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Edelweiss's Astebreed is a scrolling shooter. Sometimes it's a top-down scrolling shooter, sometimes it's a sidescrolling shooter, and sometimes you're looking over your mech's shoulder as you hurtle through the sky. The smoothness of the mid-level transitions from viewpoint to viewpoint is paralleled only by the easy grace with which you can control your flying robot. And although Astebreed supports a myriad of playstyles for getting through the game, only those who can master the complex interactions of shield, sword, dash, and gunfire will achieve the highest scores.

In Astebreed, you play a gifted young pilot named Roy Becket who fights to protect humanity in a robotic battle suit. You get three kinds of basic attacks: spread fire, focused fire, and melee. Both gunfire attacks have a hold-to-lock-on-homing-fire option, which can be used alone or combined with chargeable EX attacks that will have you dashing about the screen raining down massive damage. Melee attacks can destroy two kinds of enemy bullets, compared to the one kind that your gun fire can take out, making it a good defense mechanism.

Using melee lowers your score bonus, though, making it something you want to use as a last resort if you are striving for a high score. You can beat the game using a "slice ALL the things" strategy if you want to, and that's certainly a fun option, but you'll go through the whole game with no score bonuses whatsoever. People aiming for a high score will also need to beat bosses as fast as possible, as no more points are given in a boss battle if the timer hits zero. For those who want to just have a good time and enjoy the story, there's also an option to turn the score display off altogether.

The story (and by extension the game) is short, seeming to have been designed to be beaten in one session. This makes it great to replay in the name of getting better and better scores, though it's something to keep in mind if you're likely to play the game only once or twice. It's a pretty good story, even if it feels a little rushed in places. It revolves around the AI in your flying war machine and her twin AI sister, who has been turned by the enemy. Every line is completely voiced in Japanese, which is awesome, and translations appear in the lower corner. This can make story bits that occur in the middle of battle a bit hard to follow (I speak Japanese and still missed some), but the important parts of the story are all during lulls in the action, so even if you miss bits, you can follow along. The aforementioned viewpoint transitions usually coincide with story moments, too, effectively unifying story and gameplay in a cinematic way.

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Astebreed's graphics are beautiful. Just beautiful. Normally I consider nice graphics to be just icing on a sweet gameplay cake, but I would be doing this game a disservice if I didn't touch on this. Shiny is a good word to describe a lot of things in the game, but it's more than just the quality of the 3D models and the epic solar flares in space. The gameplay all occurs on a 2D plane, but the world is 3D, and by having enemies come from behind the player's point of view, cross the path of the player's avatar, and double back to enter the field from the background gives the world a feeling of depth that these games don't usually have. And it's all done without dishing out anything the player can't handle.

The fondant gun decoration on top of the icing on this cake is that they did it all without sacrificing any colorblind or hearing-impaired friendliness. There are three kinds of bullets which are delineated not just by being red, yellow, and a purplish blue but by different lengths and shapes. Everything else is delineated by shape alone and everything in the game is telegraphed visually.

Astebreed has been available for Windows via Playism since May 23rd and is now available on Steam as well. The game's regular price is $19.99, but it's discounted to $15.99 on both platforms until June 6th. Anyone who has or will purchase Astebreed from Playism will also get a Steam key.

[Astebreed]