I know what you’re thinking, “oh no, not another Shoot ‘em up?” But wait! Before you overlook this title, let me reassure you that Q-YO Blaster provided the most fun I’ve had in a while. It’s currently available on both PC and the Switch but my review will be focusing on my experience on Nintendo’s console, a platform where shmups really excel.
This game stands out from the rest for various different reasons, both good and not so good, but if you can get past the shortcomings then you’ve got a super fun game on your hands. Read on to find out why!
As we all know, shmups don’t really tend to focus on the plot at all but Q-YO Blaster has one, so it’s worth a mention. A meteorite has been spotted headed straight toward the planet Earth and it seems to be populated by an army of alien insects and worms. If you think that’s weird, Earth’s chief scientist, who is tasked with forming an army of holding the aliens back, is a guinea pig called Mr Cheeks! The story is a little bit daft but I’m fine with that in a game like this – it’s nice to have a story but let’s face it, we just want to shoot stuff.
While the story doesn’t really mean much in games like this Q-YO Blaster seems a bit at odds with itself in the way it progresses the story. It’s a colourful and cartoony game, so immediately you expect a simplified but engaging story, but the dialogue is extremely basic. The problem here though stems from what they say. Thrown into the mix of the very basic dialogue are random profanities, like the adorable guinea pig scientist randomly shouting “bastards!”, It’s a really strange concept that makes it all feel a little uncomfortable. This isn’t like Conker’s Bad Fur Day, or South Park where you know what you’re in for going in. So, when that cute hamster starts being abusive, it’s a little weird.
I have to say as well that the developers aren’t native English speakers so sometimes the translations could be off a little, but I doubt it would sound much different in Spanish either.
Whilst Q-YO Blaster plays the same as pretty much any other shmup out there (side-scrolling, spray and dodge enemy projectiles), it does have its own little interesting mechanics that add a tactical edge to your play. As you shoot enemies you fill up your special bar. When your special bar is filled, you fire an extra attack that can be important for getting that last hit on the boss before you die. Killing the enemies also makes them drop gems that fill a power bar. There’s also an ability that allows you to turn all normal enemies on the screen into gems, kind of like bombs in other shmups. The power bar then allows you to either shield or have a powerful attack.
These mechanics are really interesting and actually make you think a little bit, especially when playing on a higher difficulty as using abilities at just the right moment will be integral to your success. It definitely makes it stand out a bit and the abilities compliment each other well, so it does its job. The special attacks are different for each character, with some attacks feeling a lot more powerful than others, so it’s good to try out the different characters and see which one you feel most comfortable with.
There are lots of characters to choose from, so you will have a lot of replayability in trying out different styles, along with various weapons and upgrades for completing each stage. I had more success with characters that had more manoeuvrability but you might prefer someone with a bit more brute force, the beauty is that you have the option. The characters are in 3 categories: endurance, damage and mix. There’s a variety in how they look too, with some just being plainly bizarre. It feels a bit like Overwatch’s roster where you can get anything from robots to talking animals and even robotic animals like sharks. It’s very random but that pretty much sums up Q-YO Blaster.
It’s definitely nice to have some choice when it comes to your character though, as in most shmups you’re stuck with the same basic looking ship.
It’s worth noting that Q-YO Blaster can also be played in two-player local co-op using two Joy-Cons, letting you enjoy the madness with a friend. You begin with access to both Beginner and Normal difficulties but you can unlock a Hard mode by completing Normal, which you will definitely want to try because Beginner and Normal difficulty aren’t too challenging, even for people (like me) who don’t really specialise in shmups.
Alternatively, there is also an Arcade Extreme mode, which turns the game into a roguelike experience with a permadeath scenario. You have to get as far as you can with your one life as possible, using the upgrades between each level to good effect and beating your own or your friend’s high scores.
The upgrades you gain after each stage vary between increased damage, less bullet spread, more speed, extra lives and many more. Finding the best choices to suit each character takes practice and will definitely have you going back in to beat your best score, in a similar vein to games like Resogun. It’s not as good, nor anywhere near as polished, but it can definitely hook you in.
I think the most impressive thing about Q-Yo Blaster overall is the art style. It boasts an incredibly vibrant and detailed cartoon art style that has clearly borrowed a lot from Cuphead. It’s not just a carbon copy though and it definitely stands out on its own with backgrounds that feel alive due to some amazing textures and with animations for things like leaves swaying and birds flying in the distance. It’s definitely very pretty to look at and even after a few playthroughs I’m spotting little details I missed before that are still impressing me.
As impressive as the visuals are of the environments, both the playable characters and the enemies are even more impressive. There are a lot of playable characters which look decent enough but the enemy models all look great with a lot of variety and some of the best-designed bosses I’ve seen in a shmup to date. The only downside to the visuals of the playable characters is in the select screen, where for some reason, the pictures of the characters are in tiny, low-resolution boxes that make them look very blurred and distorted, which is a little strange.
Another issue that pops up now and again is that occasionally some of the enemy attacks blend into the colourful backgrounds so you get hit from things that you don’t see. There is a visual warning when you’re being attacked from behind though, which definitely helps. As for the sound in the game, it’s very basic, opting to use generic noises – so it doesn’t really shine in this aspect. I also found the soundtrack a little annoying personally, but you can turn it down thankfully.
Q-YO Blaster is a very fun little shmup that I’ve put a lot more time into than I thought I would. It’s addictive and pretty, even if it’s clearly copied a bit too much from Cuphead. The “story” is a little baffling in its execution but in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter as I doubt you’ll be playing it for a deep and enthralling narrative. The gameplay was tight and enjoyable, with some nice little nuances which are all that matters in this genre really. Also, I was impressed with the fact there’s a lot of characters, powers and replayability, all for the low price of £8.99 on the Nintendo eShop – you can’t fault it for the amount of entertainment you get.