A classic arcade name just got a surprise revival on Switch
Is the name Psikyo familiar at all? It's fine if not - it's been well over a decade since the Kyoto developer was a going concern, and even in its heyday its appeal was limited by its chosen genre; fine-tuned shmups that were a mainstay in Japanese arcades in the late 90s. The Psikyo name gets my heart aflutter, though, thanks to a handful of admirable Dreamcast ports of some of its greats. Gunbird 2! Zero Gunner 2! Cannon Spike!
Okay, maybe not that last one so much. Cannon Spike was a fairly tepid shooter whose saving grace was its oodles of Capcom fan service with starring roles for the likes of Cammy, Mega Man and Darkstalker's Baby Bonnie Hood, but it's notable for being one of the last PAL releases for Sega's Dreamcast. Desirable, too, so much so that I turned in a healthy profit on my own copy earlier this year and put the money towards my own Switch fund, so it was a pleasant surprise to see two of Psikyo's older games pop up on the eShop this week.
Strikers 1945 is the archetypal Psikyo game - and probably its most famous title, too - developed as it was in the studio's infancy. You can see some of Psikyo's heritage there - the team was formed from members of Aero Fighters developers Video System, and by some delicious kink of fate the sequel to that particular game is also out on eShop this week - as well as some of its latter identity taking shape. What is it that makes Psikyo games stand out? For me its the elegance to be found in their simplicity; these are shmups that stop short of the chaos of many of their contemporaries while maintaining a complexity of their own. They're slick, sturdy things that never feel mean-spirited, and have oodles of style.
Well, that and the fact they boast some lovely bosses. Psikyo's got a knack of making mechs that really sing, with bosses often undergoing several beautifully animated transitions during encounters. Battleships that morph into bipedal robots! Stealth bombers that evolve into giant metal birds! They're as gorgeous to behold as they are to bring down in a hail of bullets. Strikers 1945 is the perfect jumping off point, not just if you're new to the studio, but - given the relative simplicity of Psikyo's games - to the shmup genre itself too.
Strikers 1945 is just lovely, then, but it's the second Psikyo game that landed this week on the Switch that's won my heart. Gunbarich is something of an oddity - it was certainly new to me - that's never made its way out of the arcades before. A colourful mess of block breaking and shmup staples, it's brought together by the kind of manic energy typical of so many arcade games of the time. It's a game that screams and sings like an erratic toddler, and all that noise is kind of charming. It's short and almost sickeningly sweet, but I've never played anything quite like it.
If you've a love for arcade gaming of a certain vintage both are pretty much essential, and along with Hamsters' Neo Geo ports they underline what a fine machine the Switch is turning into for a select number of coin-op masterpieces. There's something eminently social about the old ideal of the arcade, matched by the Switch's ability to play alongside someone anywhere you might be. That, and the new neon green and pink Joy-Cons match perfectly to the colour scheme of a New Astro City control panel, and that's all to confirm that the Switch is the perfect home for these classics.