Blasters of the Universe is a VR exclusive title that mixes the well established Wave Shooter genre with the extreme challenge of dodging an absurd amount of projectiles from Bullet Hells. We do not play as a spacecraft or a helicopter. Instead, we simply stand in a single location with a gun in one hand and an energy shield in the other while making Neo from the Matrix look like an amateur as bullets whiz by all around. As we strap into our headset and boot up the game, we are treated with the suitably silly setup of the title involving a self-proclaimed gaming expert that one day steals a VR device to then build a world in his image while also turning himself blue for reasons best not questioned.
Right from the get go this game captures your awe with its 80’s aesthetic, amazing soundtrack and hub-world that allows you to customize your gun in a plethora of ways. You are treated to a tutorial showing you the basics such as your only hitpoint being your head meaning that taking a round or laser to the chest does nothing to you and often times diving head first into a swarm of projectiles is a better option than blocking them with a shield. It is impossible to block every single thing that comes your way with it as it has a life meter of its own and requires some time to repair the damage inflicted on it. Refreshingly enough you have a single gun instead of going in akimbo like many others of the genre and has a huge focus having precise aiming more so than overwhelming fire power.
The shield will be equipped to your left hand and a gun to your right by default though they can be swapped in the options. Back to the overwhelming power bit, your enemies certainly will have that while you, on the other hand, have to chip away at their health and have to occasionally reload your weapon to boot. Interestingly enough you have to spawn in your extra rounds using your left hand making you choose to either keep your shield up or risk damage to refill on ammo. Reloading is something that took me a bit to get accustomed to as you must insert the cartridge lower than you’d expect to place it and the game is picky with its exact precision. This was done to keep HTC Vive users from smacking their controllers together in the heat of battle, and while that wouldn’t happen using the Oculus Touch, it is still applied to it.
You would do well to practice your aim and reloading on the hub-world’s target range since Blasters of the Universe wastes no time making you question your abilities as a gamer. On the very first level, you will encounter tons of air and land units that will quickly surround you. They have no qualms with flanking the unaware player, and even though the play area is 180 degrees so your back is always safe, it is quite the challenge keeping track amidst the chaos. Blocking projectiles hammering you on one side while blasting away at foes on the other praying that your clip doesn’t run dry makes you feel like you are playing out that scene from the Doom cover art at all times.
Eventually you will have to risk taking action since not only will the shield not hold out forever but enemies will not stop spawning in, and they will not leave until destroyed. In addition, their bullets move really slowly which is a double edged sword for the player as one can easily dodge a few though they tend to build up and all hurl at you at once if you let enemies fire before destroying them. This is where one of the game’s biggest problems lies. You simply can not destroy them fast enough due to the meager options we are given in customization before beating the first level. It will take a ton of time defeating even a single enemy that can’t be staggered and headshots only getting you more points instead of doing more damage. That leads to you just squeezing the trigger until the enemy is destroyed instead of taking careful aim at a weak-point to become a more efficient killer and makes the combat feel dull as the enemy fires uninterrupted and unfazed until dead.
Making matters worse is that your bullets move very slow as well and your foes do move around a lot with a far greater area for movement. Land units have a predesignated location where they will march to and shoot at you with air units being the problem as they constantly zoom through the sky. One enemy is a yellow robotic spider that makes a straight B line towards you and pounces with an undodgeable attack. They are bullet spongey as well, but the real problem is how easy it is to be unaware of their presence until it explodes right in your face, unless you already know they are coming through memorization of level or just happen to see them. A distinct audio cue for this and a few other enemies plus a couple of boss attacks would have done wonders to know what to expect without trying to glance everywhere at once at all times.
Oh yes, there will be bosses, and these unique enormous machines will try their damnedest to make sure you don’t get through to the next level. There are no checkpoints, there is no way to regain lost life, and only victory will allow you to get more much-needed parts for your gun. They are relentless and intimidating, with their attacks becoming increasingly desperate as you whittle down their health. These seemingly epic battles are effectively made far less enjoyable due to nearly all bosses frequently summoning grunts which as I’m sure I’ve hammered home by now, are very bullet spongy, leading to you spending more time with them and only occasionally gaining a few seconds to take potshots at the boss itself.
After these last few paragraphs, I’m sure you may be convinced I hate this title and it is not worth the time of day. Wrong. It becomes far more manageable and enjoyable once you get past the first stage and getting some heavier firepower. It’s the effort that it takes to reach that point that I’m trying to drive home. The second level is far easier as you gain that added firepower and special activatable abilities like becoming temporarily invincible that are far more useful than the laser ability you start off with. Pretty soon you’ll be able to come back to the first stage with a poison laced laser gun and better unlockable shields to absolutely wreck the level that once gave you so much trouble. At that point, it becomes just as much as trying to climb your way up to leaderboard as well as surviving.
Speaking of the leaderboard, a feature that I loved is the game detecting which headset you are using to pit Vive and Oculus owners against each other. Needless to say, starting off you will in no way be able to compete due to veteran players having access to better parts than newcomers and their peashooters. There is a challenge mode that refreshes daily that gives everyone the same gear to truly be a contest of skill instead of time invested in the game so far, and this is where the game really shines in my opinion as well as adds a huge motive to keep coming back to this title. When picking a level, you can also choose it to be Endless to fight until you drop, though I’d strongly advise going through the campaign first for the customization options that allow you to get further and experiment with load-outs.
All the story is told upfront, however, the villain will always be in plain view as he watches from above and taunts you. Man, they really nailed his annoying attitude that you can’t help but love and smirk at. The voice actor is perfect for the role and recites a large amount lines to keep his character from becoming a pain. When starting the level, he gets in your face to mock you and smartly enough every time you restart it; he just flies off without saying anything to let you quickly get back into the action to try again. This game is just oozing with style, even with the bizarre looking grunt enemies and aesthetic background. It has no blood, and there is an option to turn off profanity to let your kids in on the action and train him/her to have the reflexes of Bruce Lee in the process.
There is an impressive amount of things you can do with your weapon that completely changes how it functions. Change one part and suddenly your gun has a very different effect to it such as your projectiles now being hit-scan instead of slow moving. You can even negate the need to reload later on and find some possibly overpowered load-outs. With the hub-world having the slick customization screens and shooting range all in one place without the need of any menus it is both a breeze and a joy to think outside the box. The main thing holding this game back from greatness is balance in my opinion. Every level they introduce new enemies that are far more bullet spongey than the last to offset your more powerful weapons, effectively limiting your creativity solely to damage output.
They have more vicious enemy formations and spawn rates as the levels go on but constantly stopping the action to spend several seconds focusing on a single enemy with tons of health just feels like tedious artificial difficultly. This could be offset with a flinching mechanic to carefully blast that troublesome foe in the face to gain you some time to focus on other enemies then back to him again in rapid succession, though as it is now, it is similar to clicking on an enemy in Diablo until it dies. Even with the weak gunplay, Blasters of the Universe is a game I’d recommend as its polish, style, and the multitude of unique features evens it out and keeps one hooked. If you are searching for a Wave Shooter that stands apart from the rest and will not cater to any form of carelessness, this is the title for you.
[Review copy provided]