|[ Writer ] = Eight Rooks
|[ 03/18/03 ] = Gunbarich
With the fervour surrounding Ikaruga it is odd to acknowledge Treasure's back catalogue includes only two vertical shooters. People are eager to typecast, yet slow to concede variety doesn't hurt in keeping developers solvent. Psikyo, now sadly defunct, produced a succession of titles largely built around the game that brought them notice - Strikers 1945. Gunbird? Strikers 1945 anime. Dragon Blaze? Strikers 1945 fantasy. However finely crafted, artistic or however deep the gameplay beyond the superficial, it could be said they were too much the same engine in a genre lacking the audience to ensure financial success. Their move to 3-D with Zero Gunner and Cannon Spike on the DreamCast came too little, too late on a dying platform. The point being Psikyo did explore other genres, and their experiments leave one to wonder; could they have saved themselves, if they'd pursued these ideas any further?
Gunbarich (1999) is Breakout!, to put it bluntly, but the Jak and Daxter of Breakout! games; lifting without reservation from most of the titles in genre since Pong, and from Psikyo's own features besides. The bat is a pair of pinball flippers, used either simply to return the ball or lend it greater impetus. Various combo mechanics litter the playing fields, the game racking up all the hits amassed on every serve. Pinball bumpers deflect the ball, panels divert it, switches raise barriers to cage it and enemies consume it. Powerups, the usual suspects, are all present and correct. As well as trying to keep up to half-a-dozen balls in motion enemy fire must also be returned, the bullets paralyzing the player should they pass the bottom of the screen.
It feels very much a "little" game, though not in a derogatory sense, more compact than undernourished. There are only two characters, and fairly forgettable chip-music, but the aesthetics, however, are wonderfully polished. The backgrounds are enchanting - hardly a surprise to long-term Psikyo fans - they delight, colorful and crisp. Sprites are fluid and finely detailed, especially the bosses.
Though the mechanics are tight, the game is pleasingly loose in structure. Initial stages appear in random order, much as the Strikers 1945 engine titles are set out, and bosses appear every so many levels. Yet Gunbarich's difficulty curve is a smooth enough gradient, but a sudden one. The player does better getting used to balancing the elements from the off rather than letting the ball do its own thing, or the mounting pressure to catch everything can without warning prove overwhelming. Perhaps its greatest achievement is to toy with so simple a franchise in a way that few, if any of the repackaged arcade classics available can match. What ought to be pointless graphical ephemera and too many features desperately bolted on prove wonderfully engaging instead. You can download Arkanoid from the Internet in moments, yet Psikyo have managed to create something that will draw many in and leave them, now as then, wondering where all their loose change disappeared to.