Raging Blasters Review (Switch eShop)

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It’s just as well that you can never have too many shoot-’em-ups, because, without hesitation, Raging Blasters is absolutely fantastic. A Japanese-only release on Switch (although available on Steam) that’s magically all English from top to bottom, it’s the kind of indie gaming love labor that deserves a big shout-out atop a hill. A rhythmic daredevil with rarely a let-up, Raging Blasters is a love letter to Compile shmups that borrows heavily from Zanac.

Its presentation is superb, from the character design to the beautifully colored graphics and racing parallax. There’s good weight to the various gears and explosions, complete with crackling sound effects. While rolling backgrounds are simple in theme and very reminiscent Zanac Neoof the opening stage (PS1), their deep-space tech elements are nonetheless rendered with appealing artistic weight and beautiful color flow.

Special mention has to go to the soundtrack. Attach and adjust your headphones to the maximum: it’s a sonic barnstormer that positively illuminates your senses. And, as if that wasn’t ridiculously good already, an honestly too-cool-for-school chiptune arrangement version can be selected from the options screen.

There are two character options, both of which play identically, used either for cooperative play or the special “Dual Play” mode. Dual play, if you don’t know, is a niche designed for hardcore maniacs who want to control both ships simultaneously in single-player mode, popularized in the arcades by people who would take the challenge intravenously if they could. Additionally, a caravan mode has been included, which makes sense given Raging Blaster’s obvious inspirations. Caravan Modes, often seen in PC Engine’s shmup catalog, are intense and carefully crafted three-minute scoring challenges, now with online leaderboards for global rotation.

Very friendly for newcomers to the genre, here the “Normal” difficulty is actually just that, as opposed to the default settings of most shmups aimed at players already hardened to the genre. It’s a very easy and enjoyable initial 1CC (a clear credit) that acts as a satisfying practice platform before moving on to Hard and Expert modes, where dodging becomes more pressing and scoring more involving.

Mechanically, Raging Blasters is nice and simple. Your ship boasts forward firing and wide firing as standard, and the ability to alter the ship’s speed at will. An assortment of weapon icons are constantly raining down: lasers, wave cannons, fireballs, rings of protection, and homing missiles, all of which deal with chains of enemy formations in unique and often advantageous ways. Learning to use weapons is half the fun, and the game requires clever experimentation. A good example is the third stage’s rotating laser boss, which descends the fastest with a combination of wide-fire and homing missiles.

Each of Raging Blaster’s stages features two boss encounters packed with visual energy, with increasingly interesting patterns and moves that make good use of screen real estate. They’re generally very easy on the defaults, and score-based 1-ups are handed out generously as you chain enemies and destroy full waves. If you’re a DoDonPachi veteran having nightmarish flashbacks, relax: Raging Blaster’s chain is easy, enjoyable, and segmented, allowing for a decent amount of downtime between kills before the chain is lost. Learning enemy patterns, as well as weapon experimentation, is the key to strategy, in which you tie chains together and suck clouds of gems from successfully destroyed formations. And, if scoring isn’t your thing, you can just carry on with the joys of wanton destruction.

Being mostly the work of one man – a developer known as Terarin – it’s striking how well-tuned everything is. Nothing feels random or clunky, and the balancing is spot on. The fact that Terarin has listened carefully to over 20 testers and tweaked the game accordingly with each new beta really shows their dedication to the art.

If you liked the look and feel of M2’s GG Aleste 3 – a Game Gear homage released in late 2020 – you’ll love this. What’s even more incredible is that while this release arrived with a lot of fanfare and hype, Raging Blasters is a relative unknown that might actually slightly surpass Compile M2’s triple-A effort.

It’s a rare day that an independent shmup, so buried that most have never heard of it, manages to be this good at what it does. He doesn’t have vast worlds to fly over, nor does he try to innovate. Instead, it delivers an old-school shmup experience in a new way, fueled by influence and ambition, and love of a genre. Fans would be furious not to pick it up.

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