28th Dec2017

Digital Shorts: ‘Gunbird’ Review (Nintendo Switch)

by Phil Wheat

In DIGITAL SHORTS we review some of the latest video games that are only available digitally (at least in the UK), in a short-form review format. In this edition we take a look at Gunbird, a port of the classic shmup now available on the Nintendo Switch from Zerodiv.

gunbird-switch-screen

I distinctly remember the first time I came across Gunbird, it was on one of those “discount games” racks that used to proliferate non-game stores across the UK during the tail-end of the Playstation 2 era. You know the ones – games released by the likes 505 GameStreet, Grabit and Xplosiv. In fact Gunbird was released in a special edition – containing arcade editions of Gunbird 1 and 2 on the PS2 – by Xplosiv, back in 2005. At the time I was a latecomer to Sony’s second console so I was snapping up all the budget titles and 2nd-hand games I could find that interested me. Hence buying a copy of Gunbird: Special Edition one weekend from the local Wilkos.

And I still own that game today. You see unlike a lot of titles I never sold, rebought, sold and rebought Gunbird: Special Edition (something I tend to do with ALL my stuff). Yet even I couldn’t resist snapping up this new Nintendo Switch iteration of Gunbird – after all, Nintendo’s hybrid console is easily my favourite way to play games AND it’s swiftly becoming the home for shmuop this generation; so it only seems fair to give one of my favourite shmups a test-drive on the Switch.

Of course this is not the first Psikyo shmup that Zerodiv have brought to the Switch, earlier this year we had the awesome Strikers 1945 port that set the standard for vertical shmups on Nintendo’s handheld. It also showed how such games would work on the console – with a traditional “mid-screen” playing field in widescreen, and a superb TATE mode when turning the Switch vertically and disconnecting the joy-cons; and this port of Gunbird, thankfully, uses the very same gameplay modes.

[SIDE NOTE: Pair up an external controller, such as Nintendo's own Pro Controller or Game Devil's Trident Pro-S Controller, and TATE mode becomes even better, taking the shmup experience to a whole new level on the Switch!]

Again, like Strikers 1945, controls in Gunbird are kept to the basics: one button is for rapid fire and the other launches your bombs – and you’ll REALLY need you bombs if you’re playing on the games harder levels – this is one unforgiving game, not quite a bullet-hell blaster a la Bug Princess or Espgaluda but there’s still plenty of challenge, with enemies appearing in the debris of other enemies, trees moving away to reveal huge vehicles hell bent on destroying you. You know the usual… and although I did say Gunbird is not quite a bullet-hell shooter, should you complete the game (which is entirely possible with the option of a huge NINE lives and unlimited continues) then you can play through again in a mode that is set to destroy you the minute each level begins, filling the screen with enemeies and bullets alike!

Thankfully completing the game is one of the major highlights, with multiple endings for each character and for single player and two-player modes. Speaking of which, the two-player game is fantastic in TATE and docked mode alike – with the real challenge being who can kill the most enemies and get the highest score rather than actually getting through the game!

With a choice of three characters (with witch Marion being a personal favourite), the usual weapon upgrades – including a fantastic scattershot – Gunbird is a superb example of the genre and an essential purchase for Switch-owning shmup fans.

**** 4/5

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