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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.