In the past few years, we’ve seen a plethora of classic games get re-released on modern consoles via new collections. Whether this is due to the death of services such as Nintendo’s Virtual Console on the Wii, the success of mini-consoles such as the NES Classic, or companies getting more creative with re-selling old titles (such as the Mega Man Legacy Collections), I’m not sure.
However, due to many popular older releases getting re-released, some companies are seeing this as an opportunity to give some perhaps under-loved titles a new lease on life. A prime example of this would be last year’s SNK 40th Anniversary Collection, published by NIS America. So, I was excited when I first learned about Vasara Collection, a compilation of two arcade shoot ‘em ups that until recently had never left arcades in their home country of Japan. This new collection will be coming out 13 August 2019 for Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, and Nintendo Switch.
Full disclosure: I was sent review codes by developer QUByte for both the Playstation 4 and Nintendo Switch versions of the game. I have not played the Playstation Vita version, though word of mouth has led me to believe that the experience is similar to playing the Switch version in handheld mode. Another bit of disclosure: I’m terrible at shoot ‘em ups, which is funny seeing how much I love this genre.
The Vasara games date back to the late 1990s. Vasara was the creation of the Visco Corporation, an arcade game developer that published the majority of their titles on the Neo Geo line of arcade and home console hardware. Vasara 1, which saw release in 2000, was released for the SSV arcade hardware, hardware that was more a bit more powerful than the Neo Geo. Despite this, Vasara 1 has the look and feel of a Neo Geo title, and I mean that mostly in a good way.
Set sometime in feudal Japan, the shogunate is about to go through a coup, and the only way to save the country is to head into battle…in a futuristic plane. And across the way, you’ll fight such enemies as mecha samurai, giant floating mechanical skulls, and all sorts of incredible machinery that leads me to believe that this game might not be historically accurate.
A lot of the enemies are rather large and stages are pretty colourful. Oddly, I expected to see more sprite scaling being shown off, perhaps on enemies, as that was rather popular in a lot of Neo Geo-style games, but that’s not the case here.
The smallest sprite on screen is usually your ship, and while it can be a bit hard to keep track of it when played in horizontal mode on the Switch, the small size makes learning enemy patterns and dodging bullets a breeze.
A note about the Switch version: when played in handheld mode things look just a little muddier to me than when played on the big screen, but this doesn’t hamper the overall experience. I should mention, this affects all the games on the collection.
Making it through Vasara 1 alive is easier said than done. Vasara was an arcade game and, as arcade games tend to go, this title was made with munching quarters in mind (or, in this case, yen). Somehow, for the most part, it never feels unmanageable.
You have several ships to pick at the start of the game, each with different speed and power stats. From there, each one has a standard gun which can be upgraded up to four times, screen-clearing bombs, and a “Vasara Attack” which has to be built up using a meter and functions mainly as a more powerful bomb. Most importantly, though, is a melee attack that you can charge up by holding down the main shoot button. This melee attack, along with being more powerful than bullets, has the ability to cut through enemy shots, as long as said enemy shots are red and not any other colour.
Though Vasara is very easy to pick up and play, to master it you’ll have to carefully balance using your main gun and your charged melee attack. Luckily this is still a modern console port of an arcade game, so whether you make it through or not depends on how many continues you’re willing to use.
The ports of Vasara and Vasara 2 here come with a slew of options for tailoring the game to your liking, ranging from difficulty selection to enabling a “free play mode” with unlimited continues to various picture filters. There’s even the option to play the game in a vertical orientation. This, I’m sure, would be great on a handheld Switch with a vertical grip, though I was unable to test that for this review.
Speaking of things I was unable to test, Vasara 1 and 2 both have two-player co-op, which sounds incredibly fun, but I was unable to test this.
On to Vasara 2, it’s very similar to the first game and even re-uses some assets. Released only a year after the first game, this would also be Visco’s last ever game release.
Vasara 2 is a more refined experience than its predecessor. There are four new playable characters here, each with their own attributes. Instead of bombs, they can now charge up multiple Vasara Attacks and said special move varies from character to character. There’s both an easy path and a hard path, with the main difference, besides one having much fewer bullets on screen than the other, is that one has twelve stages and the other only six. Like before, with enough continues, you’ll make it through eventually.
The only time Vasara 1 or 2 ever feels unfairly difficult, though, is on the final stage of each game, or past Stage 6 on the Vasara 2 hard path. Whenever you use a continue, you’re usually allowed to continue from where you left off when you died. At these points, the game decides randomly to make you start back from the beginning of the stage when you game over. It feels inconsistent and comes out of nowhere and I wish there was an option to toggle this off in these new releases.
Weird difficulty spike aside, Vasara 1 and 2 are a ton of fun and these are fantastic ports of them. But that’s not all there is here, because Vasara Collection, unexpectedly, has a third game!
Along with having the typical galleries and tutorials you’re used to finding in compilations like this, Vasara Collection contains a new game called Vasara Timeless. In this new game, you choose from one of seven characters (with more unlockable) and go through remixed versions of the original games, now presented with 3D graphics, in widescreen, with up to three friends joining you in couch co-op.
Vasara Timeless is honestly incredible. It still feels like a retro shoot ‘em up, but the updated graphics and addition of mechanics such as a dodge maneuver make it feel almost more like something I’d find on the Sega Dreamcast.
Vasara Timeless is also technically harder than the other games, as continues are very limited, but this doesn’t bother me as much as with Vasara 1 and 2 as, at the very least, its continue system is consistent.
From beginning to end, without deaths, the Vasara games can likely be beaten in 20-30 minutes. However, mastering them and getting to a point where that is possible will take quite some time. Like with any great arcade games, the true fun with these titles will come with playing them over and over again to get the highest score possible. I’m sure high score competition will be especially fun once the online leaderboards launch.
I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface here. I’m really looking forward to continuing to play Vasara Collection, especially with friends. QUByte has done an excellent job bringing these games to a new audience and, for those who want the best Vasara experience possible, there’s even a limited physical release coming soon from Strictly Limited Games, though preorders for these are already almost sold out.
At $10 USD on both PSN and the Nintendo eShop at launch, Vasara Collection is not one to be missed. If you pre-purchase the game on the Switch right now, it’s actually only $5, making it especially worth it. Of the two versions, I would personally recommend the Switch version more, mainly just due to the portability factor. Both versions are fine, though. No matter which way you play Vasara Collection, and whether you be a die-hard shoot ‘em up fan or just an arcade game lover, you’re in for a real treat.