I think it was way back in the Dreamcast days that I was scared away from playing shoot ‘em ups. I’d always enjoyed them as a genre – particularly in the arcade – but I’d never been that good at them. I don’t even recall which game it was specifically – it may have been more than one – but I had this sudden realisation that I was awful at horizontal and vertical shoot ‘em ups and I just didn’t seem to be having fun any more. ‘Bullet hell’ shooters – for the uninitiated, that’s a shoot ‘em up style where the screen ends up being absolutely covered in endless clouds of bullets to dodge – seemed to be all the rage back then and I just ended up frustrated at my lack of skill.
That was quite some time ago. Since then, I’ve barely played any shoot ‘em ups – and certainly not at length. Even Cuphead, the animated style of which is right up my street, is a game I’ve yet to play – mostly due to the fact that it’s deliberately pitched as a hardcore shoot ‘em up. My hardcore gaming days are long gone.
Or at least, that’s what I thought. Enter Q-YO Blaster from Forever Entertainment; a side-scrolling, cartoony shoot ‘em up which – certainly in some areas – would perhaps be considered a bullet hell game. Having played Q-YO Blaster at length – completing all but the hardcore Arcade Extreme mode at this stage – I can safely say that I was probably being too hard on myself about not being good at shooters. Either that or somewhere along the line, in my many intervening years of playing games in other genres, I’ve somehow massively improved my reflexes to the point where I’m able to hold my own.
Q-YO Blaster is packed with unique characters and abilities; there are three teams of characters to choose from – and generally, the team you choose will determine the style of ‘super power’ type effect you’ll get to use. There’s a crazy variety of characters; for example, one of them is a slow, lumbering panda who I struggle to use effectively, but who is very strong in terms of shot power. I tend to do best with the more humanoid characters who seem to be able to duck and weave quickly through oncoming barrages of bullets – but there are vehicles available too and, regardless of how you play, you’re sure to find a character that suits your style.
There’s some absolutely superb animation on the biggest bad guys – but the colour scheme and animation on the player characters, as well as the grunt-type enemies, leaves a lot to be desired. It feels as if the game should look a lot more vibrant and colourful than it does, though the dull colours do at least enable the bright bullets to properly stand out. This is a boon in especially hectic moments (of which there are more than a few).
The music is excellent throughout, though you’ll struggle to hear it over the moment to moment chaos of the game.
Power ups are plentiful and varied – and your character can use a phase action when available, which transforms all enemy bullets currently on screen into collectable gems. Collecting these gems fills a ‘Special’ bar, which activates a huge special power that is chosen at the beginning of the game (despite their size, some of these are very underwhelming and seem to have little effect, though more are unlocked as you complete the game multiple times).
Despite having played through the game a number of times on two different difficulty levels, I’m still completely baffled as to what is actually going on, story-wise. The pre and post level story segments are told via static, almost crudely drawn pixel images accompanied by bright green text that is pretty hard to read. Not only that, but the writing is, well, not good. I have absolutely no idea what is happening, even now. At one point the character I used had a bag on his head for an entire stage, following a development in one of these scenes – and I still don’t really know what that was all about. As far as I can gather, there’s something about a super-intelligent hamster fighting against insects? Aside from that – not a clue what’s happening.
Even though this is the case, it still hasn’t hampered my enjoyment of the game. If shoot ‘em ups are your thing, there’s a great deal here that will appeal to you. Though Q-YO Blaster is visually rough in places and comes with a completely impenetrable (and ultimately irrelevant) story, the levels and enemies are well designed and animated – the gameplay is definitely where all of the effort has gone here, which is the most important thing. It’s a short game (though multiple playthroughs are rewarded) but it does have a varied character roster and weapon loadouts, which means you can tailor it to your specific playstyle.
In short, I’ve found a lot to like here – even for lapsed shoot ‘em up fans (as I have been for a very long time!). I’ve most certainly – and perhaps unexpectedly – had a lot of fun with Q-YO Blaster. Pardon the pun, but I personally think it’s well worth a shot.
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My review key for Q-YO Blaster was very kindly provided by Forever Entertainment – thank you!