Blasters of the Universe
Dodge intricate bullet patterns as you blast your way through an unrelenting onslaught of enemies with a fully customized weapon and shield loadout. Pick and choose from tons of parts and modifiers to make each weapon your own. Battle through multiple full-featured Campaign levels, go for a high score in Endless modes, and prepare to face off against retro-inspired bosses. You need to physically move to survive in this neon-bathed world straight out of ’90s VHS cover art.
Single-Player, Action and shooter VR gameplay
5 hours with leaderboards
February 27, 2018
PS4 (PS VR), PC
Developer: Secret Location
Publisher: Secret Location
Rating: E10+ for Everyone
If you were to glance at the full list of VR titles on the market, it’s no surprise that wave based shooters are overflowing on the platform with many being forgettable. Fortunately for us, developer Secret Location have cranked up their title: Blasters of the Universe in the visuals and gameplay department up to eleven. The result is an amazing sensory-overload of retro flair and neon colors. However, they may have put the emphasis too much on the bullet-hell part.
Violence: Because this is a bullet-hell title, the shooting is fast and frenetic. You will be using your gun to shoot a variety of different enemy types with most of the enemies appearing to not show too many human characteristics. There is no blood or gore displayed when enemies or you are shot.
Language/crude humor: A** is used twice in the opening, s*** is used in one of the antagonist’s quips towards you. The antagonist is very demeaning, viewing himself as a “god” and making it known that you should not exist in his world.
Other negative content: Bullying is placed in the opening cutscene with the antagonist being able to get his way in the video game arcade. Fortunately, your character is displayed as a beacon of light to stand up to the oppression of the bully by beating him at his own game.
Blasters of the Universe is a bullet-hell VR game first-and-foremost, and emphasis needs to be placed on the “bullet-hell” portion of the title. The best way to describe a bullet-hell shooter is, if you can’t actually count the number of bullets coming at you on the screen, it is most likely a bullet-hell title. BotU is extremely difficult and ups the madness of bullets flying towards you at an insane rate on the hardest levels. Along with the bullets, there is plenty of humor with references to 80’s and early 90’s entertainment, and this keeps the tone lighthearted with even the antagonist constantly throwing quips at you in between all the shooting.
The story revolves around a local arcade bully, Alwyn, who has stolen a cutting-edge VR arcade machine. Not only has he somehow transported himself into the system, Alwyn has also laid claim to the digital world, declaring himself the “Grand Master.” Now your main goal is to blast through his endless hordes of minions and eventually bring the cruel egotistical bully to his knees.
When viewing the opening story cutscene, I was immediately amazed by its style and creativity. The scenes depicting the arcade from the past are like a dynamic comic book and the use of layering and depth looks fantastic in VR. Even better than the comic aesthetic however, was the way the title bursts into view, backed by some awesome 80’s-style synth music. Rarely do VR titles feature much in the way of polish or presentation, so it’s hard to overstate the fresh results of developers paying attention to often neglected details.
There are five levels to play through, each ending with an over-the-top boss encounter. While the scale and number of the levels seem small at first, the increased difficulty will ensure you won’t complete any of them on your first play-through. As you repeatedly try to blast the enemies shooting in your direction, you will learn their patterns and feel a sense of progression many shooting gallery titles lack. You can also play every level in endless mode to try and gain a high score on the online leaderboards. Also, there is a challenge mode for each stage that comes with a preset loadout and goals to accomplish.
In the case of Blasters of the Universe, you will need to avoid your head being shot and this works great in VR. Your body will not take damage, so there is no need to protect it, although this does take some time to get use to. Moving around is imperative to survival and this is where having the room to maneuver is essential. Enemies will come from all sides, and it can be heart-breaking when you don’t see that one bullet coming from an angle you didn’t think about.
While most gallery-based shooters will provide you with a selection of weapons, sometimes swappable mid-level, Blasters of the Universe takes a different route with only one highly customizable gun in the armory. This is one of the title’s biggest and best features, with a massive selection of options to tailor your gun exactly how you want it–once you’ve unlocked the parts by dying while playing in-the game. The Frame is the base for every weapon, and each one has different attributes and a unique ability to unleash when things get too out of control. Finding the perfect combo of ammo and barrel attachments for your gun is part of the fun and adds surprising depth to the limited amount of levels.
On your offhand, you can choose between a variety of shields, each with their pros and cons. The shield is just a secondary line of defense, though due to the bullets being so numerous and constant, trying to block anything of significance is a quick way to fail. I’d often be so focused on dodging and shooting that I’d forget that I had a shield at all. I wish there was the option to dual-wield weapons, but considering how crazy the action may have been with another gun it’s best not to speculate.
As you pass certain parts of a level, new equipment will be unlocked. You most likely will never complete a single level in your first try, but fortunately, as you play there are experience points that unlock better upgrades to your shield and gun. It was fun experimenting with new equipment and being able to feel like you were always achieving something even if failing a level. The equipment you unlock will change the type of ammo you use, the way the bullets fire from your gun, the recharge rate of your shield or gun, and many more options. There are many combinations you can use and can customize to your playstyle preference.
Finally, I’d be remiss not to mention how the retro aesthetic goes a long way in setting Blasters of the Universe apart from the competition. The neon-soaked art style and the unique enemy designs make you feel like you’re actually in a TRON-like environment. Along with that, a pulse-pounding synth soundtrack will pump you up during each fight. Everything is over-exaggerated and unapologetically 80/90’s and makes this world a delight to be part of.
Overall, Blasters of the Universe is a triumphant bullet-hell gallery shooter that ranks among some of the best, and definitely a can’t-miss VR title. It does’t necessarily revolutionize the genre, but the solid shooting mechanics and spectacular euphoria of action will keep you coming back. Blasters of the Universe makes this a great time to be a VR adopter and makes for a great title to show off to friends.
Review Code generously provided by Wonacott Communications.
+ Great soundtrack
+ Fun and engaging gameplay mechanics
+ Tracking works almost flawlessly in VR
+ Superb use of neon backgrounds and retro style
- Lack of end game content
- Difficulty can be off-putting at times