It’s that time of the month again when a retro-styled bullet hell shooter drops through the letterbox, and this time around the offering is more than a little strange. Q-YO Blaster, the latest title from Team Robot Black Hat, is not your usual “Die Alien Scum!” title though. In fact, nowhere does the title hint at the insanity that is about to unfold. Instead, it has put me in mind of Parodius, as the enemies and characters you control seem like things from a cheese riddled nightmare! So, come with me to a shrunken world of bullets and dodging, as we try to repel the threat at large.
Now, usually I’d start a review with a recap of whatever the story is this time around. After all, kicking a bunch of alien ass is always better if we know why we’re doing it, isn’t it? Sadly, this time around I can’t do that, as I have absolutely no idea what is going on in Q-YO Blaster. I’ve watched all the cutscenes, and battled through all the levels, and I still have absolutely no clue as to why the hero of the game appears to be a guinea pig called Mr Cheeks, and why the enemy design in the various levels go from small but not too weird, such as mosquitoes, to small and completely out there, such as a kind of airship with hands in white gloves down the side that do the firing. Honestly, shooting games generally need stories like fish need bicycles, but in this case a little explanation as to what the heck is going on would be gratefully received.
Still, moving on and as we look at the presentation of the game, there is nothing short of a big tick. The graphical style put me in mind of Cuphead, and given that, in my opinion, Cuphead is one of the best looking games of all time, this is high praise indeed. The cartoon style of the graphics, the highly stylised design of everything on screen, and the smooth animation make looking at Q-YO Blaster a real pleasure. Granted, the visuals aren’t quite as sharp as those of Cuphead, but all in all it’s very impressive. In fact, it’s the actual design of the characters here that is the real winner. Have you wanted to be a kind of fairy, with green hair, firing love hearts from your forehead in a shooting game? You’re in luck here then, as the range of characters you can play as is fantastical indeed. It’s saying something when a guinea pig, who can fly, is one of the more sensible character choices! It’s complemented nicely by some sounds which are perfectly serviceable; the music and standard space shooty sound effects all fitting in nicely.
So, we’ve seen that the story is bonkers and the graphics on display are lovely (but bonkers). But the gameplay? Well, I hesitate to use the B word again, but it is suitably insane as well. All the standard bullet hell tropes are present and correct, with a couple of little twists that help to separate this from the other many games in the genre.
As you blast your way through levels, defeated enemies leave behind crystals that can be picked up and help to charge a super attack. Now, there is a little twist here too, as when you go through the levels, you can pick up capsules from enemies; capsules that have the letter “P” emblazoned on them. These are Pulses, and if you are in grave danger they are capable of turning all the bullets currently on screen into gems, enabling you to not only get out of a tight squeeze, but to also launch a super powerful counter attack. Personally, I would have liked this attack to be launched at a time of my choosing, but sadly it launches as soon as enough gems have been collected. Managing how many gems you have is therefore quite important, as wasting a super attack on an empty screen is quite annoying.
There are other capsules you can collect too, and these give you different weapons, with limited ammo, so again once you have collected one of these, shooting sparingly and only at clear targets is recommended. Of course, if it’s a boss stage, blast away like there is no tomorrow. There is also another special attack that you can choose at the start of each run – either a mega laser that does lots of damage, or a super shield that will absorb a certain amount of bullets. Given that the rate of fire of some enemies is off the charts in the later stages, my top tip is to choose the shield. Always choose the shield.
Q-YO Blaster is a game that has a lot going for it. It has multiple difficulties to try your arm at, with an Arcade Extreme mode unlockable in case the regular game isn’t tough enough. There’s a mighty fine couch co-op mode as well. Further, the controls work well, the challenge is high, and above all it’s all damn good fun. There are only a couple of niggles, the first being that it is quite short – only really about 30 minutes from start to end – whilst the boss difficulties seem to be a bit of a mixed bag. All in though, Q-YO Blaster is a fun shooter that you’ll enjoy playing.
Blast those bosses with Q-YO Blaster on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One