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23rd July 2013; By KnucklesSonic8
It doesn't take much for a shoot-em-up to find itself swamped, uneasy and unable to manage a host of haphazard mechanics. In hopes of avoiding an empty hull, gimmicks often get tossed in to enliven shoot-em-ups above standard conventions. But, cautious of this danger, Chain Blaster heads in the opposite direction, having its core design guided by a single system and thus paving the way for a less transparent openness. Because of this, Chain Blaster not only proves super approachable even for the tension it generates, but on a broader scale, its controlled depth functions as an adequate offset for its immediate and long-term weaknesses.
Its pull can be equally seen in the mechanics and the game world, but it is the atmosphere's invasiveness that sparks gradual captivity. Not remaining stoic, the background adopts a more engaging position to simulate this idea that you are traversing a digital network. Envision a moving tunnel similar to an active screen saver...except more immersive, with visual effects resembling internal speakers. The space is amplified by the trance soundtrack, which features a rather sinister-sounding track and one boss theme that could pass as a forgotten DDR tune. Combine this with the setting's existing effect, and a strong relationship exists between the two.
The reasons for the atmosphere being immersive are not just because gameplay resides on a layer above this cycle of movement, or even because the visuals are enhanced by the incorporation of 3D; the environment itself is mesmerizing in its own right, and made this way without a psychedelic blend of colours or unusual debris. In actuality, when you first enter the game space, Chain Blaster could be confused as having a rhythmic undertone. Yet, while that isn't the case, it maintains its own sense of rhythm in the flow existing on both play and atmospheric levels.
The game title is in reference to the core mechanic of using what are called Chain Blasts to wipe out enemy forces coming in from the top and side edges of the screen (as per the vertical format). As such, your default blaster is secondary to this system. With each Chain Blast creating a circular area of effect, what you're gunning for is an extended ripple effect, where just one enemy collision will create explosions that leave marks similar to the one you create.
Your use of Chain Blasts is limited to a gauge, for which Blast Matter dropped by damaged or defeated enemies is to be gathered, with up to three storage tanks that can easily be refilled. With the Cross Point feature enabled, the system will pinpoint the ideal fire location for a long-reaching effect, but there are times when you must sacrifice waiting for this to show up and act hastily to preserve your combo.
More than just understanding how to create its own drive for players to absorb, Chain Blaster's grip spreads to all facets, revealing itself to be very thorough in its execution. Enemy formations are neither domineering nor lightweight; fronts are not easily-bypassed, nor are they severe; and while maneuverability is challenged, it is done in a very balanced capacity. As a result, there is a thrilling energy to the game that actually quiets the importance of health and the danger of permanent failure. Health extensions are not "generous" per se, but you won't be in dire need of lives if you're consistent -- that is, unless you're facing a vicious wave or one of the multiple mini-bosses, which come equipped with triple-layer shields that can only be punctured with well-positioned Chain Blasts. And because these extensions are delivered automatically (as opposed to being sent out as packets that must be retrieved), your entire focus is on evasion and strategy, not recovery.
There is one glaring flaw with Chain Blaster's structure, though. The game is set up in an endless format, with the sixth stage in the progression leading you back to the beginning of the loop. And though the repeating patterns do present an increase in difficulty, it's disappointing that the cycle repeats so soon. The game had me almost completely up until this point, and rather than follow a very enjoyable boss encounter with added momentum, it settles instead for an easy way out. If you're perfectly comfortable with this in the shoot-em-ups you normally frequent, then this shouldn't be as bothersome over the long haul. But even still, the game losing some of its hold like this... It's hard to witness.
Achieving a score condition will unlock a more advanced ship, which changes your method of play in that Chain Blasts must be planted rather than deployed from a distance. And there are other properties the two don't have in common -- one can slow down time, while the other can regenerate gauge energy over time. So between that and the worldwide leaderboards, Chain Blaster does keep you engaged enough that you'll want to come back later down the road.
Though I would've loved to see the game's cycle stretch on further than it does, Chain Blaster is a pleasure to play. There's a very magnetic hook here that comes to the fore, at times creating stunning (albeit brief) moments. But more pleasing is that gameplay, rather than being shallow, maintains a tangible pull even though its mechanics aren't boldly creative. I do concede that it's not a very meaty experience, but Chain Blaster excels regardless, resisting both complication and minimalism for a balanced and highly engaging experience.
23/30 - Very Good
Gameplay 8/10 - Chain Blast system supported well, progressive structure, controlled depth, invasiveness gradually captivates, balanced elements
Presentation 9/10 - Engaging atmosphere that benefits from 3D, mesmerizing in setup with strong visual effects, soundtrack amplifies effect of setting
Enjoyment 4/5 - Focus remains on strategy thanks to balanced health system, combined efforts create magnetic hook, challenging but not harshly so
Extra Content 2/5 - Unlockable ship for advanced players that impacts methodology, stage cycle repeats too soon, motivating leaderboards
Equivalent to a score of 77% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System