Vasara - Visco


2000, Visco

Reviewed by O. Hakubi.

You'd be surprised as to how much world history you can learn just from video games. For example, did you know that the battle of Midway - and indeed, the entire conflict in the Pacific theater in World War II - was won single-handedly by a lone P-38? Or that Germany had a wide variety of war machines that transformed into giant robots after taking enough damage? Most shocking of all, however, is the knowledge that the Warring States period in Japan was not fought by armies armed with swords, spears, bows and muskets but walking tanks, flying ships and enormous, beam sword-wielding mecha.

...okay, maybe not. But as Vasara shows, it makes for good gaming.


Vasara takes place in the year 1600. Hideyoshi Hashiba, the ruler of Japan, is dead and Ieyasu Tokugawa is looking to take his place by force. All that stands in his way are three warriors with Shogunate-era flying bikes, and in turn all that stand in *their* way are various warlords in the employ of Ieyasu with Shogunate-era tanks, jets and robots. It's an interesting change of pace from the old "stop these aliens" or "stop that army" plots that populate the other 99% of the shmups in existence. Not that people play shooters for the plot, mind you, it's just nice to see some variety.


Like all proper shmups, Vasara uses two buttons. The first has two functions: Tapping it causes your flying samurai-cycle to fire off a steady stream of shots. Yeah, like in every other shmup ever made. To power up this weapon, grab flying ovals emblazoned with a yellow "P". Pretty typical stuff thus far, huh?

The second function comes into play when you hold down the button for a second. Your character readies his or her weapon and once the button is released he/she swings, spins or thrusts it in front of him/her, dealing a healthy chunk of damage to any enemy in range as well as negating any bullets that they hit. This attack is powered up by grabbing the red gems that appear when you defeat enemies or damage them with said attacks, though not in the same manner as the main guns. You see, below your score is a red meter. Grabbing these gems fills up the meter and when it's filled it flashes with the word "VASARA" written across it as a crackle of energy emanates from your character. Once this happens, the next melee attack you perform will turn into an enormous screen-clearing boss-dicing orgy of death and destruction. In this game you will literally live and die by the sword: Mastering the use of this projectile-negating attack is the key to both high scores and survival, as there will be times when you will be faced with shots spreads that are nearly impossible to dodge as well as groups of enemies that don't fall fast enough to conventional weaponry.

The second button fires off one of your bombs, a large swirling hemisphere of energy that damages all enemies onscreen and eliminates their shots. You start out with three by default and can gain more by grabbing the grey ovals with red "B"s on them. There aren't a lot of them, though - about one per stage - which is compensated for somewhat by the characters' innate ability to stop shots on their own.


In Vasara you have a choice of three warriors/pilots, all of whom are based off of actual people or groups who opposed Ieyasu Tokugawa, which makes for an interesting experience if you know the history behind any of them.

In the red is Yukimura Sanada. He would be the Cody of this game: Average speed, average firepower. His secondary weapon is auto-aiming throwing daggers and for a melee attack he swings a mean katana.

The token female in yellow is one of the Saika mercenaries. Weak but quick is the name of the game for her, with slow-moving homing fans and a 360-degree fiery fan swing.

In the blue would be the Toyotomi clan's Keiji Maeda: Slow and strong. His hobbies include launching spears that behave like missiles, poking the hell out of you with his own personal polearm and haiku.

It's not the cast of thousands you see in games like Batrider or Garrega, but they get the job done... and as far as I'm concerned you only need three ships. Heck, you're lucky to even get one! Why, in my day we didn't have all these fancy ships! We were catapulted into space with a fishbowl on our heads and a slingshot in our hands, and then we had to run fifteen light years through space in order to get to the nearest alien invasion! And dag gum it, we liked it!


Two words: Manic shooter. You'll be flying through six stages of enemies that like to fire a lot of bullets at you, occasionally running into a mini-boss who fires a lot of bullets at you on your way to the boss which... yep, fires a lot of bullets at you. Slamming into baddies doesn't kill you (only cause you to bounce off with a metallic clink), so your only real issue is avoiding getting shot.

Easier said than done. Even with tight controls, a hit box that is both very small and shown to you on the character select screen (which, if you've gotten killed repeatedly while trying to figure out where you could and couldn't scrape bullets, is extremely handy) and an absolute lack of random bullet sprays (yes, everything follows patterns here) it's still very, very difficult. You will be put into many situations where nimble use of your projectile-nullifying melee attack will be the key to your survival. Definitely not a game for the average shmup fan.

To be perfectly honest, one of the easiest ways to play this game would be to rely almost exclusively on your melee attack: Charging it up, closing the gap and then letting it loose when the enemy begins to fire. Stop the shots and kill multiple enemies in one go.


The first and most obvious method of acquiring a high score would be killing enemies. Nothing special here, just shoot, hack and bomb your way through the tenacious little buggers.

The second would be grabbing the gold ingots that appear in the wreckage of tanks, fortresses and other assorted buildings after you shoot them. There is no Gunbird or Strikers-style medaling system at work, though that's no big deal.

Another way of increasing your score would be defeating multiple enemies with your melee attack. The more enemies you kill in one go, the larger the bonus. Naturally your character's Vasara attack results in one heck of a bonus.

A minor way of getting points would be scraping: If a bullet hits your character's vehicle but misses their hit box it produces a scraping sound and tiny sparks and you get a quick hundred points for your near-death experience. There are certain places where you can pull this off rather effectively, but for the most part the bonus is too small to be worth it.

Finally, there's prestige kills. Some of them are mini-boss-like generals that taunt you a bit before fighting or the bosses themselves, but for the most part they're slightly tougher versions of the normal tanks and ships that have their clan's insignia on a banner behind them. Defeat them and a blood-splattered name card will briefly appear onscreen to show that you just killed someone important. At the end of the stage the amount of "named" kills are tallied up and you get a bonus depending on how many of them you got. It really gives you a sense of accomplishment to see all the name tags tiled across the screen at the end of a stage, plus it fits in quite well with the game's atmosphere.


First off, let me say that a great majority of the graphics in this are prerendered. With that said, let me say that it looks really, really good, equaling and possibly even surpassing those of Blazing Star. I mean come on, scroll down a bit and check out the screenshots if you don't believe me. The backgrounds and enemies in this are extremely detailed and if you can manage to take your eyes away from the action for a second or two you can even see soldiers running around on the ground, birds flying out of trees and the individual soldiers flying the little popcorn ships.

The non-rendered visual details are equally impressive. Slicing through an enemy ship with your melee attack causes a small spray of blood to appear, defeating a boss causes crimson droplets to splatter across the screen and heck, even your shots look nice! How many games are there that you can say that they have nice bullets, huh?

Another cool visual feature would be the pre-fight dialogue boxes that pop up whenever you encounter a major enemy. These dialogue boxes feature a close-up of the general in question and are drawn with a unique bit of style, adding a very cinematic style to things. They've really managed to get some character into those portraits, too. All in all, an excellent showing.


If the people who wrote music for shmups fell into a time vortex to the year 1599, it would sound a lot like this. For the most part the songs are pretty good, like the slow and ominous boss theme with reed flute overtures that add a very stylish touch to the proceedings. But some just aren't quite up to par. The snow stage for instance sounds like it took its music from some other game... from 1995. Not good. On the plus side the sound effects are great, from the faint firing sound from your ship's guns to the sching of your sword to the sound of cold, hard steel tearing through flesh as you slice a mass of enemy ships to ribbons. There's even voiceovers. Yes, voiceovers. Generals not only taunt you, they taunt you and you can hear them. You can also hear them scream in pain as they die, which grants a bit of closure when you end up blowing five bombs and two lives trying to take one down.

Overall this an extremely challenging game with great graphics, solid controls and a unique atmosphere that I would heartily recommend to anyone who happens to be a manic shooter fan, and it is with great pride that I give it a 9 out of 10.

He Slices! He Dices! >>

A quick shot of the end results of Yukimura's melee attack. Wow, that's a lot of blood for only three people. These popcorn ships usually fly around in formations of three, so a melee attack is a quick and dirty way of both shooting (er, slashing) them down and getting a bonus for your efforts.


<< The Seven Samurai a very inaccurate caption, as four of them are on vacation at the moment. Cool artwork, though. You can really tell that they put some effort into this thing.

Name Collecting >>

...and their names pop up. In retrospect, maybe going into a warzone with a big flag onto your back isn't such a good idea.


<< Flagbearers

These would be the named guys that I talked about in the review. Shoot them down...

Bullet Scraping >>

Just think: If the engineers had stuck the guns just one foot closer to each other I'd be dead.


<< In This Corner...

One of the mini-bosses announces his presence to you. Pretty confident, ain't he?

Double Your Pleasure >>

...then unfolds once the head is destroyed, becoming two more projectile-vomiting heads with miniguns on the sides. As you can tell from this screenshot, they bleed real good when you hit them with a Vasara attack.


<< Folding Bosses

Every boss in this game goes through at least three forms. This guy starts out with a single head and attacks you by firing easily-dodged spreads of shots and poking you with his claws...


...ew. Someone get a paper towel.


<< Half-Boss

Once you take out one half, the the other one picks up the slack. As you may have guessed, boss fights tend to get very involved.

Japan 5-0 >>

The second of the first three stages (they're in a different order for each character) takes you along the coast. Right off the bat you'll be attacked by a stingray-looking mini-boss. Hm, must be the ancestor of the guys who made Darius.


<< Kill Count

...and here's the tally screen for all your prestige kills. Usually there's about thirty of the named enemies in a stage, and shooting down all of them gets you 15,000 points. Doesn't sound like much, but every bit helps and you're probably going to try and shoot them down anyway, so why not?

Boss Time! >>

You know, I don't think there's a single part of this boss that doesn't shoot at you at some point. Lucky for you that everything that shoots at you can in turn be shot. It's all aimed too, so if you keep moving he'll never touch you.


<< Bragging Rights

The aftermath of a Vasara attack. You can definitely get it higher than this if you use it in the right places. Also, allow me to direct your attention to the little man on the docks and the individual supports in the ruined building. Now that's attention to detail.

Bullet Box >>

The third stage's mini-boss is a flying box. No, seriously. It's a flying box that shoots straight down. Not terribly intimidating, but since he very rarely lets up he ends up blocking off huge parts of the screen.


<< Boss Time, Part 2

Hey, it's a deep-water diving pod! One of those early seventeenth-century... feudal Japanese... diving... uh, never mind. He's quite fond of firing a bunch of large, slow-moving projectiles then charging towards you, usually bumping you into one of them or pinning you into a corner as death slooooowly approaches. What a jerk.

"Imbecile!" >>

The boss of this stage is Masamune Date, known as the One-Eyed Dragon in his day. No, seriously.


<< Boom

The bomb in action. It's much more impressive in the game, trust me.

Artistic Bullet Patterns 101 >>

Not including any random bullet sprays in your game means that you can focus more on artistic patterns. Ooh, pretty. You can dodge between the shots if you're precise enough, but most of the time you're better off slashing them out of your way.


<< Beating the One-Eyed Dragon

...if the caption for this picture isn't changed it'll be a miracle. [don't think I didn't notice :) -malc] Anyway, after wrecking his main gun he fires off a series of crescents from his tanks' helmet ornament, followed by a spread of bullets that are extremely difficult to dodge, as shown by my inglorious demise. It's much more impressive - and faster - in the game.

Battleship Yamato >>

If you think this is impressive, you should have seen Queen Elizabeth's orbital space colony.


<< Samurai Traps

The fourth stage takes place in the skies over Japan, where the setting sun dyes the clouds a lovely shade of pink and enemy ships trap you in little bullet boxes. Nothing a couple of sword swings can't get you out of, but while you're trapped the flagged ships are going unshot. Not good.

"Form Blazing Sword!" >>

...but he does swing a mean katana.


<< Nobuyuki Sanada

Yep, the mini-boss is Yukimura's brother. His aim isn't too good sometimes...

A Couple More Shots... >>

The laser really becomes a problem in the last stage of the fight as he begins moving back and forth, making it a pain to dodge or slash his shots while unloading on him and staying out of his line of fire.


<< Mike & Ike Bullets

That's what they look like to me, anyway... they're not much of a problem, but that giant laser in the middle of the boss' ship is. There's some obvious safe points in the first part of the fight, before you shoot off the Mike & Ike shooters and the two larger guns on the side.

Return of Bomb >>

"Stupid bullets! You go squish now!" Ah, frivolous use of explosives is such a delight.


<< Fun With Ballistics

The penultimate stage takes you to a fortress in a dense forest. Opposition is heavy, as you may have guessed by the amount of bullets that are currently being shot in my general direction. I would imagine that at this point all the DoDonPachi fans are rolling their eyes and going, "amateur."

"You have GOT to be kidding me!" >>

Actual quote from yours truly. I made it out alive thanks to the ship's small hitbox, though I did end up getting killed about three seconds later. The things I do for you people...


<< Double Duty

The stage's boss doubles as the mini-boss. His first form is a smaller mecha with a beam sword (ooh, shiny). After a certain amount of time passes (or if you take too long fighting him) the smaller robot goes into a larger, meaner robot and the stage boss fight begins. Hoo boy, does it begin. I'm not exaggerating in the least when I say that he will beat the ever-loving snot out of you the first few times you fight him.

The final stage takes you up against Ieaysu Tokugawa himself who is, needless to say, very difficult: If you are defeated and continue your game at any point in his stage you have to fight through it again from the beginning. It is worth noting, though, that Ieyasu ended up becoming the ruler of Japan in history, so I'm not spoiling much when I say that this isn't exactly revisionist history. Still, it's the thought that counts.

Related Links

Visco Games: Can you believe that they used to make Mah Jong games?


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