What is it about a schmup game, that makes the genre fantastic for the select few who enjoy that kind of unrelenting hell? A genre which has been pretty much left to decompose, while other more visceral shooters take the spotlight. It gets even weirder when you factor in a game like Ghost Blade HD, a throwback to vertical shooters of the past.
I’m talking games like Ikaruga or Battle Garegga, games that took the action from a horizontal space and flipped it so that the screen went vertical instead. I’ve got a lot of love for those games, intense titles that never let up once and barely gave you a chance to breathe. Ghost Blade HD is that kind of game, a shinier memory of a past that was filled with sweaty armpits, blistered thumbs and a bladder begging for sweet release.
Only this time, it feels like a perfect introduction to bullet hell for newcomers.
Ghost Blade HD isn’t exactly complex. You’ve got three ships, three different loadouts and a handful of stages to survive. Players can unleash an arsenal of wide spread-shots at the screen or focus everything into a tight beam of destruction that slows down their movements to a crawl as they trade speed for power. Simple, addictive stuff. But sweet Xevious, it’s fun if you’re into that kind of bullet hell action. Ghost Blade HD manage to capture a certain moment and flow that few other titles can. I’m a big believer in games having a flow, a sense of movement that absorbs you completely.
Schmups at their best, completely separate you from reality. You’re existing in a state where it’s just you and the TV, a sweaty controller and fresh blisters on your thumbs as you work your way through wave after wave of endless hordes of enemies with the military budget of Trump’s America. But that’s the beauty of a schmup, of knowing that you face an endless and perhaps insurmountable obstacle in front of you.
Good schmups take this idea and run with it. Excellent schmups know that by giving you that little bit of an edge in combat, you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished something. Maybe that’s why these games are tragic beauties. They’re projects where you’ll never ever really notice all the chaos happening in front of you as you become consumed by all of the action on the screen. It’s the most fleeting of artistic moments, and the genre is better for it.