Released: August 2019
Developer: QUByte Interactive
Also Available For: Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4
If there’s two things I can really get behind it’s a good, no-nonsense, old fashioned shoot-‘em-up and high quality arcade games. The best thing about shoot-‘em-ups is how simple they are to play and yet how much skill they require to you master in order to have the perfect run; generally, I am more familiar with sidescrolling space shooters like R-Type (Irem, 1987) but, thanks to arcade titles and mobile gaming apps, you’re never short of a few vertical shooters.
Vasara Collection brings together Vasara (Visco, 2000) and Vasara 2 (ibid, 2001) for the first time outside of Japan. Originally developed by Visco Corporation, the Vasara games are a great example of fast, frenetic “bullet hell” vertical scrollers that get a new little re-release in this package, which also contains a new arcade style mode that allows up to four players to take part in the hectic shooting action.
The Vasara games take place in an alternative version of feudal Japan in which battles against a sadistic Shogun are fought not with swords or spears but with futuristic mech bikes, laser beams, and using a variety of ships, mechs, and other advanced technology.
Functionally speaking, both Vasara and Vasara 2 play very similarly; you and one friend can select between a variety of characters, each with their own different movement speeds, attack power, and special moves, and drop straight into a vertical shooter that mostly takes place in the skies and over the warring lands of feudal Japan.
As you drift all around the screen, either pressing or holding down the trigger to automatically unleash a maelstrom of laser blasts against your seemingly endless array of foes, you’ll be tasked with using your reflexes and quick wits to dodge an assortment of projectiles. If you happen to bash into an enemy craft, you’ll simply bounce off rather than exploding, which is a nice reprieve as you’ll have a hard enough time trying not to get blasted to smithereens by the sheer amount of projectiles onscreen. Luckily, you can hold down the fire button to charge up a special melee attack that will deal additional damage and bounce back certain projectiles to your foes.
It pays to keep your reflexes sharp, however, as your ship will be destroyed in one shot and you’ll burn through your continues if you simply charge ahead blindly. Luckily, the Vasara Collection allows you to activate “Free Play” mode in the options menu but, even with that providing you will unlimited continues, you’ll be forced to replay each game’s final stage from the beginning if you lose all your lives rather than jumping right back into the action as with other stages.
Every time you destroy an enemy, you’ll earn points, bonuses, power-ups, and collect gems to build up your character’s “Vasara Meter”, and smart bombs. Smart bombs are only available in Vasara and come in a limited supply; however, Vasara 2 offers more characters to choose from and extends the “Vasara Meter” mechanic. There are a couple of other differences between the two games as well; Vasara features six stages filled with waves of enemies but Vasara 2 lets you pick between a six-stage and a twelve-stage mode, with the twelve-stage mode repeating the first six stages but with tougher enemies and culminating in an extended battle against the game’s true final boss.
Otherwise, the games are functionally similar except for the types of special moves you can perform, the amount of stages you fly through, and the amount of characters you can pick from. If the classic, arcade shooting isn’t enough for you, the game also offers a four-player “Timeless” mode. This is, essentially, a never-ending gauntlet that allows you to pick from characters from both games and shoot down as many enemies, mini bosses, and bosses as you can, earning points and flying through stages that are randomised, repeat over and over, and increase in difficulty as you progress. This mode is probably the game’s most entertaining feature, though, as it allows more players to take part in the frenetic action, takes places over a widescreen area (thus making it far easier to navigate around the screen), adds a dodge mechanic that renders you momentarily immune to damage, and effectively adds a high definition coat of paint to the original games.
This tightens up the controls and the options available for you, allowing you to move faster, more precisely, and with more options. In Vasara and Vasara 2, you’re a little limited by the vertical format of the screen during gameplay, which can make things a little claustrophobic at times. In all three modes, you may find it difficult to make out projectiles against certain backgrounds as they blend in with the colours, enemy ships, and other pickups but, honestly, this is more about maintaining your focus and attention with the sheer amount of chaos being thrown at you. If you struggle with processing massive amounts of colours, movements, and information, then you may struggle with the Vasara games as it gets very intense at times, with projectiles literally filling the entire screen as you progress.
Graphics and Sound:
Vasara and Vasara 2 are as crisp and gorgeous as any top quality arcade title; ships are large and easy to spot, projectiles come in a variety of different shapes and sizes, and power-ups and gems bounce around the screen to catch your attention. Backgrounds are quite generic but generally act as a simple backdrop to the fast-paced action; some feature destructible elements that will yield gold and other gems, which is a nice touch, and there’s no cheap deaths coming from running into mountains or buildings or getting stuck behind objects, which is a nice change of pace.
Eventually, you’ll come up against mini bosses and the end of stage bosses; these are rendered as massive mech suits or multi-formed robots and feature a high level of detail and character to help each stand out from the other. When encountering these, you’ll be treated to short little anime-style cutscenes with some dialogue between the characters; similar cutscenes frame the game’s story and ending and add a little context to the action and it all adds to the game’s over-the-top nature thanks to some laughably bad subtitles All of these are given a nice HD coat of paint in the “Timeless” mode, which trades the traditional 2D sprites for a 2.5D aesthetic, adding further depth and layers to the backgrounds and giving all the graphics a bit more oomph.
Each stage is punctuated by some catchy, rocking tunes that are a mixture of traditional Japanese-style tracks and energetic, metal melodies that keep the intensity in stages high and act as a welcome reprieve from the onscreen chaos. The games are also filled with some rudimentary voice acting (all in Japanese, of course) and some explosive, meaty sound effects that ensure you always know when you’ve fired a shot, picked up an item, and vanquished an enemy.
Enemies and Bosses:
For the most part, you’ll be mowing down a variety of largely generic enemy ships, most of which are based on some kind of insect or animal. Each has a different attack pattern and fires a different type of projectile; some fire in a spread, some in a wave, some pulse out blasts at an angle, and memorising which enemies do what is key to navigating through the bedlam of projectiles.
In addition to the enemy ships, you’ll also come up against ground-based enemies; boats, ships, and crab- and spider-like tanks blast at you and drop gold to increase your score and a variety of turrets help to fill the screen with projectiles. Some are small and easily disposed of, others change their attacks after you dish out some damage, and others are giant Samurai heads that blast out streams of bullets and soak up your blasts.
Some enemies also carry little flags and, when destroyed, a splash of Japanese text will flash up onscreen to let you know that you destroyed an enemy commander. You get a similar notification when you destroy a mini boss or boss and, after clearing a stage, get a different ranking depending on how many you destroyed, adding an incentive to make an effort to destroy every enemy you come up against.
Mini bosses show up mid-way through most stages to block your progress; the best of these are giant Samurai-style mechs who not only send out a flurry of projectiles but also dash at you with a giant sword. While these can absorb a huge amount of punishment, and you can simply dodge them and avoid engaging with them, it’s worth your while taking the time to eliminate them as you’ll get more points and it make it far easier to progress upwards, especially in the original Vasara and Vasara 2 games where the small screen space is easily cluttered by enemies and projectiles.
This holds true of the end of stage bosses, too; if you can somehow stay away from their spreads of projectiles and screen-filling lasers, they will eventually fly off-screen without issue. However, this is much easier said than done and it takes less time to destroy the boss than try to outlast it; despite their size and different forms (generally splitting into different phases as you blast parts of them off), bosses all have a specific attack pattern that you must battle through with quick reflexes and a stockpile of special moves and/or smart bombs.
Each game’s final boss, however, presents a far greater challenge not just because of their multiple forms but also because, if you lose all your lives (and you most likely will), you have to restart the final stage from the beginning, which can be frustrating as it can be hard enough reaching the final boss with all your lives and specials intact much less survive long enough to slip through the impossibly small gaps between their projectiles. This is where playing with a friend really comes in handy as, as long as you’re not both out of lives and on the continue screen at the same time, you can continue battling until the boss is defeated. For Vasara 2, though, you’ll have to endure the twelve-stage mode to face the true final boss, which takes place in a trippy, cosmic-style environment and sees the boss filling the screen with projectiles while also being a far smaller target than you’re used to up until that point.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Every time you destroy an enemy, you’ll earn some points; destroyed enemies also drop gold (for even more points), 1-Ups (on very rare occasions), and coloured gems to build up your character’s “Vasara Meter”, and smart bombs. Exclusive to Vasara and Vasara characters in “Timeless” mode, smart bombs produce a blast that not only damages or destroys enemies but also reflects all orange projectiles back at your enemies to deal additional damage, giving you a reprieve from damage and helping to clear the screen or chip away at a boss’s health.
Though these are absent in Vasara 2, the sequel offers more options through the “Vasara Meter”. In Vasara, you build up one meter that, when full, you can expend in one huge, screen-clearing special move (though you can unleash your special before that for a far less impressive special move). However, in Vasara 2, each character has three smaller meters that are built up as you collect gems and, once each is full, you can unleash a massive special attack.
As you destroy certain enemies, you’ll also pick up power-up items that increase the length, power, and effectiveness of your blasts; this is essential to clear the screen of enemies as quickly and efficiently as possible and each character has different attacks in their arsenal (some shoot out fans, other toss out daggers or spears, for example) that translates to their special attack as well. This is best emphasised in “Timeless” mode, which clearly shows the speed and power of each character; the strongest characters may not have the best special attack compared to the faster, weaker characters, meaning each character plays a little differently and requires a different strategy. When you lose a life, your power-ups will bounce around the screen for a while and it’s highly advised that you make the effort to re-acquire them as you’ll need all your power-ups and weapons for the boss battles.
There are a myriad of options available for each game in the Vasara Collection; each of the arcade titles allows you to set the game to “Free Play” mode for infinite continues (highly recommended), set the amount of lives and the length and strength of your “Vasara Meter”, set display and control styles, and place borders around the screen. Be aware, though, that if you change any of these options mid-game, the game resets to the title screen so it’s best to get yourself setup before you get five stages into the games.
Perhaps the most entertaining part of the collection is the four-player “Timeless” mode; here, you can select every character from each of the two arcade titles, with each having their own strengths and weaknesses, and take part in a never-ending gauntlet in remixed stages from the original games. What’s more, if you clear Vasara 2’s twelve-stage mode, you’ll unlock an additional character for this mode (who has the best overall stats but his special is a bit haphazard as it bounces you around the screen a lot); this mode also adds a dash for each character and is where you’ll earn the bulk of the collection’s Achievements.
You can also view artwork, concept art, and the like in the game’s “Gallery”, if you like that sort of thing. Honestly, the only thing this collection is missing is a save state or stage select feature; it’d be nice to be able to jump into the harder, later stages of “Timeless” mode once you reach them, for example, just to get a bit more practice at these tougher stages.
I do enjoy a good, old fashioned vertical shooter and the Vasara Collection has you well covered in this regard. There’s not much depth here, and the concept is as ridiculous as the subtitles, but each game in the collection is tremendous, old school arcade fun. It can be frustrating, at times, when you’re taken out by a stray projectile because of the sheer amount of chaos onscreen but, honestly, it’s a question of skill, memorisation, and paying attention to your surroundings; it isn’t easy to do that sometimes but the games give you all the tools to do this.
Honestly, I probably would have been happy with just the “Timeless” mode but the fact that the collection features the original games as well is just the icing on the cake; it’s a lot of fun to just jump into “Timeless” mode, either alone or with a friend, and see how far you can get, stockpiling lives, specials, and smart bombs as you work to beat your high score, earn a “Perfect” ranking, and survive each stage as best as you can.
Have you played the Vasara Collection? What is your favourite vertical shooter? Which shoot-‘em-up is your go-to in the genre? Perhaps you dislike shoot-‘em-ups and prefer a different type of videogame; if so, why and what is it? Can you think of any other arcade games that were exclusive to Japan and deserve a re-release like this? Feel free to leave a comment, whatever your thoughts are.