In our review for GUNBIRD, the first in Psikyo’s shoot ’em-up series, we said – and we quote – “We’re going to bet that none of the other Psikyo series beats GUNBIRD”. Now, this statement was foolish on a couple of levels. One, we haven’t finished playing the other Psikyo titles that have been re-releasing onto the Xbox Store at a weekly rate. Two, we had forgotten that there was a GUNBIRD 2.
This is a sequel that changes almost nothing, but nothing much was broken in the first place. It’s a vertical shoot ’em up that abandons the usual planes and spaceships for a fantastical setting with a steampunk hero as the main character. Marion, the witch and rabbit duo from the first game are here again, but the rest are replacements. There’s Alucard (not borrowed from Castlevania as far as we can tell), Valpiro, an automaton in the same vein as Valnus from the original, Hei-Cob, who looks like every character from Aladdin fused into one, and a rocketeer called Tavia.
Then GUNBIRD 2 airlifts you into a series of eight levels, all with the customary Psikyo half-and-half pattern. The first half is filled with dumb, easy to beat mobs, and the second half is utterly dominated by hulking great bosses. Power ups bounce around the screen until you pick them up, and – as long as you don’t lose a life and fritter them away – they stack up to make you an increasingly fearsome fighter. Smart bombs bounce around too, and these have the dual effect of protecting you from missiles and wiping the board of any enemies. As an example, Tavia’s smart bomb is a wave of jetpack soldiers who carpet-bomb the screen, while Valpiro’s smart bomb looks like a ‘90s nightclub. It’s all lasers.
There are nine difficulties to choose from, and hopping into the Game Settings means you can also dial up the number of lives and continues. It’s a welcoming little package. GUNBIRD 2 is also not particularly difficult, skewing to the easier end of shoot ’em ups. Bullet hell, this is not.
Much like its daddy GUNBIRD, GUNBIRD 2 is a bit special. Part of that specialness comes from the fantastical setting, which is far from the usual military or space-themed shooters that we are used to. The objective is to find three potions that can then be combined to create a Cure-All at a final God Palace. With this ultimate medicine, each character can achieve their objective, from healing an ill parent, to raising their king from their deathbed. These are revealed in the game’s final cutscenes; although, you can choose to ditch the mission and drink the potion yourself, with varied and amusing results. There’s no better motivation to replaying GUNBIRD 2 again than seeing what happens when you feed an Ultimate Potion to your rabbit.
The specialness also comes from the rivals to the medicine, in this case the Queen Pirates. This trio of bumbling idiots follows your every move, trying and failing to nab the medicines in their comedy mechs. You will be fighting them multiple times over the course of the GUNBIRD 2 campaign, and there’s plenty of joy in seeing them tumble out of their mechs, crying and scorched.
There are other bosses too, and they are among Psikyo’s most memorable. A Mayan stone idol, a giant ship arranged into a face, and – most befuddling of them all – a toy elephant that summons other plushies (we’re not convinced that this one quite fits GUNBIRD’s themes) are all likely to be favourites.
Plus, of course, the controls are as refined and tip-top as you would hope. There’s none of Strikers 1945 III’s intense and near-unavoidable bullet-waves. Instead, attacks are sequenced and carefully designed so that different approaches (zooming to the back of the screen, circular motions, zipping from side to side) are called for at different times. Bosses are modular, so you can attack the individual target that you deem to be the greatest priority. The second-to-second decision-making can make you feel big-brained.
We’d say that the last boss is a little too out there, and the ‘universal cure’ plot doesn’t leave enough room for insanity in the ending cutscenes. For these two reasons, we’d stick GUNBIRD 2 just behind GUNBIRD, but it’s almost too close to call. We should also take the opportunity to remind you that the Psikyo re-releases, handled by City Connection, are also not overly generous. £7.49 for a twenty-five-year old game that can be finished in a half-hour isn’t the greatest value proposition, and there’s barely an improvement made to the original game. This is a thin old port.
GUNBIRD 2 is, nonetheless, a shoot ’em up that manages to be accessible while offering plenty to master. It’s a second-course of whatever GUNBIRD was serving, and that’s fine with us, as we felt just as satisfied, just as tickled by it. If only they could have been packaged together at a slightly friendlier price.
You can buy GUNBIRD 2 from the Xbox Store