super meter slowly
empties over time and once it's gone it's back to flying the unfriendly
skies, to say nothing of the fact that such large targets tend to
attract gunfire and explode in a rain of power-ups when damaged
now I'll bet some of you think that the C button still controls
your ship's special weapons, only with a unique twist. You'd be
right, actually: Linear calls in support ships that range from popcorn-type
helicopters to giant missiles, whereas Homing fires aimed - yet
still avoidable - shots. The Exchange is still there, but you may
not want it at this point.
got good news, bad news and good news again. The good news is that
this is an extremely innovative concept for a shoot-em-up. The bad
news is that "innovative" doesn't always mean "good." Oh, don't
get me wrong. The idea shows a lot of promise, just... not here.
For starters, Sammy seems to confuse "cheap" with "difficult," having
later ships throw hordes of enemies at you at once and launching
spreads of very, very fast bullets that are very difficult to navigate
through simply because there's so many bullets and explosions that
it's hard to see where you're going. Said enemies are also not only
capable but very, very eager to go into their boss form again about
ten seconds after you shoot them out of it the first time. It's
not even possible to memorize any patterns because their attacks
are completely randomized. If anything, it seems like the fighting
game element brought the concept of "cheese" along for the ride.
now I can hear someone asking, "but Hakubi, I've played a lot of
manic shooters in my day and this doesn't sound too out of the ordinary."
True, true... but when playing those other games, have you ever
seen an almost ninety-degree spread of bullets that's nearly impossible
to fly through and is fired so quickly that it can't be dodged,
even with the fastest ship? You've been cornered by an oncoming
mass of bullets after foolishly straying too far to the side of
the screen at some point, I'm sure, but have you ever been penned
in the middle of the screen by four streams of fireballs being fired
parallel to your ship with a squadron of a half-dozen popcorn ships
coming in from the side of the screen firing at you and, oh yeah,
did I forget to mention the constant fire coming from your opponent?
It's like trying to dodge bullets while standing in a phone booth.
Someone should tell these people that panic bombing is supposed
to be a last resort, not a reflexive action to any and all oncoming
the good news: Two-player mode is much better. Much, MUCH better.
There's actually some semblance of game balance such that even though
one of the players can be killed in one shot by an errant bullet
fired by the other player's giant helicopter, the first player can
still win. The ships themselves are fairly equal overall, with even
the most powerful weapons being kept in check via limitations on
their range or functionality. I would imagine that this game was
designed to be a head-to-head game with the one-player mode sort
of added on as an afterthought, because it sure as heck looks that
way from here.
from the usual "shoot at ships, get points" method of increasing
your score, you can get additional points by collecting the medals
that fall out of the enemy ship every so often as you're shooting
at it and spill out of their boss form once you defeat it. There
is a medaling system similar to that found in Raizing games (the
first medal will give you 100 points, the second 200, the third
300, then 400, 500, up to 1,000, 2,000 and so on until you top out
at 10,000 points whereupon 100,000 point medals begin appearing
every so often) though missing a medal will not reset the medals'
point values. Dying, yes. Missing one, no. This is actually pretty
merciful once you take into consideration how nasty some of the
fights can get.
second major boost to your score comes at the end of fights, where
you get points for how much armor you have remaining, how much time
you have left and how many bombs you still have in stock, with a
fairly sizeable bonus for clearing the stage in general. The easiest
ways to increase these numbers are to avoid getting hit, defeat
the enemy quickly, save your bombs and live to see the later stages,
mode has no scoring, because bragging rights are the greatest prize
of all. Or something like that.
nothing else, Change Air Blade looks impressive. Everything that
could have tiny little details added to it has received tiny little
details, from the power-up canisters that slowly rotate in midair
to your ship's fuselage as it opens up to fire a stream of shots.
Sparks fly off of your opponent when you shoot them and the massive
explosions that erupt from them when you finally shoot 'em down
are extremely gratifying.
the backgrounds are lush, detailed and unobtrusive... for the most
part, at least. There are stages, such as the snowfield, where some
shots tend to blend into the background. This isn't really a problem
with the background so much as with the people who thought it would
be a good idea to make some of the bullets spectacularly hard to
see. But I digress.
background music isn't outstanding but it's varied and sets the
stage rather well, with the tracks ranging from a cold, mechanical
tune for the oil refinery to some fast-paced synth rock for whenever
you or your opponent hops into one of your bossmobiles. Likewise,
the sound effects are pretty run-of-the-mill. They don't suck, but
they're not spectacular either.
While it did so something new to the genre and makes for a great
game to play with a friend, Change Air Blade's single-player gameplay
needs some work. It receives a 7 out of 10 from yours truly,
and while I would suggest this game to two people who enjoy
shoot-em-ups I cannot recommend it to one.