I hadn’t really heard of the Vasara franchise before I stumbled upon the Vasara Collection, from developer QUByte.
A friend and I recently mashed our way through their previous game, 99 Vidas, a classically-styled brawler that borrows art and design elements from a whole range of Sega Genesis titles. I liked it enough that I looked up the studio’s catalog and found this collection.
On the surface, Vasara Collection looks like any other emulated arcade re-release package. It’s out now as a download for PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo Switch for $9.99. Inside you’ll find accurately- emulated versions of Vasara and Vasara 2, vertically-scrolling arcade shoot-em-ups from just after the turn of the century that feature fantastical samurai characters who fly around on sci-fi hover bikes shooting lasers at things. That works out to five dollars a game…not a bad deal for old arcade games!
But dig a little deeper and you’ll notice Vasara Collection also includes Vasara Timeless, a brand-new installment in the series developed on the Unity engine. This new entry features all eight characters from the classic games, completely new 3D visuals that are designed around modern widescreen displays, and support for up to four simultaneous players.
Vasara 1 and 2 are fun examples of the vertically-scrolling shooter. The levels are tightly-paced and well-designed. The boss ships are large, expressive, and fun to fight. The different characters actually play differently thanks to unique weapon types. And the mechanics offer a unique melee attack you have to power up first, but which can cut through bullets and render you effectively invincible for a few quick moments. You’ll need to time these melee bursts just right to make it through the tougher segments…and the unlimited continues don’t hurt either.
Graphically, both of these older games have an excellent sense of early-2000’s style. They use a few hand- drawn sprite elements, but most of the sprites are based on pre-rendered 3D models. The game has a look similar to some of Cave’s best work, and reminds me of Deathsmiles, which is one of my favorite games. Display options here are basic, with either a smooth filter or no filtering at all. If you’re playing on the Switch in handheld mode, you can also make easy use of the vertical display options to rotate the screen and get a bigger view of the action.
Vasara Timeless should be the highlight of the collection. It has modern graphics that still manage to emulate the classic pre-rendered style of the older games, and a faithful re-creation of the original gameplay in spite of the move to full 3D and widescreen. The action is fast and brutal, and for the low price you’re paying, it’s kind of amazing that this includes a brand new game alongside the classics.
However, Vasara Timeless has no continues. Lose your stock of lives…and you’re slammed with a big game over screen. What a baffling oversight! Even difficult arcade games allowed a continue option for additional quarters, and here’s an arcade homage released for home systems with no continuing whatsoever. It’s an easy-to-see mistake, and I’m mystified that the game released in this state.
Timeless is built around uploading your score to a leaderboard when you’re done, and it prominently features its four-player support, so perhaps QUByte expected you’d talk three friends into playing this and that you’d all manage to survive long enough to see the end and post a good score. But not offering at least some kind of unlockable or optional continue system feels like a huge design misstep. 99 Vidas made a similar step towards monster difficulty in a recent patch by removing the ability to bank earned lives on future playthroughs. However, that game at least still has some unlockable abilities and allows you to continue from your most recently-finished level.
There’s still a lot to like here if you’re interested in playing the older arcade games, and I had fun in the hour or two it took me to breeze through them. I was really looking forward to Timeless after finishing the older entries, and completely crushed when I got booted back to the beginning after losing my first three lives. I’m not saying games should never be difficult. I’ve enjoyed plenty of tough games throughout my life, and I think when designed well there are few things more rewarding than a proper video game challenge.
However, Timeless’s default mode feels like an optional super-hard mode that you’d try to speed run through for an achievement or to brag on a leaderboard after you’d already mastered the game. And it also doesn’t properly recapture the spirit of the arcade games on which its based. I’d understand if continuing reset my score, or didn’t let me upload it at all. That would be more in line with every other example of this genre on modern machines.
QUByte has instead assured that almost no one will see the end of their cool new take on these obscure arcade games. Even so, this is still a solid enough value that I can still cautiously recommend it for arcade shooter fans…and if you have any tips for finishing Timeless other than “Get Good,” I’d love to hear them!