Blasters of the Universe

Blasters of the Universe

Written by Eric Hauter on 3/20/2018 for PS4   VR  
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I have never been coordinated enough to perform well while playing bullet-hell shooters. My gameplay style is definitely more on the “slow and meticulous” end of the range, about as far from twitch skills as one can be and still be considered a gamer. My hand-eye coordination just isn’t strong enough to find the hole in the endless waves of projectiles. That doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy trying. I’m pretty much down for anything. I have just learned to accept that, like throwing baseballs and fast dancing, bullet-hell shooters are something that I suck at.

With that in mind, I approached Blasters of the Universe with no small amount of trepidation. Blasters is, from what I can tell, the first game of its kind. Blasters of the Universe is a bullet-hell shooter played entirely in VR. What this means is that you, the player, are standing facing a gallery. Various enemies appear on the screen in steadily increasing numbers, and they all shoot slow-moving projectiles in your direction. Different enemies shoot with different bullet configurations and at various intervals, and your job as the player is to blast them into oblivion before the number of bullets bearing down on you becomes too much for you to avoid.

And there’s the gimmick, and the saving grace for Blasters (for me at least). Avoiding bullets in this game is a completely unique proposition. You dodge, physically. Like, with your body. You can dash to the side, pivot in place, and duck underneath incoming shots. There is a certain amount of flailing involved, but I was delighted to find that this physical dynamic opened the genre to me in ways that it had previously been closed. While I don’t have the coordination in my thumbs to avoid waves off bullets on a screen, I can throw myself at the floor to avoid bullets flying at my face with the best of them.

Only your face is vulnerable, so bullets hitting the rest of your body are allowable. Learning the flight patterns of various bullet formations is critical, and sometimes standing still is the best option, as the bullets will fly right past your face in a dazzling swirl of light and motion. Other times, the best course of action is to dodge at the last moment, or even hit the deck to avoid a wave of projectiles. After playing the game for a couple of days, my legs feel like I have been doing squats, and lots of them. Blasters of the Universe is good exercise, it seems.

Blasters of the Universe takes place inside a 1980s arcade machine that has been taken over by a dweeby high-score chaser. The enemies are clever takes on '80s video game baddies, each with their own attack patterns and weapons. Through the four levels of the campaign, players defend themselves against wave after wave of bad guys who attack from all directions before finally facing off with a boss. You can get hit five times before you see the Game Over screen—accompanied by some mockery from the dweeb.

Four levels might not seem like a lot, but these are some pretty robust levels. Each level contains new enemies, which iterate upon themselves and grow in complexity as you move forward through the game. After clearing the game on the Casual difficulty level (and there is nothing casual about it, believe me), players can return for the Hell difficulty. There is also an endless mode that keeps throwing bad guys at you until you finally die, engaging players in the timeless pursuit of high scores, much in the manner of the '80s arcade games that Blasters is modeled after. Weekly challenges are also present, starting the player with a predetermined loadout and asking them to complete special requirements.

Players are provided with a fairly effective weapon at the outset of the game, but by completing the levels, soon unlock an extremely wide variety of weaponry options. The game allows players to switch out clips, projectile types, barrels, special moves, and modifiers, allowing for a highly customizable loadout. By the end of the game, the possible combinations are overwhelming. I ended up going with a triple-beam laser that bounced between enemies in a spectacular light show. Very effective. Players can also hold a shield in their off hand. Blasters wisely allows lefties to trade weapon and shield by simply trading Move Controllers. Like weapons, Blasters offers a wide shield selection for players to choose from. I particularly enjoyed the little round shield that allowed me to deflect bullets back at the enemy that fired them.

Blasters of the Universe is a very fun and polished game. I had a great time diving around my living room and methodically taking down wave after wave of enemies. The weapon and shield tracking work remarkably well and I had little trouble finding that trancelike groove that has eluded me so many times in standard bullet-hell games. This made the one bug that I did experience all the more disappointing.

The last level of the game takes about six or seven minutes to work through. It doesn’t sound like much, but this is a pretty intense level, so by the time you reach the end, you are feeling it. There are waves of enemies, the hardest in the game, for about four minutes, followed by a clever boss fight that I don’t want to spoil. It took me a few tries to reach the boss fight, so when I defeated the boss on the first try, I was thrilled. It should be noted that boss fights are fun and challenging, but not to the point of being frustrating. As was usual, I was a little sweaty, a little tired, and feeling pretty superheroic.

I downed the boss, the world went black, and I waited in the dark for the end of the game. I could still see my weapon and my shield, but suddenly they were glitching out a bit, not tracking as well as they had through the entire game. I stood there expectantly, waiting for a final boss fight, or a cutscene, or credits, or anything. Nothing happened. I tried to bring up the in-game menu to quit the level and start over, but the game had stopped responding.

I went through this process three times in an attempt to complete the game. I closed the game after the first time it bugged out and restarted. After it happened again, I actually restarted my PlayStation and tried again. After three full times completing the entire level, I was forced to conclude that this game-breaking bug was indeed in place no matter what I tried, and that there was no way to complete the game. This is the worst sort of outcome: to play a game, really enjoy it, and then be cut off at the knees right at the end. I actually feel bad typing this review up, because I loved this game, and I want to be able to recommend it wholeheartedly. I sent an email to the developer, to alert them to the issues I have had, and I only hope that they can get a patch in place for others to enjoy the end of this otherwise rock-solid game. The developer, Secret Location, did respond to my inquiry. They assured me that my experience was an edge case, and was not indicative of the overall experience they are intent on delivering. They were very responsive, and are working to correct the issue.

Even with this bug in play, I still recommend Blasters of the Universe. There is plenty of fun here to enjoy without actually finishing the campaign. The variety of clever weapons, the fun enemies, the goofball bad guy, all are enjoyable. The game has several modes that can be enjoyed without having to worry about beating the last boss. I only hope that the dev team gets a patch out quickly. Blasters of the Universe is really good, but it deserves to be great.

With its fun visuals, finely tuned difficulty, and inherent physicality, Blasters of the Universe stands out in the crowd of VR wave shooters. While a late-game bug was disappointing, I still had a great time and plan on returning to it. Bugs can be patched, and game design this strong doesn’t come knocking every day.

Rating: 8 Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

Howdy.  My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a 45-year-old dad with four kids, ranging in age from 1 through 17.  During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs).  I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one.  I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.

My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then.  I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep.  Currently, I play on PS4, PSVR, PS Vita, 3DS, Wii U and a janky PC.  While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.

When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect.

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