Despite some rough edges, the Vasara Collection does a solid job propelling two obscure but entertaining arcade shooters back into the limelight.
Don't feel ashamed if the name Vasara doesn’t ring any bells. Visco Corporation’s early 2000’s arcade shooters infused hard-as-nails, sci-fi bullet hell with feudal Japanese history to create a unique spin on the genre that’s been largely forgotten until now. Vasara Collection bundles Vasara 1 and 2 with a few neat tweaks to give newcomers a chance to experience this fun, and difficult, franchise for themselves.
Vasara reimagines historical settings and figures such as Oda Nobunaga by giving them Gundam-style mech suits, multi-legged robots, and laser cannons. Don’t expect any explanation for this, but it’s a neat blend of aesthetics that anime fans should especially love. Players pick from a roster of fun-to-use characters, each with their own perks and special moves. Where the series differentiates itself from its shooter brethren is its fun melee-focused mechanics. Characters possess swords and other physical attacks that can not only slice apart foes but also destroy incoming projectiles. The catch is these attacks must be briefly charged beforehand. This creates a tense but enjoyable strategy in learning when to go guns blazing and when to swing and go on defense.
Both Vasara games can be played separately or as one combined experience via a cool Timeless mode. They're a blast regardless of how you play and will throw everything plus a dozen kitchen sinks at players. The steep difficulty is unsurprising given the series’ arcade lineage, but the collection thankfully features a range of settings to make the experience as smooth or arduous as possible. In addition to various difficulty tiers, Vasara Collection can be played with a traditional credits system, in which players have a limited number of lives, or in Freeplay mode granting unlimited continues. One neat option orients the screen vertically in handheld mode. Given the game’s narrow arcade perspective, this stands as the ideal perspective outside of playing on a TV. If the going remains tough, players can also enlist the help of up to 4 friends (2 in the standard games, 4 in Timeless mode) in chaotic local co-op.
Anyone short of a masochistic expert should consider playing Freeplay with Easy difficulty. The games remain a trial but the added cushion allows players to brute force their way through them–up to a point at least. One disappointing downside is that these easier settings don’t entirely apply to the final levels in both games. Vasara Collection forces players to restart the last stages from scratch after depleting their lives, as opposed to letting them respawn where they died as you can during the rest of the game. Those who’ve been leaning on assist options likely haven’t accrued the skills necessary to survive these last onslaught of enemies, let alone the final bosses waiting on the other side of them. If you’re going to let players basically cheat, at least go all the way with it.
Another drawback is that altering settings mid-game requires players to restart it from the beginning. That means you’ll have to make whatever changes up front and hope they’re to your liking. Though it makes sense in terms of preserving leaderboard integrity, that's a big problem for casual players that find themselves overwhelmed and want to bump things down a peg. Even the general button layout can’t be accessed outside of the home screen. With the exception of a barebones art gallery, Vasara Collection also lacks many of the bells and whistles seen in other compilations. For a series as obscure as this one, it would have been cool to see more background content on it.
Vasara Collection may demand superhuman reflexes and Gandhi-level patience, but they remain a thrill to play almost two decades later. This bundle stands as an welcomed piece of long lost arcade history and a reminder that Vasara’s name probably deserves as much lip service as its more popular contemporaries.
Vasara Collection is available now on Nintendo Switch and PC. Screen Rant was provided a digital Switch code for the purpose of this review.