Top-down shooters (or verticals shooters) have an urgency about them. No fiddling with settings, customising a character or endless cutscenes but fast, hard-hitting action. Immediately. Ghost Blade HD from Eastasiasoft is just that, a shooter that gives praise to all those that preceded it, such as Gradius, Ikaruga and 1941.
From installation to starting a mission, it’s instant gratification within a few button presses from the title screen as you’ll be shooting stuff in no time. No fussing around with evil tyrants, disappearing princesses or lore you need to read about before grasping where this is all going. Select one of three available characters, each with their own vehicle, jump in a ship, start shooting, and be prepared for heaps of evasive techniques as there are a lot of bullets to dodge.
Visually, this is one of the best shooters in this sub-genre that I’ve played, and it’s smooth too without any apparent slowdown, despite the deluge of projectiles. Enemy ships are varied, and the game doesn’t overuse the same models, much to its advantage. The actual ballistics (steady) are gorgeous, filling the screen with a wealth of neon and vibrancy. Yes, the presentation is fantastic, but you won’t be able to take it all in as it’s all very frantic. Don’t expect combos here, you have a spray-type attack, concentrated fire in one place and expected bombs to wipe out anything on-screen. There are power-ups too, which are permanent. Well, until death.
The best vertical shooters are the simplest, but Ghost Blade HD is not without a few features. Paying homage to the screen ratios of the classic shooters, Ghost Blade HD is also in a vertical setup with the borders decorated by characters, spaceships or other designs. These are interchangeable from the pause menu, and I believe there are six options. The hub can also be repositioned, if you wish. These features are just cosmetic, of course, but a nice touch nevertheless. Other options include the transparency of projectiles; a lot is going on, so this might be beneficial to tweak things a bit.
If you want a challenge, then Ghost Blade HD certainly offers it as there are three difficulty levels to opt for and over five stages. I’d assume you’re a bit of a sadist, if not an uber gamer, if you go for the harder modes, most likely the former as its bloody hard. The normal mode was where I liked to coast as easy was a little too easy. Don’t be fooled by the hard level though. When I first attempted it, I didn’t lose a life in the first level and thought I could handle it. Then it upped its game…
For the majority of the time, anticipate your thumbs to be firmly held on one of two buttons; this is where an auto-fire Switch would work. With your attack strategy taken care of, the main focus will be dodging enemy attacks. There is so much going on that it’s quite a revelation when you complete a stage. There isn’t much technique involved for the average player. Focus all your power into one attack or use the multi-directional attack. There aren’t unlockables, as such, other than the power-ups that you can max out in the first few moments.
I’d like to say that I was calm and collected with my evading, but I noticed that I was very subtly using the analogue stick with the slightest of movements. Just enough to escape a pink orb of death, followed by a dash to the left or right to avoid an incoming enemy. There isn’t much screen real estate, and sections are very, very tight to manoeuvre through.
Ghost Blade HD is perfect on the Switch. I played this predominantly in handheld mode as it gave me the freedom to play anywhere and in short bursts if I wanted to. Instead, I would play in larger chunks (i.e. the kids had a Disney flick on, so I slumped in the sofa, shooting stuff in space). The audio shouldn’t be a focal point in this type of game, you only need to hear laser blasts and explosions and perhaps a guitar-heavy soundtrack (yes, please). In Ghost Blade HD the music is quite subtle, opening up every now and then to remind you how good it is without distracting you from the game. The sound effects are also good, but there are these digital bubbles you collect that made an irritating noise. Least, from my perspective.
Don’t feel you’re up to it or keep getting killed by one of the bosses? You can play the training mode where you can select the skill level, the stage and even focus on the boss of your choice (there are five). I’m not sure if all levels are accessible from the start as I didn’t try the training mode until afterwards. Another feature is the score attack mode. It’s exactly as you’d expect: rack up a high score, which you can share with the world by seeing your score locally or globally through the ranking system. Definitely motivation to get those scores up. Alternatively, a local two-player mode may be more to your liking.
We all know by now that the Nintendo Switch doesn’t share the same trophy systems like the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, but Ghost Blade HD has a built-in achievement system. Arguably, the bulk of them can be unlocked in your first playthrough. Challenges such as playing the game in hard mode or using every character is as easy as the selection. Try finishing the game in hard mode or perhaps with only one continue. That’s when I reach for my hat and bow to you.
Unfortunately, Ghost Blade HD is a short game with only five playable levels. While it is brief and there isn’t much more to offer other than online ranking and a score mode, Ghost Blade HD is an enjoyable game, perhaps suited for the short commute or if you fancy something not too taxing on your brain. There’s no fear of being interrupted as this isn’t the type of game where you’re seeking out a save point (there aren’t any). It isn’t going to relax you, but at the same time, it’s not a stress-inducing game unless you play on the hard mode and are looking to finish with that elusive ‘one credit remaining’.
Developer: Hucast Games, 2Dream
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 24th October 2019