SHMUPs, vertically-scrolling shoot ‘em ups, “bullet hells,” or whatever else you might want to call them are things that I would usually rather just avoid. As my body gathers up the years and my reflexes start to wane, the idea of fast-paced shoot ‘em ups, dying repeatedly and dealing with the frustration of getting nowhere just doesn’t appeal to me as it might have in my heyday.
In that context, I find Ginga Force to be a very difficult game, but also somehow one that gave me enough crumbs to want to advance through every level it has to offer. The team at Qute Corporation clearly knows what they are doing, and are able to strike a small, yet not unreasonable balance between hard-as-nails gameplay and allowing people like myself to enjoy the game as well.
Most of Ginga Force is played in a traditional style – that being vertically scrolling with the camera above the action. The game is reminiscent of classics such as the 19XX series and Raiden series, though created with 3D visuals in mind. Those 3D visuals allow the developers to create segments of the game where the action takes place from different perspectives when the time allows.
Thankfully, the best thing about shoot ‘em ups is the gameplay. And for Ginga Force, the gameplay is as tight as you would hope for. In classic style, each stage comprises several smaller, easy to kill ships, a dabble of harder to kill enemies, and then a gigantic boss made of guns at the end. It’s classic shoot ‘em up, and the game excels at this approach.
Some abilities that you are able to perform is changing the speed of your craft’s movements, allowing to make slight adjustments and broad sweeping movements well within control. Though I died often enough in every level up until the end, I was able to learn the patterns and change my movement speeds accordingly pretty fast, surprising even myself. The biggest thing that had me coming back and trying each level again without allowing myself to get too frustrated was the store. When losing all lives within a level, collected money is still saved to an account. I was able to use this money to upgrade my ship’s weaponry and gain additional bonuses which eventually helped me get to that final level and complete the game.
After amassing a large collection of primary and sub-weapons, I was able to experiment with a variety of combinations to see which worked better for certain levels. At times, I was unable to beat a level even with my most powerful weaponry. A simple switch to homing missiles allowed me to get past large groups of smaller enemies while I fled wave upon wave of bullets. It does take a lot of experimenting to get the right combination for each level, and if I was not feeling particularly patient, my approach to the game might have been completely different.
The action is rather smooth, and while the visuals are not impressive by what the PlayStation 4 is capable of (I still can’t believe that hardware is now considered “humble” – ed.), the game is crisp and colourful enough that each element stands out. There was no visible slow down at any point in my playthrough either, no matter how much was on screen. Enemies themselves are generic sci-fi fare, so there is not anything overly memorable about the graphics, other than that they service the genre as best as you would hope for.
With all this being said, I still just barely scraped through the easiest difficulty. There are more difficulty levels to master. I found these too hard on a personal level, and some of the unlocks in the game’s store are predicated on completing levels on higher difficulties. This was the point that I had to stop, as it felt like I was hitting my head against a brick wall. Many fans of the genre won’t likely have as much of a problem as I had, but it is worth noting for people wanting to dip their toes into a shoot ‘em up that Ginga Force is going to be cruel and uncompleted if you’re not up to its challenge.
Ginga Force is one of the better shoot ‘em ups I’ve played. As someone who traditionally is not a fan of the genre, this game absolutely gave me reason enough to play each of the levels. It is a shame that the narrative is too difficult to follow as it happens alongside the action. The ability to upgrade weapons and purchase bonus items, even after failing a level, is a welcome ingredient to allow people who only casually play within the shoot ‘em up genre the ability to enjoy the game enough to get through to the end, but the fact that a lot of the good stuff is locked behind “for genre veterans only” difficulty settings does whittle down the game’s potential audience a little.