Visco was an interesting Japanese developer that produced games during the ‘80s, right up until the early 2000s before moving on to other business ventures. But in the last few years their classic and relatively lesser-known catalogue has been picked up by independent publishers, including official Dreamcast ports by developer JoshProd. Visco certainly didn’t leave a mark on the industry like Capcom, Konami, SNK, or CAVE, but they created some sleeper hits during their time and a lot of these games have since become cult classics in their own right. They’re certainly worth a look for anyone looking for an alternative to the usual classics.
Visco dabbled in most genres that were prevalent during the ‘90s; be it fighting, racing, puzzle, and of course shoot ‘em ‘ups. VASARA were a pair of shooters which actually ended up being the very last games Visco developed, but now it looks like they’re getting the itch for the video game industry again given the recent ports and releases.
VASARA Collection brings together the original VASARA and VASARA 2 in one place with a few noteworthy extras to boot, particularly VASARA Timeless which is practically a brand-new game. Publisher/developer QUByte has the honour of bringing two games once exclusive to Japanese arcades to home consoles and a worldwide audience for the very first time; games which would likely have been right at home on Dreamcast back in the day. It’s quite refreshing to see even the most obscure titles from yesterday easily accessible on modern platforms without having to jump through hoops, so in that sense VASARA Collection is truly appreciated. The more out-of-print games we see preserved on modern platforms the better off we all are as a gaming community.
VASARA and VASARA 2 take place in an alternate feudal Japan setting, one filled with mechs and fighter planes, and the art style for the most part is quite appealing, with the style similar to anime prevalent during that time. When you initially boot up the games they don’t look great, but thankfully you can remedy this by switching off the borders and changing up the graphics filter to “sharp” instead of the default “smooth”. Once you make these changes the games look much better and become easier to play, without the borders squashing the field of vision. Both VASARA games make use of pre-rendered sprites (think Killer Instinct Classic) and while this particular graphical style hasn’t aged quite as well as detailed pixel art, the visual presentation is still strong. The art style, the sci-fi/feudal Japan fusion setting, and the epic rock music all come together nicely to make these games quite exciting.
As games, VASARA and VASARA 2 are quite similar. The sequel isn’t necessarily better than the original, but just feels a little different which means it all comes down to player preference. Both share similar mechanics and systems, and the controls are mapped quite comfortably on the Xbox One controller. Holding down the right trigger allows an uninterrupted rapid fire, but the manual fire button (A) can be held down to perform a melee attack. As the title suggests, a meter can be filled up to execute the VASARA which allows a barrage of projectiles. Then there is of course the typical screen-clearing bomb attack seen in almost every shmup.
The gameplay mechanics of both are sound and feel different enough from other shooters to warrant a look from even the most diehard genre fans, especially with the several playable characters, each offering a strategically distinct attack approach to suit different playstyles and levels of expertise. The characters don’t just differ in play style, but each have their own distinct campaign structure and progression. Speaking of level of expertise, VASARA Collection comes with all sorts of display settings and filters to allow serious shmup aficionados to get the most of these games (i.e. fans who know what TATE means).
VASARA and VASARA 2 are challenging games where the difficulty intensifies immediately after the first enemy wave, with a cast of mid-bosses and end of stage foes who put up quite the fight, especially when the main bosses go through different phases and patterns during battle. Fortunately, VASARA Collection comes with several quality of life improvements such as a difficulty setting and being able to set the number of lives. These are rewarding games to practice and master but one fault they have, which many pre-2004 shmups are guilty of as well, is that the projectiles can become very confusing as they come in all sorts of colours and sizes. It is a far cry from the welcome modern-day convention of bright pink/blue bullet patterns.
The coolest thing about the VASARA Collection is the inclusion of the all-new VASARA Timeless, a game which combines VASARA and VASARA 2 as one massive campaign with completely remade visuals in 3D. The new graphical style is nothing remarkable but they provide a nice alternative to the rather dated prerendered graphics of the classic games. The best part about VASARA Timeless is the four-player local coop, and where most shmups are already entertaining enough with just a two-player coop mode, playing with three other players just quadruples the fun and chaos. VASARA Timeless is definitely one to bring out with friends, both casual and avid gamers alike.
VASARA Collection on Xbox One is certainly a welcome release of two relatively lesser-known and rare shmups, and it comes with a brand-new game which is just as enjoyable as the main offerings. It may not feature the crown jewels of what is the most saturated genre in video games, but the experience is distinct enough to warrant interest from genre fans. Purists aside, the four-player local coop mode is a great way to spend an afternoon with gamers of all types.