Gleylancer Review: Setting A Standard
This is how you update a classic game. Gleylancer may not have the name recognition of a few of the top 16-bit shmups. Still, it’s managed to develop a reputation over the years, largely due to the rather obscene prices the Mega Drive original goes for today. Still, at its heart, it’s a strong title that looks, plays, and sounds excellent. This update just makes it even better.
There’s a bit more story than we’re used to seeing in a shmup here, with static cutscenes, which are impressive for when the game was released. You play as Lucia, a sixteen-year-old pilot for the Earth Federation. When an alien race captures her father’s ship, she steals a prototype ship, the Gleylancer, and goes after him.
Rock Solid Action
While Gleylancer isn’t the most original shmup ever made, it’s exceptionally well executed. The game is challenging, but never in the modern bullet hell way. Even difficult scenarios usually leave room for skilled players to slip through. A wide variety of enemies will come at you. Unlike in some shooters, they’ll attack from behind as well as in front of you, so you have to stay ready. Levels are excellently designed with a wide variety of challenges, both from enemies and the environments.
Bosses, too, provide excellent challenges and variety. One boss, in particular, makes you rotate around it, firing at it from all directions as you go. Taking it down was a thrill for me. Some of the later bosses have truly unique looks, too, surprising me after some of the cool but generic-looking ships I took down early on. This is a fairly long game for its genre, though still one you can beat in under an hour.
A Modern Take
What sets this apart from most other games in its genre are your options to customize your attack. You’ll find a variety of powerups throughout Gleylancer, letting you pick the solution that best fits your needs. I personally love using the flamethrower or the green wave attack. When you find these, two extra gun ports will appear above and below your ship, firing as you fire your main weapon. At the start of your game, you can pick from various configurations for these, allowing you to customize how you want them to work. Fire in the same direction as your main gun, against it, in a rotating spread. Each choice will inform how you want to approach enemies as you play.
The default mode here is a modern update to Gleylancer, which comes with some fantastic bonuses. There’s the first official English translation the game has ever had, allowing players to enjoy the story. A rewind button with multiple speed options enables you to undo mistakes if you want to, letting any players power through and see the full game if they like. It can also undo mistakes, such as when I mistakenly reset the game one time. Most important, though, is that it gives you full control of your extra gunports, allowing for full 360 degrees shooting with the right joystick. This changes the feel of the game a bit, but it feels outstanding. After running through the game with this turned on, I had a tough time going back to the original style of the game, choosing where to fire these.
You can go back, though, if you want. This update also includes the original Japanese release of the game, with the original controls. (And the original untranslated text) There’s even a cheat mode, letting you turn on cool options such as invincibility.
While the modern reworking of Gleylancer is excellent, that’s not the end of what’s been updated here. This version of the game features a variety of settings and options far beyond what we usually see in console updates. This is more like what you’d expect on a fully-featured emulator. You have the basics, of course, like customizing your controls and multiple screen sizes. A variety of backgrounds for views other than full screen are also nice. Even beyond that, though, you have a literal CRT shader, which does an excellent job of capturing the look of CRT TVs. If you don’t like the default look of that, you can even customize it further, changing minor details like the screen’s curvature. Save states let you jump in and out whenever you need to as well.
Gleylancer still looks great, with the backgrounds, in particular, holding up nearly thirty years after its initial release. Everything is super sharp here, and the game’s thrilling soundtrack pumps energy into the game level after level.
I don’t take price into account when it comes to rating a game, but I do want to point out that an update this fully featured is releasing for $6.99. While there’s never been a better time for SHMUP fans to grab classic titles on modern systems, the pricing on some of them can feel a little absurd, especially when so many of them offer little in the way of extras. With so much work going into making this the best version of Gleylancer it can be and to still have it release at such a reasonable price point is worthy of high praise.
If you’ve ever been curious about Gleylancer, there’s not a better way to play it than this new update. It plays great, looks great, sounds great, and offers a variety of excellent new options. To see such a fully-featured update released for such a great price is rare, and it’s worth supporting. If you’re at all interested in shmups, I’d highly recommend checking Gleylancer out.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Switch (Reviewed), PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One; Publisher: Ratalaika Games; Developer: Masaya; Players: 1; Released: October 15th, 2021; ESRB: E10+ for Everyone 10+; MSRP: $6.99
Full disclosure: A Gleylancer review copy was provided by the publisher.