Astro Port is an awesome developer.
Focusing exclusively on new 2D-shooters incorporating the best play mechanics from 1990s-era SNES shooters, the company (is it a he/she/them/it - no English speaker has lived to tell the tale of the seemingly-Japanese developer) builds fantastic games. No title is too obscure for Astro Port to re-envision: provided that it was one of the best games of the 2D shooter genres, they will design a game inspired by it.
From the rarely remembered "Cybernator" (a sidescrolling mech/platformer with upgradeable weapon system powerups) to mainstream monster-hits like "R-Type" or "Raiden," Astro Port simply makes new games based on the raw material of classics - seemingly with fantastic taste and regard for little else in their selection criteria.
Note that I said "inspired by:" while some may argue that the majority of the company's titles are play-alikes, the truth is that, for the last five years, they have published games that fall somewhere between "homage" and "the-sequel-to-a-game-that-never-became-a-franchise."
After watching Astro Port for years (since I started Best Linux Games Podcast, AP has released 6 titles with Linux compatibility via Steam), I have enjoyed most of their releases but have always felt slightly guilty - almost as if the enjoyment of the game I was playing existed only "in the shadow" of the original title.
With their newest game, "Zangeki Warp," Astro Port steps out of these shadows, producing not only their most polished product, but (what is arguably) their most entirely original game.
And boy, is it fun.
Taking the traditional 2D-sidescrolling space shooter as a template ("R-Type" or "Gradius," but without the in-level powerups), "Zangeki Warp" adds numerous twists to the genre. Chief among them is the ability to freeze time and warp from point to point, which makes for an interesting (and super challenging) approach to level and enemy design. Usually, games of this type rely on player error when overwhelmed with incomprehensibly dense and complex bullet patterns, enemy behavior, or level design - we are talking "touch anything once and you die," gameplay here. In incorporating this warp ability, "Zangeki Warp" attacks in innovative and surprising ways; sometimes through traps in the level design, but also through boss encounters which behave in ways previously unseen in 2D space-fighters.
While the warp ability pretty much steals the show, the game's real excellence is the way in which all of the Zanfighter's other abilities work within the warp-based framework.
All abilities (shield, decoy, shot power, slash power, warp recharge, and shockwave) are ultimately absolutely essential to not getting your ass handed to you, but you only get three upgrade points to distribute between each level. This is the perfect balance, forcing players to consider what approach they are taking to the game over all as well as matching their current abilities to best meet the challenges of the next level. Do you want to be a warping badass who can move with near-impunity relying on the post-warp area-based damage of the shockwave (useful for eliminating small enemies outside of the range of your field of fire), a warping-badass who relies almost exclusively on your slash attack (which applies damage to points along the line of your warp and is catastrophically damaging in most boss encounters), or do you want to heavily rely on your shield systems and main guns?
In many games, these choices don't really matter, but in "Zangeki Warp," they are absolutely crucial. More importantly, they allow the player to really adapt the game to their own playstyle, even as they try to combat the constantly super-challenging combat-styles and defense demands of each level.
Yes. "Zangeki Warp" is punishingly difficult, and no, it makes no appologies for the pain you will experience. But, for the dedicated fan of 2D space shooters, it comes very close to being one of the most rewarding experiences of the genre in years, and is ultimately Astro Port's finest game to date. With this level of polish, sophistication, and mastery of the genre, personally, I can't wait to see what Astro Port come up with next.