This review was originally created in June 2018 for HTC, targeted to their original Vive/Vive Pro (VIVEPORT). It is reproduced here without alteration.
“Bullet hell” describes a shoot ’em up game where practically the entire screen fills with enemy bullets. This barrage, bullet curtain, curtain fire, or whatever else you want to call it requires often split-second timing and nerves of steel to avoid getting hit. Now imagine bringing that bullet hell experience to virtual reality and you just might have an idea of what you’re in for with Blasters of the Universe.
The move to virtual reality changes up the typical bullet hell shoot ’em up concept just a bit. Instead of finding the sweet spot for your ship to stay safer from each onslaught of bullets, you instead must make sure your head stays free of bullets. This sometimes means staying still and letting the bullets fly right by you. A lot of times, however, this means using your whole body to dodge, duck, and jump to keep your head free and clear. As you might expect, this game calls for a standing, room-scale experience, with the more available space the better. While you do have a shield, it can’t block everything, so staying mobile is key.
Of course, playing Blasters of the Universe is not just about defense, but also offense. With a fully configurable gun you assemble yourself, you get to fire back, and then some. There are tens of thousands of combinations of parts you can unlock and equip that fits however you might like to play. Do you prefer rapid fire? Done. Do you like scatter-shots? Done. What about poison damage? It’s an option. The more you play and the further you progress through each game level, the more weapon and shield options you’ll unlock. Finding just the right combination of core and special abilities is like a game in itself and is yet another incentive to keep progressing. After all, you won’t know what option or options might suddenly become available to help you overcome each level’s formidable challenges if you don’t keep trying. In fact, sometimes just getting to a certain part of a level, unlocking equipment, and then dying is the only way you’ll be able to configure the fire power you’ll need to progress further in that same level. Like most shoot ’em ups, this game is designed for the persistent.
Visually, Blasters of the Universe has a clean look. If the developer’s goal was to evoke imagery from 90s arcade shoot ’em ups, then they succeeded. Audio-wise, every blast, explosion, and other effects sound like you’d expect, including the fun, over-the-top taunts from your main adversary, who you learn about in the whacky opening cinematic. The background music is similarly reminiscent of classic 90s shooting games, with appropriately bouncy and energetic synth-based tracks.
There are four total levels, each with a boss battle at the end. As with any bullet hell shooter worth its salt, you’ll have great difficulty advancing more than a level or two even on the easiest difficulty and even after a great deal of practice. In fact, just getting the timing down to reload your weapon is a challenge at first. That shouldn’t dissuade you from giving Blasters of the Universe a try, however. It’s the kind of well-designed game experience that no matter how frustrating it gets, you’ll want to come back to again and again to try and do just a little bit better than the last time.
Blasters of the Universe really does a great job of translating some of the most popular shoot ’em up game mechanics to virtual reality. It really is like being inside a classic bullet hell shooter, mixed with a helping of first person shooter, that fortunately doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s a little campy, it’s a little outrageous, and it’s all fun. If you love these type of shooting games and you have a Vive or Vive Pro, you owe it to yourself to check out Blasters of the Universe. It’s a great example of how virtual reality can help transform beloved – and well-worn – gameplay mechanics into something special again.
Score: 5 out of 5 stars.
Blasters of the Universe is available on Viveport or with a Viveport Subscription.