Nintendo is taking its sweet, sweet time in getting the Virtual Console up and running on the Switch, so thank heavens for the enterprising few who are happy to fill that space. Hamster Corps has provided some of the more essential purchases on the eShop since day one on the Switch, doing sterling work bringing Neo Geo games to the console (and if you haven’t got The Last Blade 2, Garou or Shock Troopers on your system already what on earth are you doing), and doing even more precious work in bringing Nintendo’s arcade outings home, in many instances for the first time.
And then there’s Zerodiv, who’s bringing the dearly departed Psikyo’s games to Switch. We’ve already had Gunbird, the enjoyably eccentric Gunbarich and Strikers 1945 and its sequel, and now we’ve got what I reckon might be the jewel in the crown: Zero Gunner 2.
There might be better Psikyo games out there, and there are certainly more intricate shmups to be found, but I don’t think any other title gets so directly to the heart of what made this small Kyoto studio pretty special. It’s simple, it’s direct, there’s a neat hook that makes it stand out and good god does it have a fine line in metamorphosing mechs.
Zero Gunner 2’s big trick is its rotating ship, freeing up the player in an interesting twist on the vertical shooter. Press a button and you’ll bring up a small reticule around which your ship rotates, all told with a neat centrifuge that’s told with a delightful sense of momentum. It does much to free the vertical shooter into something else entirely, with enemy waves flying in from each and every direction; to this day, there’s very little else like it.
Its cause is helped by it being part of a special time in gaming’s history, coming as part of Sega’s cherished late 90s and early 00s era which saw it bow out of home hardware manufacture with no shortage of style. There’s a cleanliness to the polygon work of that era that somehow manages to sidestep sterility – a certain simplicity that’s not as lo-fi as the preceding PlayStation era and has managed to remain timeless. Zero Gunner 2, with its robust art and the unfussy nature of Psikyo’s own brand of shmup action, is as good an example of the aesthetic as any.
It’s also as good a shooter as ever arrived on Sega’s Naomi arcade hardware or its home sibling the Dreamcast, and now we’ve got the witchcraft of seeing that being playable on a portable it’s hard not to let the mind wander and think what’s next? There’s certainly no shortage of candidates from the era: Ikaruga, which with its dense challenge and complexity serves as the perfect accompaniment to the straighter shooting Zero Gunner 2; Project Justice, the Rival Schools sequel that’s about as unhinged as its developer Capcom gets; Samba de Amigo, because surely that’s what those Joy-Cons were put on this earth to shake alongside a spiced-up version of Take On Me; or maybe even Power Stone, because good lord that’d be just about everything.
The possibilities are intoxicating, so here’s hoping that others fill the void left by the Virtual Console just as Zerodiv and Hamster are doing. In its absence, some exciting things are already happening.