A New Perspective
Originally released in 2015 on PS4, Astebreed is now being ported to Switch here in 2018. Even though this 2.5D shooter is a few years old, don’t let that distract you as this is one fast paced bullethell.
This isn’t a typical shooter as the main gimmick is the ever changing perspective. One of the six stages might start as a horizontal shooter, then transition to a vertical perspective, then move to an over the shoulder view sort of like Star Fox. These transitions are also smooth, fast, and always lead to intense gameplay. Some segments can display several dozen enemies and bullets on screen at once, making this shoot’em up a dream for action fans. It is also worth pointing out that there is never any slowdown and the visuals remain crisp throughout.
Besides switching view points, Astebreed also separates itself through its control scheme and offensive capabilities. Since the attacking mechanics are so different, the player is advised to play through the opening prologue and optional tutorial segments. Luckily, these lessons explain things well in a short amount of time. In summary, the player can attack with typical lasers that extend across the screen, there is a melee attack that is more powerful and can negate certain incoming bullets but has a short reach, or homing missiles can be launched by using the second analog stick. Pushing the analog stick in a direction will focus the homing missiles for a more powerful attack whereas pressing the right stick will expand a bubble around the player and any enemy that enters that space can be attacked. Then, adding another layer on a complicated system, the player can go on the offensive with two attacks at once. I found that holding the melee button while depressing the right stick was a powerful combo.
Cheesing attacks is alright if you want to clear the game on the lower difficulties without too much trouble, but score fanatics will want to pick their shots and build the combo meter. By attacking certain enemies with certain attacks without getting hit, the player can exponentially increase the score. The health system also makes this shooter forgiving to reduce frustration. Unlike the one-hit kills in R-Type, the player has a health bar that regenerates overtime and there are Trophies available for skilled players who can finish the game without taking damage.
The story is the weakest element in Astebreed. With characters only speaking in Japanese, there are English subtitles throughout the entire game. While this isn’t an issue during cutscenes, it is literally impossible to play the game, as frantic as it is, and read the small subtitled text at the bottom of the screen when there a million things happening on screen during gameplay. There is something about aliens invading and you and your mech suit need to stop them. Unless you pause the game during gameplay, there is no way to understand, let alone read, the story. But this is an action game so story takes a back seat anyway. Each stage only takes a few minutes to complete so the entire campaign can be finished in well under an hour. The replay value comes from trying to earn better scores with the multiplier component.
Visually, everything looks crisp and clear especially when playing in the over the shoulder view as the draw distance and sense of speed is impressive. Even though backgrounds essentially loop, it still feels like you are flying through this massive open area. The soundtrack is also suitable but the Japanese voices actually get annoying during gameplay and will want to turn them off completely.
For a budget price of $20, this 2.5D sleeper hit mech shmup is worth a shot especially if you are a fan of the genre. The gameplay has depth thanks to the thoughtful control and attack scheme, making this more than just a fight for survival. Just be sure to skip the cutscenes but not the tutorials.
Also available on Nintendo Switch.
Not As Good As: Sin and Punishment – Star Successor (Wii)
Reminds Me Of: Space Harrier
Also Try: Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner Mars (PS4/PSVR)