Shoot-em-ups are tons of fun. Often short but sweet, they offer a finger-twitchy challenge unlike any other game. And Japanese developers have created a whole new mode of difficulty for their enjoyment, notably with the old Dreamcast standby Ikaruga.
Enter Astebreed by fan developer Edelweiss. While nowhere near as difficult as others in its corner, Astebreed brings incredible life to the genre with incredible graphics and smooth, perfect gameplay.
Set sometime in the future, Astebreed takes place in the middle of humanity’s war with a race of artificial life. At the forefront is the Astebreed bipedal mech, capable of utilizing the “Lucis” reality system and piloted by a young lad, Roy, with the assistance of Fiona, a young girl converted into the system.
As the game progresses, the truth of the war, Fiona, and her now-evil twin sister Estina, comes to light in a good but quick narrative. Characters are voiced well, and though the plot is anything but innovative, the cast plays out the drama pretty well.
There are great details about the story, but it proves incredibly difficult to absorb them as the primary method of storytelling is for the characters to talk – in Japanese – with localized subtitles while the player is in combat. It’s not distracting, but trying to focus on both reading and the chaotic slaughter that is the main gameplay gets to be too much.
And the gameplay is indeed glorious. Twisting up the shooter modus operandi, Astebreed gives the player a host of weapons with different capabilities. With area or targeted lock-on and a giant sword to boot, ripping apart the enemy sounds like it might be too easy, but the game gives no quarter and the difficulty is maintained.
Taking the regular rail mentality and changing that game is another of Astebreed’s qualities. The game seemlessly switches from a left-to-right to a top-down orientation as the situation calls for it, and adjusting for the change isn’t difficult in the slightest.
Control-wise it might be better to tackle this game with your favorite gamepad. Using the keyboard isn’t an issue at all, but switching to a console controller feels even more natural for a thumb-twitcher and the joystick comes in handy.
Set against beautiful space backdrops and a couple planetary landscapes, Astebreed is also a beautiful game to see. With dynamic animations and gorgeous light effects, the sight of another wave of enemies getting intercepted and added to the scoreboard is addicting and satisfying.
And there are plenty of opportunities to appreciate the graphical goodness – one long one, actually. The game never “pauses” in its pace, moving from one mission to the next as if the game were one long game broken up by in-game cutscenes. With the only menus between levels being the results from the previous encounter, the pace of the game is smooth and slightly on the fast side.
Gameplay itself is moderately difficult, even with the ability to auto-target enemies and cut bullets with a sword. Where the game falls a bit short is its length. Weighing in at only six chapters, Astebreed will be over before you know it. The option to replay on higher difficulties exists for the truly hardcore, but aside from squeezing a few more hours out the game’s replayability is slim at best.
Overall, Astebreed is an awesome action game for the shoot-em-up fan – or for newcomers looking for a gateway. With game-changing gameplay, beautiful visuals, and a decent story, Astebreed makes for a great diversion that you’ll wish could go on forever.