Indie developer JoyMasher hail from Brazil where retro gaming still enjoys a dedicated fandom. Classic gaming is surprisingly more accessible in Brazil compared to most parts of the world, and if it’s a classic game built with sprites then it is guaranteed to have a legion of nostalgic fans, even more so if it’s made by SNK or SEGA.
JoyMasher entered the global gaming market with Odallus and Oniken, the former heavily based on NES era Castlevania (with a hint of Ghosts ‘N Goblins) while the latter was clearly meant to be an ‘80s ninja action game taking after Ninja Gaiden (with a hint of Kabuki). These games were a great way for JoyMasher to break into a highly competitive industry via digital distribution, even scoring an exclusive, and limited, physical edition print thanks to Play-Asia. These games were clearly a labour of love from people who cherished video games from yesteryear, but then again most indie developers tend to create modern retro homages.
As respectable and passionate as their efforts were, both Odallus and Oniken didn’t quite offer anything novel or polished from gameplay and game design standpoints, instead feeling quite derivative of their source inspirations. The pixelated graphics, while strong and artistic, felt deliberately inhibited to resemble 8-bit video games. Although Odallus and Oniken didn’t necessarily take the gaming world by storm, they did serve as a showcase of great potential yet to be realised by JoyMasher as a game developer.
Derivative experiences aren’t just a vice of video games, it’s prevalent in nearly any form of entertainment. Music is probably one of the worst offenders, where a new band can sound so much like Black Sabbath that it’s probably better to just listen to Black Sabbath instead. Playing Odallus would just encourage players to dig up Castlevania instead, and so for JoyMasher to truly stand out from the crowd they needed to create something far bigger than just another retro imitation.
Enter Blazing Chrome.
Blazing Chrome at first appears to be another derivative indie effort, but it doesn’t take long to appreciate just how wholly original and refreshing a modern retro game it is. Taking inspiration from Metal Slug and Contra, Blazing Chrome takes the best of two legendary action shooters to create something far greater than the sum of its inspirations. Metal Slug and Contra were the leaders of arcade action games, combining frantic gunplay with platforming, while giving players some of the most epic enemy encounters and set pieces for an absolute rollercoaster. Although those games belonged to the same genre and shared similar game design, the gameplay experience each offered was clearly distinguishable. For JoyMasher to seamlessly meld two highly unique action game styles into one unique experience is an incredible feat. Odallus tried to bring Castlevania and Ghosts ‘N Goblins together while Oniken tried to bring Ninja Gaiden and Kabuki together, but neither succeeded to create something truly remarkable quite like what Blazing Chrome has achieved. It’s at this point you may well wish to check out the insightful and inspiring developer diary for Blazing Chrome on the publisher’s YouTube channel.
Graphically, Blazing Chrome holds nothing back to bring some truly stunning sprites to life, in what resembles a late generation NEOGEO output but with even more crazy effects. The art style is detailed and dense, with everything painstakingly created the hard way using detailed pixel art and fluid sprite animation. As far as 2D games go, Blazing Chrome is a stunning showcase for modern 2D gaming, putting many of the flash-based sprites of indie games to shame. It’s great that it doesn’t deliberately inhibit its own 2D prowess for the sake of presenting an authentic but dated retro visual, instead producing some of the most detailed and vibrant visuals you will see in modern gaming. The level of detail and attention in the graphics are an insight into what 2D gaming could have achieved had the industry not made the premature transition to 3D in the late ‘90s. In fact, Blazing Chrome feels right at home on a 4K powered Xbox One X. It also impresses with its detailed character sprites, immersive backgrounds, and some truly dazzling particle effects for good measure. Make no mistake, this is a buffet of pristine 2D graphics and art.
Blazing Chrome fuses the best of Contra and Metal Slug into something which stands out on its own, and the main characters you get to start out with carry the mechanical fidelity of the soldiers in those games past, taking the best of those play mechanics to create something where such characters simply feel fantastic to control. Having great control and responsiveness lends to the overall gameplay and action extremely well, and so there is never a moment where it feels like the mechanics handicap the player’s performance.
Having such sublime gameplay helps the rest of the game design to shine through too, where each level is put together as an epic adventure filled with platforming, intense gunplay, and stunning set-pieces where you get to latch onto machines of war. The run and gun gameplay from the two starting characters is entertaining and addictive, and yet the variety goes to a whole new level when you unlock two additional characters who change the dynamic completely with their melee-based combat. With these two ninja style characters, Blazing Chrome suddenly shifts from a Contra/Metal Slug fusion to a Shinobi/Strider mix, which completely changes the game. To have this much gameplay variety in a meticulously designed and balanced 2D action game is a pretty impressive feat.
The level and game design is as punishing as you’d expect, but never to the point of being unfair because it is actually possible (with enough patience) to navigate these ingeniously crafted stages without taking a single hit. You’ll want to be aware though that this game has the notorious one-hit deaths from yesteryear. The shooting action never gets too familiar because the level design throws some inventive and challenging situations at every turn, with plenty of mid-bosses and epic final boss encounters to push players to the limit. Everything is carefully and intuitively designed, where being able to conquer the creative segments and the many bosses feels genuinely satisfying. The vehicle segments scattered throughout the campaign are always a lot of fun too, lasting long enough to make you want more and look forward to the next vehicular set-piece.
It must be said that Blazing Chrome is as tough as games can get but it benefits from some conventional quality of life improvements such as multiple difficulty settings, reasonable checkpoints, unlimited continues, and being able to save your progress. What also lends to the gameplay experience really well is the sound design, where the effects and metal music complement the action, getting players into the right zone for some precise and responsive shooting. Vibration feedback is something that modern gaming has taken for granted, but Blazing Chrome is one of those rare instances in modern Xbox gaming where you appreciate the rumble feedback from the controller. It really enhances the action gameplay, especially when you take down behemoth bosses and get to enjoy the explosive crescendo.
If Odallus and Oniken introduced us to the game development style and philosophy of developer JoyMasher, then Blazing Chrome is the game which puts them on the map. WayForward and Yacht Club Games have a new peer in JoyMasher as one of the leaders of modern retro gaming. The amount of polish and labour of love in Blazing Chrome enables it to be a modern retro experience which is far greater than the sum of its influences.
Blazing Chrome on Xbox One is the breakout release which JoyMasher needed to get noticed.