Having largely exhausted the supply of NEOGEO games that hadn’t been ported to mobile before, Hamster has been moving in re-doing some of the games that were previously brought over by Dotemu. It makes sense, as SNK’s less comprehensive initiative with Dotemu mainly focused on the biggest hits from its catalog. They were good versions for their time, but that time was more than a decade ago. Such banner titles deserve the ACA NEOGEO treatment as much as any games, and what it really comes down to for us as players is if they are worth the few bucks to “upgrade". This time, we’re looking at Blazing Star, arguably the finest shoot-em-up on the NEOGEO hardware. It’s the one with the voice that says “BONUS!" constantly. Let’s see how it stacks up, shall we?
As I’ve already said, Dotemu’s Blazing Star ($0.99) was a fine version for its time and place. Playing NEOGEO games on your iPhone or iPad in 2012 was pretty cool, and they ran well enough. Most flaws were well-hidden by the small displays most players were rolling with. In the case of Blazing Star, it was a game a lot of people slept on back in the day. It felt for many like they had found a hidden treasure, and shooting games work better with touch devices than most classic genres. In case you didn’t like the touch controls, the game also featured iCade support that was expanded out to external controllers as those began to propagate. You were given limited continues, but the mission mode allowed you to start the game from any stage you had previously reached. A nice compromise.
With all that said, its last major update was a very long time ago. Dotemu and SNK have done minor updates to keep it running on new versions of iOS, but the app is showing its age badly in a lot of ways. The emulation isn’t working properly, for instance. The second stage is a flickery mess due to some graphical issues, and that’s not the only bit that isn’t working the way it ideally should. It probably goes without saying, but Hamster’s Blazing Star ($3.99) runs flawlessly, like all of the developer’s other ACA NEOGEO games. It also features the usual extras and options we’ve come to expect from the line, and in the case of this game things like the time Caravan Mode, Score Attack, and corresponding online leaderboards make a big difference in how replayable the game is. I think the touch controls work a little better in Dotemu’s version thanks to some mobile-specific settings, but in all other regards Hamster’s take is superior. Sometimes by a lot.
If you’re new to Blazing Star and trying to decide which version to buy, the low price on the Dotemu version might be tempting. A buck isn’t much to throw down. Neither is four bucks, but three extra dollars in your pocket isn’t nothing. Still, I strongly encourage you to choose the ACA NEOGEO version. It’s highly likely that it will be the version SNK maintains going forward, and those emulation issues are big enough that even if they were both kept around I would still send you towards the Hamster version. The additional options are a nice bonus, and you won’t have to worry about whether or not your external controller will work. You also get unlimited credits, so you can feed your way all the way through if you’re into doing that.
I’ll also say that those who already own and enjoyed the previous version of Blazing Star will want to pick this one at their nearest convenience. Again, I don’t want it to seem like I’m belittling the work done by Dotemu. But eleven years is a long, long time. That it took this long for a new version to outclass the old one speaks to its quality, but outclass it this does. What’s four more dollars to keep on enjoying such a great shoot-em-up? The added modes and options even allow you to appreciate the game from new angles. It’s worth it.
All that and I’ve barely talked about Blazing Star itself. The NEOGEO wasn’t exactly home to the finest array of shoot-em-ups, since the genre was in a bit of a weird place during much of its life. Still, it had a few excellent ones. Some would say that Blazing Star is the best of the bunch, and I would count myself in that group. Particularly if we narrow the focus to horizontally-scrolling shooters. It’s visually pleasing, the action is challenging but manageable, the power-up system is easy to understand, and the bosses are pretty wild. The voices can be a little too much at times, but it also lends the game a bit of quirky charm that certainly helps it stick in the memory. A very agreeable game, one that is fun to learn and even more satisfying to compete on leaderboards with.
Like other shoot-em-ups, it plays fairly well even if you’re relying on touch controls. If you want to play it closer to the way it was intended, you can’t go wrong with using an external controller of some type, but it’s a fine enough experience to whip out of your pocket for a few minutes while you’re waiting for whatever thing life is making you wait for. The save state support in this ACA NEOGEO release means you can always stop and pick up later, too. Really, short of tracking down a cabinet or AES console, this is as good a way as any other to play this fine shooter.
While Blazing Star is yet another double-dip for SNK on mobile, I firmly believe this is one that is easily worth taking them up on. Newcomers should splurge and throw the extra few bucks to pick this up over the old version, and those who own that one are advised to grab this for the many advantages it offers. This is a great game that plays very well on mobile, and it’s nice to see it looking all nice and shiny for the current year. Unless you hate shooters for some reason, I can’t recommend Blazing Star enough.