Time for our regular quick-fire reviews and impressions of what’s been on the go this week, old and new and a bit of both…

It was only a matter of time before Vampire Survivors managed to suck me in… and yes, you can always Count on me for a mediocre play on words! Anyway, it’s a minimalist rogue-lite where you need to survive for as long as possible against what quickly becomes hordes of undead and the like while powering up and collecting gold to increase the next victim’s chances, as well as eventually unlock new characters. It’s ridiculously simple, with you only controlling the direction you’re running in, and the minimalist pixel-art aesthetic quickly creates beautiful chaos too, and it’s all just so addictive! And speaking of ridiculous, it’s also just £2 in early access on Steam!

I’ve a feeling that the latest stop on my schmup for losers journey, as directed by the wonderful Schmup Junkie, might be about to turn into the best looking game I’ve never seen on the Mega Drive! Battle Mania Daiginjou is a vertical and horizontal scrolling shoot ‘em up from 1993 where you’re shooting from two flying fighting ladies at the same time, full-power forwards or some front and some back. Its bold anime style and bonkers enemies going nuts over some beautiful parallax scrolling is absolutely stunning from the outset, and the soundtrack isn’t far behind either. I just don’t like the two characters at once thing – where’s my hit box? Oh yeah, I got confused and it’s on the other one in a mess of bullets across the screen. It’s so nearly an absolute classic, and it might just be me, but I could only put up with it for three of its nine stages so skipped to the next lesson, which was going to supposed to be RagingBlasters but I’ll wait for a Steam sale, so skipped to the next lesson, which I’ve been looking forward to a lot…

Batsugun Special Version is special because it takes the early arcade bullet-hell of the original and adds a looping mechanic where your first run is relatively easy and then as you keep looping through the stages it gets harder and harder, but stay away from the deep-end and it’s a really fun introduction to the genre! And when I said “relatively easy” before, I meant I’ve got no chance of seeing anything like the whole of the first run, even with the smaller hit-box here, though I’m definitely getting better and I’m really happy to keep failing and trying again! The grounded sci-fi war setting is glorious and there’s already glimpses of enormous depth behind the surface that I’m still trying to scratch, with adaptable weapons that level-up as you progress, multiple scoring systems and seemingly a few secrets hidden around the place. I might have got a couple of games ahead of myself, but like Star Parodier when I started this, I can see Batsugun more than making up for that, and even becoming an all-time favourite before long!

Back to normal games, as well as some serious progress in Dead Cells (to the point I’m not sure I want to keep doing this any more), still being rubbish at online Windjammers 2, and making my way through all the songs in Taiko no Tatsujin: The Drum Master! I tried some other new stuff on Game Pass… Surreal noir Contrast lasted seconds before its janky controls and jazzy stylings put me off, but I did last longer with waking / dreaming rogue-like Dreamscaper. Very stylish, but the hack and slash dream-time combat a bit stodgy, and I’m really not interested in role-playing some woman’s emotional trauma in the awake-time interruptions to anything remotely fun, so that went in the end too!

That just leaves very recent arrival Skul: The Hero Slayer, an action-platforming rogue-lite where you’re the last of the Demon King’s skeleton army, out to rescue your imprisoned friends from the Imperial Army who have recently defeated you. Sounds a bit like a hellish New Zealand Story, but actually plays a bit like Dead Cells meets Shovel Knight, with a unique twist where you take on whole new character traits by replacing your own skull with new ones as you go. And it’s absolutely brilliant! Some wonderfully atmospheric modern pixel art, a soundtrack that fits the daft melancholy of the dark fantasy narrative perfectly, and an utterly addictive gameplay loop. Really awesome!

To finish off this week, while Elevator Action might sit just a painful fraction outside of my top ten favourite games of all time, I’ve barely ever played its arcade sequel, Elevator Action Returns, but I have to say that while it’s not the same, it’s also not bad at all! The first stage is familiar territory though, at least until all the walls come spectacularly tumbling down, and then it soon branches out into a much more complex and expansive run and gun and up and down spy jaunt, full of wonderful set pieces and the one-more-go gameplay of the original. Glad I finally properly discovered it!

I know we only just looked at the first Taito Legends collection on PlayStation 2, but that game’s also on the second one, which I’ll also be looking at soon because you lovely folk seem to enjoy reading that format almost as much as I definitely enjoy writing it! And likewise, in the meantime we’ve got another book review coming here next week, when we’ll be diving into Atari 2600/7800: a visual compendium by Bitmap Books. Ideal source material too, given my nostalgia for Atari 2600 versus everything being a source of discovery on Atari 7800. See you there!