I love some classic arcade style action.

It's not a field that can suck me in forever, the way it can for some folks, but arcade style games have a lot of fun to them. Mastering stages, working on your high score, trying to get as far as you can on limited resources, and all with a tightly packed gameplay loop.

Fast Striker, make no mistake, is an arcade style game. Hell, more than that, it's an outright arcade game. A small, indie arcade game first released in 2010 for the NeoGeo, but that still absolutely counts as the arcade.

Specifically, it's a vertical shoot-em-up, one of my favorite genres to drop some quarters into if I find one still in the wild. God, I miss arcades...

Back to my point. This is the PS4 port of the home release, which was originally for the...

...The Dreamcast.

Also in 2010.

I'm not sure whether to shake my head or just admire that kind of dedication.

But it's that kind of dedicaton that gets you crisp, clean, largely(entirely?) sprite-based shmups in 2018.

If you've never played one of these, the gameplay loop is real simple. Move forwards automatically, dodge gunfire on a 2D plane, shoot back, rack up the high score.

Within this model, there's a couple of variants: horizontal versus vertical, precision versus danmaku, and boss rush versus full stage, just to name a few. Danmaku is the one we need to call out, just so you know what you're getting into.

Danmaku, as a subgenre, is a bit unique in shmups. The word roughly translates into "bullet hell", and it's defined by thick, colorful sprays of projectiles, forming dense waves of patterns. The secret that makes them possible is that you're only vulnerable in your center, and the projectiles only count in their center, so it's a game of keeping these two smaller points hidden in larger fields from touching.

Fast Striker is definitely, firmly a danmaku game. But it does also throw a couple curve balls to keep the design unique.

Aside from the actual difficulty adjustments, each difficulty (plus the extra Omake mode, which has a bunch of extra mechanics for score chasing) also puts you in a different ship, with its own firing patterns and thus playstyle. Each ship gets a rapid fire, a sustained fire, rapid and sustained rear fire, and the strike shield.

The strike shield is the other interesting piece. It's basically the game's bomb equivalent, but instead of taking down the whole screen or wiping the bullets or even being a huge overpowered super-laser, it pops an energy barrier onto you for a few seconds. Not only are you invulnerable, but you do contact damage to anything you hit, and your sustained fire doesn't slow you down.

Strike shields also offer a secondary effect; If you do take damage, you'll first dump all your remaining strike shields before you actually lose your life, turning all the ones you didn't use into one last second chance.

It's an interesting little mechanic that spins the gameplay loop around, without totally changing the core elements too much. I'm not going to say it's the first of its kind, but it's the first I've seen in a shmup, and I like it.

Actual gameplay with these features is pretty classic danmaku. Plenty of enemies, the bigger ones throw out tons of ammo, you bob and weave and constantly pour on the attack, try to get the high score. The way that every enemy drops score multiplier items helps keep you from wanting to lock in too tightly into a tiny bit of space, and keeps things a little more dynamic.

As an example of the genre, really, it's hard to say much about Fast Striker except that it does what it sets out to do, and does it really solidly.

And as such, a lot of its potential problems are kind of "the dog won't meow" problems. If you like story, there's basically zero. If you want a long experience and lots of new things to see, a solid no-frills run of the game would fit in under an hour. These aren't, like, bugs or accidents, they're at the core of how the game was designed.

It's in the technicals where you start seeing the actual troubles, though. And really, it's two things.

The first is, plain and simple, I don't actually think there's a single way to add more credits. You get four when you return to the title screen, giving you your starting lives and three continues. And as far as I can tell, that's it, leaving you to just sit and watch the timer count down to a Game Over when you run out. Which, it's not even that "three continues then you're done" is bad design, it's the way it's clearly been bolted on to the Neo Geo rom, which assumed a coin slot (or at least a button).

The second thing I notice is a purely technical one. While the game wasn't designed with a tate mode (short for rotate, in which we put the game sideways on the screen and then turn the screen around to put a vertical game vertically on display), it still suffers from how its resolution doesn't really scale cleanly into anything on my display short of a smallish window. I’m not sure if there’s much you could do about that, especially with sprites, but I do wish there was a way to get a satisfying full-screen experience out of the game as it currently exists.

At the end of the day, though, it is a solid entry in a genre that doesn't get enough of those. It's a bit of a niche experience to be sure, but if you're into what it offers, I say jump in and enjoy yourself.