Indie Review: Chronoblast

chronoblast

A great vertical shooter can make my day. Earlier this year developer n0rty games released Chronoblast on Xbox Live for $1, and the craftsmanship of the game is truly impressive. At the same time, the game isn’t very inviting when it comes to extended play.

Graphics

Chronoblast is a colorful spectacle that attempts to deliver an arcade experience to your home, as the playing screen is narrower than the usual console release. The effect is exhilarating and even suffocating. The action is so intense that you would have to be an onlooker to appreciate the visuals to the fullest extent.

Sound

The sound contributes to the sensory overload. The music complements the massive urgency of the gameplay, which only lets up when a level is completed. The explosions, big and small, have real pop. The voice acting makes you feel like you’re playing in an arcade from the future.

Gameplay

The basics follow: regular fire, which varies depending on the character you select (a nice touch); bombing, which damages enemies and destroys bullets; and the laser, a more powerful shot that keeps combo streaks alive. You can also upgrade your regular fire and “power up” for screen-clearing destruction.

But the most important element is not getting hit, which is a real pain in the ass given the narrow playing screen. Chronoblast is easily more difficult than many other bullet hell indie titles on the 360, including Aeternum, Vorpal and Shoot 1UP. For me, Chronoblast even manages to give all-time hard-ass games like Super Star Soldier a run for their money when it comes to challenge. The game does have an “Autobomb” setting that automatically shoots a bomb when you’re in danger of getting hit, but it’s almost insulting to have to play the game that way.

The odd thing is I rarely get pissed off while playing this game, mainly because it lets you know from the start that things will be hairy all the time. The game’s downfall is not its relentless bullets but its insistence on few lives and no continues. What the hell is the point of an arcade experience if you can’t continue?

Replayability

I’ve played Chronoblast several times, but I usually only play it for 10 minutes at a time. The fact that Chronoblast offers no continues means that it operates as a beautiful time-waster rather than a satisfying experience.

Conclusion

You’re probably not going to find another XBLIG shooter that can match or beat the presentation of Chronoblast. On the other hand, some of those shooters might be more fun. For a game so concerned with the arcade experience, Chronoblast ignores the idea of credits. Imagine not being able to put in a quarter after you die — what a ripoff.

Edit: This review is only valid for the current (9/7/2013) “Ranked” mode of the game. As pointed out by both n0rtygames (the developer) and satori in the comments below, the “Unranked” mode offers two continues. Moreover, as n0rtygames also mentions below, a patch will eventually delete the Unranked mode.

I had never played the Unranked mode in Chronoblast before I read these comments. In fact, I don’t play unranked modes for any game (if such a mode is offered). If I’m going to play a score-based or competitive game, I want my performance to count every time. When writing this review, I assumed the only difference between the Ranked and Unranked modes in Chronoblast was the question of ranking, as the terms imply. I sincerely apologize to both readers and n0rtygames for making this assumption. I promise I will not make this mistake again.

Overall Review

Score
Total
6 Above Average

User Ratings

2.7/10
Leave a review Total votes: 7 votes

Review Pros and Cons

Mesmerizing Presentation
Recreates Part of the Arcade Experience
No Continues Kills Part of the Arcade Experience

7 Comments

  1. Why would I come down hard on you? It’s my job as developer to make this information clear to the player. The fact that you didn’t find it is not your problem.

    As you highlighted – one thing the game is aspiring to do is capture the arcade feel of vertical shooters put out by companies such as Cave/Raizing/Psykio amongst others (lots mentioned in the credits) – one of the factors of an arcade game is to constantly keep players moving about so the machine itself can make money. So really – to capture the proper arcade feel I would charge per every credit used. Maybe 20msp – but that would never ever fly!

    The main point though, is that in an arcade game you put in your coin, you press start and the game usually has about 10 seconds to tell you how to play it. The rest must be picked up on intuition alone. So it’s never your failing as a player – it’s my failing as a developer for not realising that this could potentially be a point of frustration and flashing up the message “THIS MODE OFFERS NO CONTINUES”

    Hopefully if anything, you’ve learned about the whacky world of hardcore shooter fanatics. We really do compete with each other on home ports of arcade games to try and get the #1 world position. Takes weeks of practise and these scores are only ever counted for a single credit – because that’s really how the games are enjoyed for competition. Of course, ranked would imply a level of competition so I basically adopt the unwritten arcade rules for that.

    Think of it in the same spirit as playing Street Fighter and actually allowing the winner of a match to switch character.

    Also sorry for the flood of comments you got.. shmups guys are kinda passionate about the genre…:-)

  2. Generally, people who play shmups seriously for the clear nowadays don’t use continues except when practicing – score leaderboards are measured on the highest score you can get on a single credit, not for using continues. It’s also not unusual to only have the ‘good’ ending be available when you’re able to beat the game without using a continue (Touhou, Giga Wing, etc), it’s pretty much shmup convention to not continue and to have the game ‘beaten’ only when you’re able to get to the ending without getting a gameover.

    The issue with continues is that there’s no skill involved in credit-feeding a game, and if a game expects you to pump continues into it just to see the ending, it’s badly designed. Good arcade-style games are difficult to clear, but never unfair about it.

    Also, Super Star Soldier really is amazingly easy. You get tons of extra lives thrown at you, the weapons are strong… come on, it’s fun, yes, but it’s nowhere near remotely challenging to actually difficult games like Parodius (dat rank), anything Cave style, even some of the Aleste games are tougher…

    • Jed Pressgrove

      I appreciate the different perspective, but I’ve gotta be honest with you at the same time. I don’t like the term “shmup,” as I said in this article. “Shmup” sounds like something a two-year-old would say. I prefer specificity and clarity; that’s why I call Chronoblast a “vertical shooter.”

      From a cultural standpoint, it’s interesting that shmup fans don’t consider a game beaten until you’re able to beat it without using a continue. But from a personal standpoint, I don’t find this mindset very appealing.

      I’m still new to this “Super Star Soldier is easy” talk, but I find it strange that you said Parodius is more difficult. That just wasn’t the case for me. I’ve been meaning to play a Cave game but haven’t gotten around to it.

  3. first off, super star soldier is absurdly easy, no matter what skill level you may put yourself at. most compile (and friends) games are. i am absolute dogshit at these games and i get bored by compile.

    continues are not “extended play”. extended play is throwing those continues away and learning the game. that’s not elitist, that’s the whole point. continuing isn’t even the “arcade experience”, really; the previous aside, many earlier games had no such mechanic… and the entire industry was better for it.

    if chronoblast has no continues (keep in mind that it does), it would then be the satisfying experience; adding them would turn it into the time waster. that is what continues /do/; not encourage people to learn the game, but to rush through it and never touch it again.

    i like that you find autobomb insulting, though. it is indeed as much of a crutch as lives or bombs themselves… but so are continues. continues are that ultimate crutch that make the entire game self-defeating; there’s no point in getting to the end of a game if you haven’t actually done anything for it. lives and bombs are similar, but far less so, and some games have been creative and turned both into resources you can actually use, as opposed to marks against you.

    • Jed Pressgrove

      Hey satori, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I only have two things I want to point out.

      First, I’ve never seen another person say Super Star Soldier is easy, much less absurdly easy. Trust me, most people who have played Super Star Soldier had a tougher time with it than you. That’s both a compliment to you and the reality of it.

      Second, the continue screen was always part of the arcade experience for me. I grew up playing games like Street Fighter II, Sunset Riders, and other games of that era. I can’t speak for an earlier era of arcade gaming, though.

  4. The game does offer continues… you’re most likely playing in score attack mode where single credit runs are counted for score. There are “ranked” and “unranked” modes…

    Your score is not counted in unranked mode and you are given two credits – so you can continue as you please. There will be a patch deployed in the future which does away with unranked mode and combines it all in to a single play mode where the score from your first credit (and ONLY your first credit) is counted.

    Other than that, nice review… but it DOES have continues…:)

    • Jed Pressgrove

      Thank you very much for correcting my factual error. I have added a bolded section to the end of my review that explains my error.

      By the way, you could’ve come down harder on me for making this error and would’ve been justified in doing so. Your response shows a lot of good character.

Leave a Comment

Connect with:

Your Review (required)


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>