At this point, VR wave shooters are a bit outdated. Usually, they have you do little more than stand in one spot and shoot at hordes of enemies across various levels until you die. Blasters of the Universe seeks to shake this up a little by adding in SHMUP elements and a lot of weapon customization. Does this manage to be enough, or should you find a different universe to blast?
There's not much story in Blasters of the Universe. The opening cutscene introduces Alwyn, the kind of person who thinks they're best at video games as they beat a bunch of little kids at the local arcade. One day, he steals the Blasters of the Universe arcade cabinet and jumps into its virtual world to make it his own. That's about the most I got from the game. The best I can figure from context clues is that I'm playing as someone named Blaster who's trying to stop Alwyn... for some reason. Alwyn generally being a ne'er-do-well is probably more than enough motivation to keep you going. The truth is that it's just an excuse to have you shoot things, and there's totally nothing wrong with that.
Before you start any level, you'll be able to create your gun. Combining a frame, barrel, ammo type, magazine, and accessory into a custom creation gives each gun a different purpose. For example, the frame changes what the gun's special ability is, while the ammo type can range from simple shots to explosive orbs. At first, you only get one combination, but by the end of the game, you'll have enough to customize your gun in several absurd ways. Want a shotgun that shoots slow moving balls of energy that explode on impact and poison enemies? How about a semi-auto assault rifle with teleporting bullets that can bounce off of surfaces? There's more than enough combos that I was always finding weird new ways to experiment.
Once you get into the game proper, you need to take out waves of enemies before they kill you from your one stationary position. It's here where the SHMUP-style elements bleed in. Only your head can take damage, and enemies often fire in patterns that you can duck and dodge your way through. If you don't feel comfortable with trying to get through certain patterns, you also have a shield that you can deploy to block some shots. While the shield can't be customized like the gun, there are at least a few different options so you can find something you like.
When it's all working, this is actually a great mechanic. It gives you something to do other than just stand in one spot and shoot at enemies. The problem is that Blasters of the Universe is a bit iffy on actually registering these dodges correctly. More than once, I took damage from a bullet that I should have been able to dodge. It quickly became a frustrating feature, as I never quite felt like I was able to dodge attacks I should.
Things only really go downhill from there. At only four levels that clock in at about 7 minutes each, Blasters of the Universe is depressingly short. The game tries to extend its length through its difficulty, but those methods don't always feel fair. During the game's first boss fight, I ended up taking the most damage from suicidal enemies that spawn completely silently at the bottom of the level. With no audio cue to give you a heads up, it felt like their purpose was to artificially extend the length of the game by tossing in a cheap trial and error challenge.
This isn't even taking into account if the game is actually working properly. On several occasions, I would watch my bullets hit enemies only to not actually do anything to them. Once, my left Move controller began to vibrate violently. Nothing I did short of totally resetting the game could make it stop. One boss has attacks that can damage you if they hit your shield despite there being no indication that this is the case. Of course, there's no other enemy in the game that operates like this. The real draw of the game is supposed to be replaying levels and getting higher scores. This isn't much fun when Blasters of the Universe is so prone to breaking.
The game is wrapped up in a fun 80's neon art style that I appreciated. Enemy designs, especially those of the bosses, are unique and stand out well. The game's soundtrack uses some good electronic beats that worked with each fight and kept me in the moment. I want to give a shout out to Alwyn's voice actor, who manages to perfectly capture the "that annoying guy at the arcade" voice without making it overbearing and annoying.
Blasters of the Universe Review | Final Thoughts
I think Blasters of the Universe has some great ideas. The weapon customization is meaty and the combination of FPS with some SHMUP elements is a novel idea. Unfortunately, the execution leaves much to be desired. The game needed more development time to work out its rough edges and include more content. Simply put, this universe needs a better blaster.
Blasters of the Universe was reviewed on PlayStation VR using a copy provided by the developers. The game is also available on HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.
- Combining FPS and SHMUPS is Fun in Theory...
- Meaty Weapon Customization
- Good Art and Soundtrack
- ...But Fails to Actually Work in Execution
- Weird Design Decisions
- Short Running Time