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November 22 2017

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  Blazing Star - iPhone/iPad/Android - ©SNK 2012





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Game Stats
Other:
Players:
1 or 2 player (via Bluetooth)

Type:
Shoot 'em up

Format:
iPhone/iPad/Android
Other versions:

Originally on the Neo Geo AES/MVS, the mobile version is also available on the Android platform.


Reviewed By:
Top Reviews By This Author:
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Note: This review is based on playing the game on an iPhone 4S, but should be relevant to other devices such as the iPad and Android phones too.

Review Introduction:

Originally released in 1998 by the now defunct Yumekobo, Blazing Star is a much heralded shoot 'em up for the Neo Geo. A sequel to their earlier 1995 game Pulstar (released when they were known as Aicom), Blazing Star was and still is a brilliant shoot 'em up that oozes class in every area. An interesting fact about this game is that it's also allegedly the origin of the "FAIL" meme, due to the amount of broken English throughout. The phrase "YOU FAIL IT", along with many of the other badly translated English lines in the game are classics.

If you asked almost any Neo Geo fan, they would most likely name Pulstar and Blazing Star as the best of the genre available for SNK's console. The iPhone does of course have ample power to run this game, but with the need for precise controls however, how well does Blazing Star translate over to playing on a touch screen mobile phone?


Gameplay:

Compared to it's predecessor Pulstar, Blazing Star is a much faster paced style of game. It relies more on reactions, and less on memorising enemy patterns. For those unfamiliar with the original version, Blazing Star uses two buttons for attacks, but you can fire a variety of different shots depending on how those buttons are pressed. There are also a number of different craft to choose from, each with their own distinct abilities.


The A button fires your ships standard shot when tapped, however rapidly tapping the button fires a more powerful version. If you hold the A button down your craft will charge up it's special shot; releasing A unleashes a powerful attack, and the length of time this goes on for depends on how long you charged it up for. You can also pick up power-ups during the game that will increase the energy meter in the bottom left corner, allowing for more powerful attacks. While your special shot is underway, tapping the secondary attack button changes the charge shot to a different one. For example, the "Hell Hound" craft by default shoots a powerful fireball that is concentrated directly in front of it. Tapping the B button while it's still firing switches this to a less powerful shot, but one that spreads out across the screen; often useful when you are surrounded by smaller enemy craft.

The original Neo Geo version was easy to pick up and play, and the iPhone version is no different. However, upon loading the game for the first time it's worth giving consideration to which of the two control methods you want to use. The default is touch screen, where you drag your finger across the screen to move the ship. There is also the option to have a fixed pad in the bottom left corner of the screen. I did initially think that the pad would work better, however it really does not feel comfortable to me personally and like many iPhone games it's to fiddly and imprecise to work well. If you simply tap a direction it's fine, but sliding your finger to change the direction you're moving (for example from left to right), does not seem to work very well. I ended up going back to the touch screen control before long. It does work better, however it does seem very awkward, particularly on the slower moving ships. You seem to have to swipe across more than once to move the whole way across the screen, and I've often ended up losing a life while simply trying to get to power ups etc.

Speaking of pickups, there are a number of items you can collect during the course of Blazing Star's seven stages. There are the aforementioned powerups that increase your firepower, but there are also many bonus items that increase your score. Angel wings give you a score multiplier for a short time, blue gems give you points, and finally there are the five letters on each stage that spell out "L-U-C-K-Y". Collecting all of these will give you another points bonus at the end of the stage.


While this game may not be anywhere near as difficult as Pulstar, it's still a challenge, especially on the higher difficulty levels. Your skills will be tested, and unfortunately so too will your patience when it comes to the controls. While the sensitivity of the controls was spot on on the Neo Geo, it's far less so on a touch screen, and let's face it, touch screen controls will never be as precise as a proper controller. After a bit of practice it does become easier though and the game is very enjoyable, but you'll likely struggle to achieve the same kind of scores that you could on the real thing.

It's worth mentioning that the game does provide the capability for two player, via Bluetooth. I haven't tried this personally, but would assume it works well.

Graphics:

Back when this was first released, I thought Blazing Star was a lovingly crafted and beautiful game to look at, and to be honest my opinion has not changed, a whole fourteen years later. Blazing Star uses a combination of pre-rendered graphics converted into 2D sprites, as well as standard hand drawn sprites. There are also a few short pre-rendered introduction sequences with some brief anime cutscenes, that are quite pretty to look at. Newer gamers playing Blazing Star for the first time may not think it looks particularly impressive, but those of us with a memory that goes back a little further than Call of Duty will probably recognise the effort that went into it. Both the enemy and player ships are well animated and everything moves fluidly with only a little bit of slowdown. The backgrounds are also varied and good to look at, and importantly for a shoot 'em up, bullets don't get mixed in with the background, so when you die you can't really use the excuse that you "didn't see it coming".


DotEmu, the makers of this port, have thankfully added in a few graphics options that fans will appreciate. There is a graphics filtering option that blurs everything a little and makes it look smoother, although I have to say that when playing the game on a small iPhone screen, it looks absolutely fine (and probably better) without this turned on. There's an option to use either 50% or 100% scanlines for that old-school arcade monitor look... I wasn't sure about using them at first, but I actually think the 50% scanlines option with filtering turned off looks great! It's probably more noticeable when playing on an iPad though. Either way, it's great to have the options there. You can also switch between 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratio. Although I would normally despise stretching out something that is natively not widescreen so that it fits the entire screen, in truth it's not too noticeable on Blazing Star and I'm happy enough sticking to the default 16:9 setup.

Overall it was a great looking game in 1998, and it still looks good now!


Sound effects & Music:

The audio experience in Blazing Star does divide opinion a little bit. The music is undoubtedly excellent and features brilliantly composed electronic tunes that suit the on screen action perfectly. All of the usual explosions etc that you would expect from this type of game are fine too... but then there's the speech. There's nothing particularly wrong with it, but I know some people that say they were quite frankly driven mad by the excessive use of one particular speech sample. Every time you collect any kind of bonus you're subjected to the announcer shouting "BONUS", and it does get a little repetitive. I must say that after a few plays, it just becomes par for the course and you don't really notice it at all, or at least I dont anyway.

Even after all these years I enjoy listening to the soundtrack though. I would definitely recommend clicking the link on the menu to your left for the SNK Jukebox and searching for the handful of Blazing Star tracks that are on there! Well worth it if you haven't heard them before!


Overall:

So, is SNK's latest mobile release worth paying the measly sum of $2.99 (or the £1.99 I paid from the UK store)? I'd have to say yes, provided you can make peace with the controls and can deal with the fact that it's never going to be perfect. If you've ever played a touch screen game you'll know what to expect, although I would hope DotEmu considers updating the game with a slightly improved and more configurable control system. First off the pad control could be better, and I think it would be nice if they allowed you to press anywhere on the screen and have the controls appear there (many games do this), rather than it being in a fixed location at the bottom of the screen. The touch screen control option could do with a sensitivity option too, which would help things a little. There are games that handle this type of control better (Espgaluda for one), so improvements are needed.


Finally, the attack buttons need a little work too. While DotEmu have included the option of moving the A and B buttons to wherever you want them to be on-screen, I'd love it if you could increase the size of the buttons. I often find my hand slipping away from where it should be and I've occasionally ended up tapping the screen like a madman, not realising that my finger has moved slightly so I'm basically pressing nothing. I'm not sure how my sausage like fingers ever manage to miss the buttons to be fair, but they do! Also, an auto fire option would surely help here. The fact that Blazing Star has different attacks depending on how quickly you tap the button (and of course the charge shot) means you couldn't make autofire the default, they could add an extra button for it. You could class this as cheating I guess, but seeing as the controls aren't what they originally were, I think there should be a trade-off. A little more thought on the setup would have gone a long way, but here's hoping that we see a future update that improves this!

Purists aren't going to want to play this version due to the controls, but then again purists probably own the real thing. If you want to casually play one of the best shoot 'em ups around then you could do much worse than to get Blazing Star. I suppose some people might point out that there have been other handheld devices around for ages that emulate the Neo Geo perfectly (unofficially) and have better controls, but I like the fact that I now have a portable version that I can while away a bit of time on while travelling, and am more than happy to support the release of more SNK titles in this format. I'd actually love to see Pulstar released at some point too, although the lack of precise controls would likely make it Hell on Earth to play properly... I sense a lot of swearing and temptation to throw your device at the nearest brick wall, unless in future we see improved control methods.

Will be interesting to see what other games SNK choose to port over next. In the words of the game.:

SEE YOU NEXT TIME- BYE BYE!!!


Graphics: 9/10
Sound: 9/10
Game play: 7.5/10
Replay Value: 8/10

Overall Rating: 8/10



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