I’ve been a fan of the bullet-hell genre ever since I got my hands on Ikaruga on the Dreamcast.
Since then, I’ve played titles like DoDonpachi, Deathsmiles and many others.
There’s something about seeing the screen fill up with bullets and massive explosions as I battle seemingly impossible odds to actually beat a tough level/boss without using an infinite amount of continues.
As fun as it is, it’s not really a genre we see much of in the west on consoles.
So when I heard about “Astebreed” and how good it was from numerous sources, I decided to check it out.
MSRP: $19.99 (PS4), $14.99 (PC)
Platforms: PS4, PC
Voice Acting: JPN Only
Length: About an Hour for a single playthrough + more with other unlocked difficulties
The story of Astebreed revolves around a pair of twin sisters, an adopted sibling and an alien force bent on universal domination.
It’s not anything particularly inspired but given the nature of the genre, it doesn’t really need to be, either.
The story itself is told mostly through the dialogue between the characters along with a few select event stills added for dramatic effect. Unfortunately, the game only supports Japanese voice over, and given reading subtitles is mostly impossible during combat, it made enjoying the full story quite difficult. Simply put, I wasn’t able to understand what the characters were talking- or more accurately, yelling about.
The inclusion of English V/O could have aided in this regard, so it’s a bit of a shame that they decided not to spend the extra resources to do so.
Moving away from the story to the meat of the experience of a bullet-hell game, the gameplay, Astebreed shines better than most in the genre.
“XBREED”, the playable death dealing machine comes equipped with many options in combat.
It has the standard shot, a lock-on mechanism that can either be used at a 360 degree radius or be focused to increase the lock-on speed.
It also holds a powerful blade in hand, capable of slicing apart enemies in a single swing, and can also be used to absorb projectiles from enemies to empower a powerful EX-Attack that can be used in a multitude of ways for devastating effect.
The XBREED is also able to dash attack in short bursts while being invulnerable for a moment, which allows it to bypass obstacles that would have been impossible to overcome otherwise.
The blade is not capable of absorbing all the projectiles, as the red shots cannot be cut. The play score is also based on combo multipliers that are gained by killing enemies using the lock-on and spent by using the blade to deal the final blow. In that regard, the biggest component of the gameplay comes in the form of recognizing in a split second how to handle the screen full of enemies and projectiles headed one’s way.
Trying to maximize the score by killing the small-fry using the lock-on system, slashing the shots that are absorbable, dodging the stream of red shots and unleashing a screen clearing attack using the EX-Attack is as satisfying the hundredth time as it is the first.
It’s the mark of a stellar combat engine, where all the individual mechanics complement each other perfectly to form one cohesive and satisfying experience.
While my short time with Astebreed was certainly one of the most fun I’ve had with a game in its genre, it’s a bit short on the extras, as it is only a single player experience which can be completed in about an hour.
Luckily, the added difficulty modes and competing for the best score on the leaderboards adds some replay value, but some might consider the $19.99 asking price a bit steep for what’s on offer.
For others like me, this is a little slice of bullet heaven that the PS4 has been long awaiting.
Fun Tidbit – The adjusted control scheme for the use with a Dual Shock 4 is excellent and I highly recommend that you play through the “arranged mode”.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.