You know, it’s funny. Even though there is no Virtual Console on the Nintendo Switch yet, there are already a lot of digital re-releases of old games. The most notable of these are the numerous Neo Geo games ported by Hamster Corp. It goes further, though. Namco Museum brought a number of games to the console, and completely out of nowhere are re-releases of two obscure arcade titles: Gunbarich and Strikers 1945. Today, I’ll be looking over the former.
Told in text and image stills, the story follows one of two playable characters as a “magician” named Majoria has him or her go through a gauntlet to teach them how to be as great of a “magician” as her. That’s it.
Despite originally being released in 2001, Gunbarich sports a 16-Bit esque look found in many ’90s arcade games prior. It’s super-colorful and visually frantic, but this re-release has the same issue as the arcade games in Namco Museum: The arcade window makes for a lot of empty space around the screen. It’s not too bad when playing on a TV, but on handheld mode, you’ll want to switch it to a vertical view so it uses up much more of the screen.
The music is bubbly and lively, but not as memorable as soundtracks from more well-known titles. Fortunately, the sound effects are sure to stick with the player (for better or worse, depending on how often you’ll find yourself hearing your character get stunned by fireballs). The clicks the ball makes when breaking bricks are pleasant to hear, and the voice bytes do have a sense of charm to them.
Gunbarich is a unique take on the classic formula established by Breakout. As the character of your choice, you play through 22 levels of brick-smashing mayhem fueled by a ton of simultaneous gameplay catalysts. The “magician” will sometimes appear to drop down power-ups for you to take advantage of. Enemies can steer your plans off course or paralyze you temporarily. Rows of unbreakable blocks can be turned on or off via the ball pressing a switch. Lastly, there’s a 60-second timer constantly ticking down, and when it runs out, it’s instant death for you.
What makes Gunbarich special can also be a double-edged sword. With all of this insanity going on, it’s hard to really bring your skills to the test because something is destined to pop up in the way. The controls are responsive, and there’s a cool mechanic where you can kinda steer the ball if you hit it aggressively with the flippers. It can also be fun to use the power-ups that come your way and successfully hit plenty of bricks with the ball as it bounces along the stage. Just know these aren’t without their distractions. It’s so easy to lose track of the ball with everything else going on at once, and each stage is to be beaten in about a minute’s span of time! Being that this is an arcade port, though, you can at least enter in as many continues as you want if you get any Game Overs.
Overall, Gunbarich is crazy. It’s crazy enough to make it fun, but those looking for a more skill-based game might get disappointed with the chaos that ensues. It’s also worth noting that like most arcade games that have an ending, the game can be breezed through in way under an hour. If the game looks interesting enough to you nevertheless, you’ll probably get a good kick out of it.