Blazing Star
by sunburstbasser





Blazing Star is a horizontal shooter which may have a story involving blowing stuff up. There is no narrative to indicate this. It was the first shmup released for the Neo Geo by Yumekobo, a company that had previously worked under the name Aicom and made Pulstar.

The controls are based on Pulstar's setup. Tapping the A button will fire your main guns. Rapid tapping will change it to a secondary shot. Holding it will charge your power ala R-Type. Releasing the charge and pressing B will change the charged shot. Each ship has it's own distinct shot style, so let's take a look at them.


HELLHOUND


The Hellhound is the balanced ship in the game, not really exceeding or failing in any regard. It is fast enough to avoid enemy fire but not so fast it becomes hard to control. The shot is moderately powerful, with rapid tapping adding extra bullets at a wider angle. When powered up, the Hellhound also gets homing missiles. The charge shot is a gatling gun of sorts, a long stream of powerful projectiles that can wipe out small groups of enemies very quickly. The B shot is less powerful, but sends projectiles all over the screen at the expense of a long cool down.


WINDINA


The Windina's strength is in it's wide shot pattern. Even with no powerups, rapid tapping produces a wave that stretches about a ship's height above and below, while at full power rapping tapping can cover nearly half the screen with projectiles. The charge shot releases green blasts that leave explosions behind that damage anything that touches them. The B shot changes the large green lasers into smaller green homing dots. While they do less damage per shot, the homing dots are higher in number and will seek out any enemy, including those behind you. The Windina is set back by a slow speed that makes later levels hard to navigate.


Aryustailm


The Aryustailm is the powerhouse of the bunch. The regular shot deals good damage, and rapid tapping turns it into a piercing electric bolt that can cut right through bosses. The charge shot is a short range aura that at full power projects roughly two ship lengths in front of the Aryustailm. The aura does very heavy damage, but effectively requires the player to point-blank enemies. The B shot pulls the aura around the ship. This energy barrier will absorb some enemy bullets and destroy smaller enemies. The catch is that the ship is still vulnerable to crashing into larger enemies including bosses. It also has a long cool down between uses.


PEPLOS


The Peplos is an interesting ship. While all the other ships are required to grab powerups, the Peplos is always at maximum power. The standard shot is a three-way bullet, with rapid tapping expanding the angle. The charge shot and B shot are identical to the Hellhound's at full power. Standard shots are on par with every other ship's unpowered state. The Peplos is often banned in scoring competitions because the unbalanced standard and charge shots can be used to exploit score bugs.


DINO 135


The Dino 135 is based on the ship from Pulstar. It has the same R-Type inspired options, and it's charge shot is one of the weapons from Pulstar, a curving green laser that does good damage. The B shot breaks the laser into it's component pieces, sending them all over the screen. The standard shots are simple forward shots, though rapid tapping gives some extra width. In all, another generally balanced ship that doesn't have the powerful charge of the Hellhound.


DINO 246


The Dino 246 is the actual ship from Pulstar, complete with R-Type style frontal pod. It even has the same green haired anime chick pilot from Pulstar. The Dino 246 uses a frontal normal shot with rotating options. While it is capable of firing a large number of bullets, they aren't very powerful. The charge shot is a single, large forward blast that does moderate damage. The B shot causes it to explode, like the Windina's charge shot. The Dino 246 is very slow. In all, it wouldn't be worth using, but the pod on front of the ship will damage enemies and cancel some bullets. In later stages, the number of bullets gets extremely high and having something to always cancel them with no detriment to the player comes in handy.


In all, each ship has strengths and weaknesses over others but none are really overpowered or so weak that they can't be effectively used. Considering the number of choices, this is a fairly balanced setup and a new player can essentially choose a ship they think looks cool and do fairly well.

The charge shot serves as the primary tool for achieving high scores. If a single charged shot connects with and destroys multiple enemies, a hit counter in the lower left of the screen will begin counting up. It maxes out at a x128 multiplier. While it is difficult to kill multiple large enemies with a single charge, popcorn enemies and destructible bullets often show up in droves and can be used to get a nice bonus.

Speaking of bonus, one of the game's more notorious features is the announcer who mostly shouts "BONUS" everytime you pick up one of the hundreds of blue jewels dropped by enemies. While they add several hundred points each to your score, they take a long time to add up especially when you can get far more points quicker with a good multiplier.

Powerups are a simple P icon, which all ships besides Peplos can collect up to three of. After that, they act as BONUS items. Icons that spell out LUCKY are dropped in every stage by pre-determined enemies, and give a nice bonus if you find all of them. And every so often, an enemy will leave an orb with angel wings behind. Skip one, and the next one will be a different color. Each color corresponds to a score multiplier. A flashing one is worth x128, and makes all of your attacks give the multiplier.

Remember the first time you played Donkey Kong Country on the SNES? At the time, the graphics were very fluidly animated and full of detail thanks to Rare's use of pre-rendered sprites. Yumekobo used the same technique to make Blazing Star, but the quality got a huge bump up to Neo Geo level. Even regular enemies might consist of several moving parts together. When combined with the Neo Geo's hardware sprite scaling and rotation, enemies can fly in from the background or swing mechanical tails, at times having a sense of depth more commonly associated with Saturn and Playstation polygon- based shmups.

The music for Blazing Star is an eclectic affair. Sweeping synths sit along side thumping bass and smooth jazz saxophones. Some stages tend towards more straight-ahead rock, while others veer into electronic music laden with sound effects. In general, the music is pretty good but more notable for the variety than the quality. I wouldn't recommend dropping this soundtrack into your iPod for a morning jog unless you really like video game music.

The stages are as varied as the music, though in this case the variation make them stand out above many other shmup stages. Each stage has multiple parts, sometimes barely connected in any logical manner. Fortunately, logic plays as big a part in shmups as in Godzilla movies.



The first stage starts high above the ground, with enormous impact craters visible beneath. Clouds float by as enemies fly out of a carrier in the distance, racing out then doubling back to face you head on. Very quickly, a mini boss zooms in from the background to face you. None of this is particularly dangerous; if anything Blazing Star's first stage is pretty easy and seems designed so that the player can mess with the mechanics and the different ships to find out how the game works. The music starts out with heavy synth sounds that would fit well in a Taito shmup, but these are soon replaced with a jazz sax as the ship descends into a forest. This is where some of that lack of logic comes in, as we don't actually see this descent and instead fly right into the forest, implying that the forest is on a huge floating continent. Maybe this is where that crater came from?

The first boss makes a pretty big entrance. A huge mech rushes in and smashes a few trees, and you have to chase it down to destroy it. The boss consists of multiple parts. You don't have to destroy all of them, as only the legs count towards actually killing it. As with all upcoming bosses, destroying the extra parts can make it easier and is sometimes required to access the weak spot. Like the first stage, the first boss is fairly easy but be on your toes as while he doesn't fill the screen with projectiles, he does have a steady pace and can trap you in a corner if you aren't careful.



Stage 2 is still mostly mild, but the heat has been cranked up enough that some concentration will be required. The first half of the stage can feel like a Hanna Barbera cartoon, as the background consists of a narrow strip repeated ad infinitum. Enemies start to come from all parts of the screen, including behind. Nicely, any time a fast enemy approaches there is a WARNING label where they will enter from, allowing time to either charge a shot and get some points or get out of the way and survive. About halfway through, the background fades to black and fades back into space. Once of the coolest moments in the game shows up here. You're progress is halted by a set of gates. You can shoot them, but they won't open. Suddenly, several huge laser blasts blow them open and for once the huge lasers are harmless to the player. From here, enemies start to get more frequent and you'll notice a definite notch up the difficulty scale.



The stage 2 boss has fewer parts to destroy than the first, but has multiple forms to make up for it. At the start, it basically consists of a plump body with gun arms and a swishy tail. This may be the best time to point out that while Blazing Star never gets into true danmaku territory, all the ships have a fairly small hitbox. The lasers that are fired from this boss's tail will pass over fins and even cockpits without any ill effects. Once the tail is destroyed, the boss rotates itself and starts releasing mines and charging a big laser. This time, the laser is extremely deadly. Stay at the extreme top or bottom of the screen to avoid it. And after this, it still isn't dead. It'll start spinning wildly, releasing waves of bullets. Beat this, and it stays down.



Stage 3 appears to be some kind of space junkyard, a popular motif in space shooters. From here out, enemies get considerably more aggressive and plentiful. At times, the game will begin to lag from all the stuff happening on screen, and the total sprite count will creep very close to the Neo Geo's hardware limits. This stage doesn't have any big transitions until the boss.



The boss fight actually starts during the stage. At the end is a wall with a turret in it, guarded by a few stronger enemies. When defeated, the turret backs away and becomes the body of the boss. The boss is fought in a vertical corridor. Logic doesn't make it to the rehearsal here; while the screen scrolls straight down for the first phase of the boss fight any BONUS items produce will scroll to the left. Once the boss has had sufficient punishment, it'll discard a few pieces and fight you while you both burn up on atmospheric re-entry. The bullet spam you'll encounter here is among the densest on the Neo Geo.



The setting for Stage 4 is the one that impresses me the least. Stage 4 mostly consists of a high speed dash across some kind of city scape. While the speed is nice, it goes by too quickly to have any of the enemy generating pods found in Stage 3 and the background isn't as exciting as the huge crater in the opening.



The boss, on the other hand, is the meanest yet. This one approaches from the left and will attempt both to ram you and to shoot you. This boss is extremely mobile and will move all over the screen, and is capable of bursts of speed that can easily smash the unsuspecting player. Numerous bays and gun pods are fitted to the boss to make life more difficult.



No Neo Geo game would be complete without hirarious Engrish, so Stage 5's title indicates that the stage is a "criff." Popcorn enemies are very dense here, coming in long fast waves. Simultaneously, submarines will surface and gun pods will pop out of the cliffs in the background. Weaving through these obstacles gets very tricky, and deaths won't always be readily apparent with so many things flying around.



The boss is a kind of mechanical squid. A central body with several arms radiating out from it. This isn't Darius, so it doesn't actually look aquatic beyond the outline of a squid. This one will leap from water to ceiling, spraying bullets or dropping jet planes on you (if your evil government had the money to build one of these, you could afford to use fighter jets as missiles too). You will get a danger signal from below, so be quick or you'll get crushed as the boss leaps out of the water.



Stage 6 pulls out all the stops. As the last full stage in the game, Yumekobo threw out everything they had to end the game. The stage no longer just scrolls horizontally, but will switch to diagonal scrolling to guide your ship along. Like classic hori shmups, both the floor and ceiling are hazardous and to make it harder the level is full of little alcoves that enemies can crawl into and shoot from, but which are very difficult to shoot into yourself. This stage also feature walking turrets that have way more health than they need and spit too many bullets for a regular enemy. Logic checks out for a moment as the screen fades out, then fades back in with the background rushing at you. It's a scaling technique that gives the illusion of going into a huge cavern, though since you still face to the right it looks a little strange.



No shmup is complete without a huge battleship, so after the hardest stage comes a huge battleship complete with escorts. Every boss battle is timed, and so far 2 minutes is about the length a boss fight is expected to last. The timer for the huge battleship starts at 5 minutes, and so far I haven't even come close to beating it in that time. The escorts themselves take absurd amounts of punishment and don't die, and I expect they may be on a timer or script of some kind rather than being a health-based enemy. The huge battleship is far larger than the screen and to win, it must be circled while having chunks blown off of it before smashing the weak point on the top. Unlike the original R-Type huge battleship, this one never stops shooting at you.



Stage 7 appears to be some kind of organic sewer. Perhaps this is the small intestine of some huge creature, ala Lifeforce. In the background, either cameras or eyes blink. Then a couple powerups appear, and the boss.

The last boss is a fucking baby.



The last boss is a fucking baby.

THE LAST BOSS IS A FUCKING BABY!!!!!



Initially, this looks like it'll be a Gradius fight, where you can shoot it twice and win. The baby is in a big machine and you might think "Oh, I have to save the baby!" Well, no. The machine isn't the problem, the baby itself is a killer. After being freed, it stretches and then all hell breaks loose. This killer baby starts flying all over the screen and flings a ton of projectiles around. Hitting it hard, like a full powered charge shot, will temporarily stun it. When the killer baby is tired of that game, it replaces it's own arms with giant death rays and goes to town on your ass.



Beat the death ray killer baby, and it grows another machine that looks like it has jaws. Even more bullet spam! Destroy the jaws, and the killer baby will throw smaller babies at you. Yumekobo must really hate kids.

To be fair, the baby does have Borg-like metal plates around it's head. And it did shoot first.

You'll be treated to some Engrish detailing peace or somesuch and apparently the killer baby was the one who started this whole mess.

Don't think about that too hard. This is why shmups shouldn't have plots.



Overall:







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