Astebreed – Review

Title   Astebreed
Developer  Edelweiss
Publisher  Playism Games
Platform  Windows PC, PlayStation 4 (reviewed)
Genre  Shooter, Arcade
Release Date  Jun 26, 2015

Astebreed is an old-school arcade-style shoot ‘em from Japanese indie developers Edelweiss (not very Japanese sounding, but whatever) and has found its way to the PS4 after doing its time on Steam for a couple of years.

Now, normally with a genre as large and varied as the humble shoot ‘em up, you normally have to qualify it by type. Is it horizontal (like R-Type), vertical (like 1942) or into the screen (like Space Harrier)? Is it a bullet-hell type of affair, or a bit more chilled out? Well, Astebreed doesn’t really know. It shifts effortlessly from one to the other so often that in the end it defies qualification.

From a technical point, it does this extremely well. The shifts in perspective are very cinematic in their approach and are supported by some extremely lush visuals. Highly detailed, and with a vivid palette, Astebreed looks the business mixing old-school sensibilities with futuristic, polished designs. I can’t say enough good things about Astebreed from a technical perspective.

Of course, we’re a long way from the ‘put in your 10p and go’ mentality of shoot ‘em ups, and Astebreed has the now-mandatory plot. It is very Japanese, but on the plus side it’s not weird and noncey like they can be (example: Deathsmiles) but it is still utter bollocks. Some nonsense about a girl called Fiona Nono who was a human but is now a hologram, and a guy called Roy who is a teenager but is still allowed to drive some sort of flying mech thing that is armed to its robot incisors with overpowered weapon systems. There’s some Matrix-esque nonsense in there about a race of machines and a virtual reality and… look I don’t know, and I don’t care.

So once you get the through the prologue and tutorial, you’re into the game proper and Astebreed passes my initial test for all shoot ‘em ups by making you feel powerful. If a game is going to send me into battle with a fucking peashooter then I’m always going to hate it, but Astebreed has you tooled up to Roy’s mechy tits with a decent spread fire machine gun, a huge sword for close encounters and a Rez-style lock-on system (that can either be aimed with the right stick or sent out in a big circle by clicking the right stick in). These are all good options but Astebreed‘s first big decision, to let you use them all at the same time, is what ultimately spoils the game a little.

The machine gun is controlled with R2, and there’s no reason to not just have that pressed down the whole time. The sword is mapped to R1. You can keep that held down but it will slow you to a crawl. And then you’ve got the right trigger thing as well. By the end of a playthrough (six levels, totalling around 20-30 minutes) your hands feel like you’ve got arthritis. Also, the sheer amount of plasma death flying around the screen both from you and at you means that the screen is essentially like a music visualizer and you’ve put on some 200BPM gabba house from the late ’90s.

To confuse matters more, your perspective continues to shift. You’ll be flying across to the right, into the screen, diagonally to the left, and then vertically upwards. It’s hard to get into the zone when you’re constantly re-adjusting your parameters like that. Shoot ‘em ups are about your peripheral vision, scanning for threats in certain areas but that becomes kind of impossible.

On top of all that, the plot continues in Japanese with translations appearing in the bottom-left of the screen along with small pictures of the people involved. As Fiona yaps away at you about whatever the fuck is going on, you can’t see it because you’re more worried about all the bullets and all you can here is the her talking in Manga-style japanese which means she sounds like a mewling cat that is screeching at you the whole time. It is infuriating.

Add to that the frantic soundtrack and the overall effect is akin to being flashbanged.

There is certainly an adjustment that you need to make to filter that stuff out and concentrate on the game but if you can do it, Astebreed is good. The shooting is satisfying and exciting – two things that indie shoot ‘em ups so often forget about – and the impressive visuals help to keep things interesting. It doesn’t overstay its welcome either, but the difficulty could certainly use a tweak. Easy difficulty is trivial and Normal is pretty easy until the final boss, who is borderline unbeatable. At least to normal people like me who haven’t evolved to the next stage of human thumbage yet.

This all said, I’m being harsh on the game’s faults because of how strong its positives are. Compared to horseshit PSN shoot ‘em ups like Project Root and Aces of the Luftwaffe, this is an entirely different level of game but with true Wu-bangers out there like Geometry Wars 3 and Jamestown+, Astebreed is far from essential.

  • Polished visuals
  • Satifisying, and exciting, shooting
  • Is concerned with aesthetics over gameplay at times
  • The plot is nonsense
  • Final boss difficulty is out of whack with the rest of the game
  • Too many weapon systems to manage

Astebreed is a shoot 'em up with an identity crisis. If its only goal is to impress, then it does that with aplomb, but it lacks the kind of tight design that you'd expect from an elite shoot 'em up and instead tries too hard to do too much.

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