Homebrew Review: The Ghost Blade (Sega Dreamcast)

Review-The-Ghost-Blade-Dreamcast-HomebrewThe Sega Dreamcast is no stranger to aftermarket releases. The console which many view as having gone too soon holds what could be described as the most active homebrew scene around - with a handful of new games arriving on the platform each year. The latest of these hails from the retro publisher Hucast Games, a vertical scrolling shooter by the name of The Ghost Blade.

If you’ve kept up to date with the new releases hitting the Dreamcast over the last few years, it’s safe to say that the shoot-em-up genre has found a new home. This popular category for homebrew development has already seen the likes of Last Hope, Fast Striker, Neo XYX and Dux all being released on physical disc, with The Ghost Blade arriving late to the crowded party. This, however, isn’t a bad thing. To write off Hucast Games’ latest release based upon its target audience having plenty to choose from already would be criminal. If anything, The Ghost Blade has taken inspiration from both these recent releases and classic shmups to create something special.

Becoming The Ultimate Weapon

Originally announced back at the start of 2013 and scheduled for release the same year, The Ghost Blade saw a fairly lengthy hiatus with the occasional gameplay trailer and screenshot leaking to the public. From the information available at the time, this all new vertical scrolling shooter was set to promise three different spacecrafts to pilot, five stages to blast, and also monitor orientation features for the dedicated shmup fans amongst us - all of which made its way into the final release two and a half years later.

This lengthy wait may have been tough for fans of Sega’s last system, but in short it was definitely worth it. The Ghost Blade is one of those games that showcases a labour of love from the minute you boot it up. Littered with striking visuals and an inspired Japanese arcade art-style, lead designer René Hellwig has done the Dreamcast proud by introducing detailed 2D graphics you’d expect to see on modern consoles. This clear-cut care for its look and feel is also carried through to the game’s core too, with the crucial colour-coding of friendly and damaging projectiles being different from one another. The game’s environments look incredibly lush too, and each and every enemy out there feels part of the world it belongs to. This of course all sounds good, but are the on-screen graphics done justice once you take control?

Fans of the bullet-hell gameplay will no doubt feel right at home after short cruise through the game’s first level - one which is anything but shy in covering the screen in bright pink bullets. With a wide range of enemies on display, each of which carrying their own characteristics and attack patterns, you’ll need to learn how to slip between dangerous paths and fight back. Although manageable (and challenging to new players), it’s a brief taster of what’s soon to come.

Review-The-Ghost-Blade-Screenshot

Similar to just about every other vertical shooter out there, dotted throughout the game are bright red defenseless carriers holding power-ups for your craft. Upon releasing these and collecting them your craft will be accompanied by a new turret either side, further adding to your overall firepower. While of course there is indeed a limit to how many of these you can tag along, they do provide an incredible gameplay element which sets The Ghost Blade apart from many others in the genre. Should you already be holding the A button to shoot, also pushing down X will concentrate all of the turrets into the centre of your craft. This in turn shoots out an even more powerful beam which becomes priceless for taking down tougher enemies directly in-front of you, but at the cost of leaving your sides vulnerable.

Although these advanced mechanics on offer do impress, it’s safe to say your enjoyment with them may be limited. While The Ghost Blade stuck to its original promise of five stages to play through, the game itself can be completed in under twenty minutes after several practice sessions. On top of that too the game can be a little too generous with extra lives to the point where the final battle can be won through using B button bombs, flying into the enemy, and repeating the process.

While the game’s short length isn’t exactly a bad thing, the true purpose and reasoning behind its ‘caravan’ approach may be lost and questioned by some given the game’s price tag. For high score hunters though, The Ghost Blade should definitely be considered for its action-packed quick gameplay.

Elsewhere on show video game composer Rafael Dyll makes a triumphant return to Sega’s platform with yet another belting soundtrack. Having previously produced the audio for Gunlord on the Dreamcast and Neo Geo, Dyll’s iconic euro-trance is almost becoming an expected addition for new games on classic consoles. Our compliments for Dyll don’t end there though as The Ghost Blade’s soundtrack feels completely in key with the game’s atmospheric approach and visuals, further complimenting everything on offer. Hucast Games are well aware of this and have also made sure that those willing to invest a bit more into a Limited Edition version of the game receive a separate disc containing the complete soundtrack.

And as for the physical copy itself, retro game collectors will no doubt want The Ghost Blade on their shelves. Sporting fantastic artwork on its cover and an equally detailed manual and disc too, our point regarding this game being a labour of love still stands. Plus the organised amongst us will be happy to know that the box’s spine matches the style of both Hucast Games and NG:DEV.TEAM’s prior releases - a potential sign that their library of new releases is anything but finished.

The Final Credit

All in all The Ghost Blade is a fantastic and welcome addition to the Dreamcast’s growing library of recent releases. Every aspect of the game features a polished look and sound, and the gameplay - although short - is addictive, fast-paced, and engaging. While it could very much do with several other difficulty modes and perhaps another stage or two, Hucast Games should be proud of their newest title as it once again shows what the Sega’s fabled console is capable of - keeping the dream alive.

The Ghost Blade (Sega Dreamcast) Gameplay

Link: The Ghost Blade (Sega Dreamcast) Regular Edition

Link: The Ghost Blade (Sega Dreamcast) Limited Edition


 

Cauterize

Better known as Adam offline, Cauterize is one of RetroCollect's final bosses with an unhealthy addiction to pixels. When he's not out searching the web for the latest retro gaming news or creating content for RetroCollect, he'll will most likely be found working on his Sensible Soccer skills.

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