If you know your shmups, you already know Compile and Hudson are two big names for the genre during the 90s. If you don’t, well…You’re about to. Because this game takes some great elements from both and mixes them together for a fun little shooter called Raging Blasters.
Also Available On Nintendo Switch
So, back in the day, two big names for Shmups were Compile and Hudson. Compile had a massive list under its belt, while Hudson in particular had the Soldier series, which included Super Star Soldier, Final Soldier, and most importantly, Soldier Blade. The reason I bring them up is because Raging Blasters takes a large amount of influence from both, and creates something simple but fun out of the formula.
The premise is-big surprise here-One (or two if you’re playing co-op) pilots vs an entire fleet of enemies. Because what would a shmup be without absolutely terrible odds? Thankfully you’ll find your ship is more than equipped to handle the situation, because what fun would a shmup be if those terrible odds resulted in a realistic scenario? There’s not really much else to say here, because this one is all about the gameplay, which we’re getting into next.
This game takes a MASSIVE amount of influence from the PC Engine era, where that gem Soldier Blade I mentioned originates. This was before bullet hell was even a thing, and shmups were more about reactive dodging versus having to carefully move through screen filling bullet barrages. Instead, this is all about quickly reacting to and destroying enemies as they approach you in waves, grabbing the occasional crystals that drop from them for bonus points, but not to the ridiculous amount you would see out of say, Crimzon Clover or DoDonPachi’s Medals.
Simple is the name of the game here, and honestly, I think that’s a good thing. There’s no overly complex scoring mechanics or systems to learn: All you need to do is kill everything you see, quicker is better. And the tools you get for the job are certainly up to the task, so let’s get into the how you’ll be using your ship to blow up your enemies by the hundreds each level, AKA the good stuff.
Your ship has two modes of fire for its primary gun: A full forward barrage for quickly killing everything in front of you, and a multi-directional shot akin not unlike the rapid fire vulcan from Soldier Blade. What that means is you fire shots in front of you, but also at angles in front and behind you. While you don’t do as much damage in any given direction due to your shots not all being focused in front, your alternate fire is perfect for dealing with weaker threats coming from multiple directions, allowing you to deal with them without having to constantly reposition your fighter. The key to quick enemy destruction is knowing when to use each fire mode, as the forward fire option will absolutely wreck whatever’s in front of you, but won’t be so good if enemies are looping around behind you or approaching from your sides.
You also have a variety of subweapons, which fire alongside your main gun once picked up. Each one fills its own niche, and this is also admittedly where some of the Compile influence comes from, as the weapons definitely have a bit of a Compile flavor to them. You’ve got a piercing beam that slowly travels upward while cutting through everything in its path, an explosive shot that is great for focused damage on a given point, orbiting energy balls that can deal with close threats and also destroy some bullets, rapid but individually weak homing shots, and a wide covering 3-way wave that spreads out as it starts below your ship but quickly flies upward. As for how you get them? Also very Compile influenced: Weapon pods constantly fly in from the top of the screen that you can destroy for one of these weapons. You’ll be seeing them appear constantly, so switching up your weapons by simply grabbing a new one is going to be a thing. It’s rare for one weapon to work well for an entire stage, so learning which ones work best for each part, particularly the boss fights, is a major part of Raging Blasters.
And the boss fights are definitely a highlight, as each stage tends to have multiple bosses to deal with. And like I said before, this is no bullet hell. While you will absolutely be dodging attacks, they aren’t screen filling madness. it’s more about positioning and reacting, as each boss tends to have a weakpoint you have to focus on, rather than just hitting it anywhere. On top of this many bosses also have projectiles you can shoot down like homing missiles, so it’s as much about controlling their attacks as it is taking them down. And in a lot of cases, the boss itself is something you have to avoid, as many are quite large and will use their size to their advantage as they try to crush you. It results in a very appropriately oldschool type of boss blasting that you don’t see so often in today’s shooters, so I absolutely welcome this kind of design.
It wouldn’t be right to ignore something very special about this game though, before I go into its extra features and whatnot, and that’s the blazing speed of the game. A lot of shooters tend to have the background scroll slowly behind or under you, due to the fact terrain or background enemies can be a factor and having it come at you super fast just wouldn’t work. Well, Raging Blasters has no terrain or background enemies to worry about, so it uses fast scrolling backgrounds to give a sense of absolute speed. It feels like you’re constantly fighting your enemies while going full throttle, and it just adds to the game’s overall “speedy” feel with how quickly you go through enemy waves. The backgrounds never get too busy or distracting either, serving as an element to emphasize the sense of speed but not keep you from losing focus on what you’re shooting at. It’s a great design choice and works perfectly for this kind of gameplay.
The game’s HUD is another element I love. While the gameplay is kept to a 4:3 screen ratio, the extra space on a widescreen is still put to use by having your hud elements such as lives, score, speed, and other gameplay information such as your score per wave and points to next extra life be displayed on the sides of the screen outside the gameplay itself. This keeps the play area itself completely clear, allowing you to focus entirely on the action in any situation without your score or lives obscuring something on the screen. Honestly, this is something I love and wish more shooters did, as it’s such a creative way to use that extra space compared to a simple wallpaper background.
Like most shmups, the replayability (…is that a word?) in Raging Blasters comes from pursuing high scores, so you aren’t going to see a massive multi-hour campaign here. What you are going to see is a straightforward set of levels you’ll be playing again and and again as you strive for more points and try to improve your runs. But that’s not to say Raging Blasters isn’t without a few different ways to go about it. Along with single player, there’s local co-op, and a Dual mode where you use both sticks and the shoulder buttons on your controller to play as both ships in a 2 player game as one person. The latter mode can be quite intimidating, but if you’re looking for something different in your shooter that’s also a challenge, playing two ships at once definitely can fit that bill.
That said, there is one additional game mode beyond this, which is one of my favorite types in this genre: the Caravan Mode. Named for the extra gametype in Soldier Blade, Caravan Mode puts you into a unique stage designed for the mode where your goal is simple: Get as many points as you can in three minutes! In Caravan Mode, there are background elements to worry about: Ground targets you can take out for extra points. Thankfully they don’t come at you unreasonably fast, with the action being a bit slowed down for this mode to ensure you can actually hit all those valuable targets. Enemies also come at you based on how fast you kill each wave, so faster kills means more enemies, more enemies means more points! It’s the perfect mode to play when you just want some quick shooting and don’t necessarily want to commit to a half hour/hour or so of gameplay, instead, just trying to go for as high a score as you can in a short but very repayable mode that is all about efficiency. Raging Blasters is good enough as it is, but this mode absolutely solidifies it as one of my favorite shooters available on Steam, since it adds a mode you can just play whenever you’ve only got a few minutes, but feel like some quick blasting in space. And it can be played co-op or dual mode, just like the main game.
Speaking of co-op, there’s another element of the game I really like that I wish more games did. In Raging Blasters, you don’t have a 1P and 2P score. Instead, you have a combined score of both players that contributes towards your extra lives, which are shared between the two of you. This means it’s absolutely in your best interest to work together, and not try to compete for the most kills. It’s not really a huge thing I admit, but I just think it’s a neat idea to have the score be something both players contribute to, it makes a fair bit of sense since you *are* a team.
One last thing I should mention before wrapping this up: While it *IS* available on the Switch, it’s only available in digitally in Japan, which means you’ll need to make a Japanese Switch account if you want that version. That said, the gameplay is the same, though the publisher on the Switch version provided indie dev Terrarin with a pixel artist who did enhanced artwork for the game which admittedly looks a lot better than the PC version. The visuals, while nice, are hardly something I would say means you should get one version over the other, as they both play the same at the end of the day. But if you prefer a more color rich environment, the Switch version does offer the better visuals of the two.
At the end of the day, if you’re looking for a good shooter that proudly wears the PC Engine’s influence on its shoulder, with a bit of Compile and Hudson on top, you can’t go wrong with Raging Blasters. It comes from a simpler time before Bullet Hell was even possible due to hardware limitations, but it absolutely shines as an example of why shmups have been such a timeless classic even before said bullet hell was a thing. Simple, approachable, and just plain fun, that’s how I would describe Raging Blasters.