There was a time when bullet–hell games were part of the mainstream. This was back when games were significantly more challenging. You might remember the classics having a limited number respawns, and you needed to build lots of skill before you could reach the end or aim for the high score. Indie developers remember this time in history better than anyone as they won’t let it go and the world is a better place for it.
Stellar Circle is one of these developers. They have just released Blue Revolver, a game that channels classic Japanese arcade shoot em ups. I can’t speak for Japanese audiences, but this genre receives little attention from the West these days. Blue Revolver could be a step in the right direction as Stellar Circle has set out to satisfy long-time fans of the genre and introduce features to appease more casual gamers.
Blue Revolver is a manic shooter inspired by a lifetime of arcade classics. You play as Mae – a rabbit-eared technical genius on the run from maniac environmental group “Blue Revolver”, and shoot through snowy mountains, busy dockyards, nightmare bases and more. Each location is packed with vicious enemies, powerful bosses and tonnes of bullets to avoid.
The campaign is spread across 5 levels. It’s a highly personalised experience as you select from 3 pilots, choose 1 of 3 gun types, and equip 4 of 8 special weapons. Each special weapon is unique. Smart bombs destroy groups of enemies, shields block bullets, and another item transforms a screen full of chaos into glistening points to collect. Using the special weapons at the right time can create a chain of enemy kills, generating massive score multipliers. Timing is essential because naturally, scoring big awards plenty of extra lives.
There is also mission mode, which breaks the game up into 24 single-stage missions to offer an alternative to the campaign which can be used to teach you the basics. Some missions offer strict scoring or survival challenges, others are intended to educate you indirectly on experimental weapons, bullets that fade out and big pursuer bullets (some of the crazier things that are thrown your way).
Stellar Circle are targeting a casual audience by introducing an adaptive difficultly system. The difficulty climbs higher the better you perform, but should you suffer a bullet right where it hurts, the game eases up on you and lets you regain your breath. Far from being the end – losing a life here and there is simply part of the process.
If you’re a sucker for punishment, Parallel mode offers you more resources to play around with, but in exchange for such decadence, the game is locked at the hardest difficulty. This mode is for the truly skilled gamer. You are rewarded by completing the campaign on Parallel with a “nice” surprise at the end.
Blue Revolver’s graphics are set at a low base resolution with a strict colour palette to achieve a crisp, crunchy pixel art style. Stellar Circle are not exactly sure they could get the game running on a Game Boy Advance, but it’d look right at home on the handheld.
There’s also unlockable art, remix tracks and other goodies earned by clearing missions and completing the game. Steam Leaderboards and achievements are planned for a post release update.
Blue Revolver looks to offer enough classic shoot-em-up action to appease old-school gamers, while the innovations and pixel art style should intrigue indie fan boys everywhere. Long live Bullet Hell!
Blue Revolver is available now on PC (unfortunately not GBA).
Michael Vane is a freelance journalist and co-editor of PN2. He’s on Twitter @DrVane