Change Air Blade - Sammy

Change Air Blade

1999, Sammy

Reviewed by O. Hakubi.

Change Air Blade is unique among shooters, and not in that "it does something that nobody's managed to do better since its creation" sort of way. No good sir, I mean it in that "it does something that never been done before, and to date has not been done again" sort of way: It takes the typical vertical shooter and turns it a two-player competitive experience by pitting you not against hordes of ships but against another ship similar to your own. Is it any good? Good question. Let's find out, shall we?


Change Air Blade is a vertically-scrolling shooter whose field of combat is divided in half horizontally. For the most part the player is confined to the bottom half of the screen, while the computer-controlled jet (or the other player) has to remain in the top half. From their respective locations the crafts in question must try and deplete their opponent's three lives (represented by the three armor bars at the top of the screen) through canny use of bombs, bullets and support attacks while simultaneously trying to avoid getting shot down themselves. Having an armor bar whittled down with conventional jet fire won't result in your ship getting destroyed, though the standard orange-red shmup bullets can and will result in the loss of your current bar and destruction of your craft. Win and you go on to the next stage, minus whatever you lost from the previous battles. Lose and you're forced to try again... provided you choose to continue of course. Defeat all eight opposing ships and you win.


Change Air Blade uses three buttons, cleverly labelled A, B and C. Tapping the A button rather predictably fires your plane's main weapon, while holding down the button causes it to fire a stronger version of said weapon at the cost of slower movement. Upgrades come in the form of metallic canisters with green "P"s on them. As an aside, after a few seconds of continuous fire there's a short pause as the empty ammo canisters are ejected and new ones are reloaded. This isn't a major issue, but it is worth noting.

Bombs are dropped, fired or otherwise launched with the B button. Actually, "bomb" is sort of a misnomer as the effects range from lasers to micro missiles to the more typical fiery blast. The one thing they have in common is that both the blast/shots and the green aura that surrounds your ship upon activation negate projectiles. Unlike some shooters, however, they do not confer temporary invincibility upon your ship. I discovered this the hard way after the second or third time I panic bombed and still ended up dying when a bullet slipped through the shots. You begin the game with one and acquire more by collecting the small canisters with orange "B"s on them. Sixteen small canisters equals one bomb, but if you're hard-pressed for explosives you can trade in however many of the canisters you have for a shorter explosive effect.

Finally, the C button controls support weapons, which are single-use items that come in three varieties: Linear (a blue triangle), Homing (green crosshairs) and Exchange (two orange arrows pointing up and down). Linear is a temporary supplement to your own ship's weaponry that relies own your aiming skills to connect, whereas Homing causes your ship to emit a radar pulse, targeting the enemy craft with auto-aiming or homing attacks should the pulse hit. Both of these are fairly common and the exact attacks vary for each ship. The third is much more rare, due to the powerful effect it has: It switches the positions of you and your opponent, thereby opening up a new set of offensive options.

When you're on top the A button still controls your main weapon but this time it's fired backwards and, when powered up, it fires those tiny little reddish-orange bullets at the opposing ship in addition to your normal weapon. Yes, the same little reddish-orange bullets that show up in every shmup ever made and kill you instantly, which is sort of weird. I mean, wouldn't you think that the shot that's as large as the fuselage of your ship would be more dangerous than a dinky little bullet? Well, whatever.

The B button is... well, different. You see, when your ship is on top, instead of a row of bombs you get something which for all the world looks like the Super meter from Street Fighter Alpha. This three-level meter slowly fills over time, filling up faster when you deal damage to the opposing craft. Once you've got one or two levels in it you can press the B button to release a large fireball that erupts into a variety of shots shortly after leaving the rear of your ship, with the Level 2 version usually being much more annoying and prone to killing your opponent in one shot than the Level 1 version.

Then there's the Level 3 version of the above attack, which does not release a fireball and indeed is so important as to warrant a paragraph break, as it calls in a giant plane, tank, spaceship or otherwise giant boss-like mechanized death-dealer with which your (or your opponent's) ship docks, thereby putting the "Change" in "Change Air Blade." Once docked, the A, B, and C buttons fire off boss-like attacks, which usually translates to giant missiles and spreads of bullets. You're not invincible, though: Your Super meter slowly empties over time and once it's gone it's back to flying the unfriendly skies, to say nothing of the fact that such large targets tend to attract gunfire and explode in a rain of power-ups when damaged enough.

By now I'll bet some of you think that the C button still controls your ship's special weapons, only with a unique twist. You'd be right, actually: Linear calls in support ships that range from popcorn-type helicopters to giant missiles, whereas Homing fires aimed - yet still avoidable - shots. The Exchange is still there, but you may not want it at this point.


I've got good news, bad news and good news again. The good news is that this is an extremely innovative concept for a shoot-em-up. The bad news is that "innovative" doesn't always mean "good." Oh, don't get me wrong. The idea shows a lot of promise, just... not here. For starters, Sammy seems to confuse "cheap" with "difficult," having later ships throw hordes of enemies at you at once and launching spreads of very, very fast bullets that are very difficult to navigate through simply because there's so many bullets and explosions that it's hard to see where you're going. Said enemies are also not only capable but very, very eager to go into their boss form again about ten seconds after you shoot them out of it the first time. It's not even possible to memorize any patterns because their attacks are completely randomized. If anything, it seems like the fighting game element brought the concept of "cheese" along for the ride.

Right now I can hear someone asking, "but Hakubi, I've played a lot of manic shooters in my day and this doesn't sound too out of the ordinary." True, true... but when playing those other games, have you ever seen an almost ninety-degree spread of bullets that's nearly impossible to fly through and is fired so quickly that it can't be dodged, even with the fastest ship? You've been cornered by an oncoming mass of bullets after foolishly straying too far to the side of the screen at some point, I'm sure, but have you ever been penned in the middle of the screen by four streams of fireballs being fired parallel to your ship with a squadron of a half-dozen popcorn ships coming in from the side of the screen firing at you and, oh yeah, did I forget to mention the constant fire coming from your opponent? It's like trying to dodge bullets while standing in a phone booth. Someone should tell these people that panic bombing is supposed to be a last resort, not a reflexive action to any and all oncoming attacks.

Now the good news: Two-player mode is much better. Much, MUCH better. There's actually some semblance of game balance such that even though one of the players can be killed in one shot by an errant bullet fired by the other player's giant helicopter, the first player can still win. The ships themselves are fairly equal overall, with even the most powerful weapons being kept in check via limitations on their range or functionality. I would imagine that this game was designed to be a head-to-head game with the one-player mode sort of added on as an afterthought, because it sure as heck looks that way from here.


Aside from the usual "shoot at ships, get points" method of increasing your score, you can get additional points by collecting the medals that fall out of the enemy ship every so often as you're shooting at it and spill out of their boss form once you defeat it. There is a medaling system similar to that found in Raizing games (the first medal will give you 100 points, the second 200, the third 300, then 400, 500, up to 1,000, 2,000 and so on until you top out at 10,000 points whereupon 100,000 point medals begin appearing every so often) though missing a medal will not reset the medals' point values. Dying, yes. Missing one, no. This is actually pretty merciful once you take into consideration how nasty some of the fights can get.

The second major boost to your score comes at the end of fights, where you get points for how much armor you have remaining, how much time you have left and how many bombs you still have in stock, with a fairly sizeable bonus for clearing the stage in general. The easiest ways to increase these numbers are to avoid getting hit, defeat the enemy quickly, save your bombs and live to see the later stages, respectively.

Two-player mode has no scoring, because bragging rights are the greatest prize of all. Or something like that.


If nothing else, Change Air Blade looks impressive. Everything that could have tiny little details added to it has received tiny little details, from the power-up canisters that slowly rotate in midair to your ship's fuselage as it opens up to fire a stream of shots. Sparks fly off of your opponent when you shoot them and the massive explosions that erupt from them when you finally shoot 'em down are extremely gratifying.

Likewise, the backgrounds are lush, detailed and unobtrusive... for the most part, at least. There are stages, such as the snowfield, where some shots tend to blend into the background. This isn't really a problem with the background so much as with the people who thought it would be a good idea to make some of the bullets spectacularly hard to see. But I digress.


The background music isn't outstanding but it's varied and sets the stage rather well, with the tracks ranging from a cold, mechanical tune for the oil refinery to some fast-paced synth rock for whenever you or your opponent hops into one of your bossmobiles. Likewise, the sound effects are pretty run-of-the-mill. They don't suck, but they're not spectacular either.

While it did so something new to the genre and makes for a great game to play with a friend, Change Air Blade's single-player gameplay needs some work. It receives a 7 out of 10 from yours truly, and while I would suggest this game to two people who enjoy shoot-em-ups I cannot recommend it to one.


Versus >>

Every fight is preceded by a full-screen picture of your opponent along with their name, the logo of the company that built it and a bunch of stuff in Japanese that I can't understand to save my life. By the way, the "XE-RO" is just a palette-swapped Blaster. All the second-player ships have different names for variety's sake.


<< Serect Prayer

"...and yea, the gaming gods ordered that all displays of eight be organized four by two, and thus it was so."

Air Support >>

These would be the support ships that I mentioned earlier. Later fights bring in helicopters, giant missiles, stealth fighters and other fun stuff designed to kill you dead.


<< Generic Gameplay Shot

Your main (only, actually) method of getting power-ups in this game would be to shoot your opponent and collect whatever goodies fall out of them. Sort of like pinatas, now that I think about it...

Tail Gunner >>

This is the sort of thing that you can expect whenever you get them low on armor. Doesn't look like much of a problem now, but just wait.


<< Shinkuu Call In Giant Freaking Plane-Douken

The Level 3 boss summon in action. It has speed lines, so you can tell that it's really important.

"Explode. Now." >>

Shooting the jets down doesn't get you anything, except maybe a nice big explosion. Geez, are these guys taking their dynamite collections with them or what?


<< Un Bonus Muy Gigante!

Continuing the "enemy jets are flying pinatas" analogy, shooting down their boss forms rewards you with a rain of medals and items. Ooh, shiny.

Turned Tables >>

...and both ships immediately exchange places. This would be your cue to gloat, as the computer isn't too bright when it comes to dodging the insta-death projectiles you're now firing. They may as well have called it the "You Win."


<< Weapon of Choice

A shot of the Linear attack item in action, along with a sighting of the very rare Reverse. Grab it...

Desperation >>

As the fights go on, and as the game goes on, your foes will begin pulling out more and more ridiculously obscene attacks more and more often. This particular assault was much worse than it looks: Five or six wide, fast spreads with tighter aimed spreads in between, ending with some larger aimed fireballs. You will die fairly often when your opponent is at death's door, which just makes it all the more annoying.


<< Return of the Shinkuu Call In Giant Freaking Plane-Douken

Yeah, now I'm just wallowing in my own superiority. That bomb he just dropped (the green sparks) is protecting him... but for how long?

Damn It >>'re going to start seeing this. Very, very often.


<< Sweet Christmas

Eventually the game will reach a point where you start seeing attacks like this on a regular basis. The two rows of fireballs are moving at two different speeds, which just makes this all the more painful... and when you start seeing attacks like that...

Related Links

Sammy: Yes, the same people who made Pachinko Sexy Reaction and Guilty Gear X. Life's strange like that... though there are some comparisons to be made between the enemy behavior in this game and the attacks of Justice, Dizzy and Boss I-No in the Guilty Gear series. Hm.


shmups!   © 1997 - 2007  Malcolm Laurie