STAFF REVIEW of Gleylancer (Xbox One)

Wednesday, October 27, 2021.
by Adam Dileva

Gleylancer Box art The year was 1992, and if you were a shmup (shoot-em-up) fan in Japan with a Sega Mega Drive (known as the Genesis outside of North America), you were treated to a wonderful new game, Gleylancer. An awesome 16-bit shump that sadly never made its way out west until much later in 2008 but only for the Wii Virtual Console, so needless to say not many outside of the hardcore have been able to play it, until now.

Original developers, Masaya, created a great little shmup that has aged well and still holds up to classic standards, one I wish I could have played back when I was all about the Genesis growing up. Developers, Nautlander, are the ones not only responsible for porting to current consoles but adding a slew of modern day features and mechanics that arguably make it a much better game overall. Published by Ratalaika Games, Gleylancer may not be at the top tier amongst some of the icons of the genre, it certainly surprised me with how many great features it included for being such an older shump title.

Normally shump games all have the same tired old story, something revolving around an alien ambush where you need to save the planet or universe. While Gleylancer does add a little more to the tiresome formula with adding a bit more depth, it’s again a story we’ve all heard before. You are Lucia, the sixteen year old daughter of Admiral Ken Cabrock, a star fighter pilot for the Earth Federation. Facing massive losses after a surprise alien attack, the Federation decides to retreat and withdrawal from the battlefield, but upon doing so they become surrounded by a fleet of aliens, only to have their flagship, Oberon, teleported away to somewhere in space unknown.

This is where Lucia decide to hijack the prototype Starfighter, the Gleylancer, to go search and rescue her father. There’s a surprising amount of story and dialogue, especially for a shump game from this long ago. The pixelated aesthetic has a very anime style to it as well and is quite impressive given the early 90’s hardware limitations. Every few levels you’ll get a quick cutscene to further the story, but let’s be honest, we play these games for its gameplay and shooting down anything that moves, though it’s great that there’s actually some semblance of an actual narrative within.

Like most old school shmups, Gleylancer is a side scrolling shooter were you’re constantly moving on the battlefield to the right, shooting down any alien enemies in your path to face off against a large and bullet-sponge boss before moving onto the next level. Very par-the-course stuff here, but there are a few interesting mechanics that I didn’t expect, and certainly not all that common for games back in 1992.

While you’ve got your classic shoot-em-up gameplay, there’s a couple of interesting features that I really quite enjoyed. First is the option to have your ship move at four different speeds. I initially thought that this was the game speed toggle overall, but it’s actually just the movement of your ship. Well why wouldn’t you want to always be able to move as fast as possible you ask? Well, there are a few stages where you need to fly down and across narrow pathways as the level automatically scrolls, so moving slower will actually make things much easier for finer movements.

During your shooting adventure you’ll come across these silver pods that when destroyed, give you different weapon power-ups. Kind of like R-Type, your main blaster stays the same, but you can have up to two different pods that attach to your ship like a turret. Depending on the weapon type that is dropped, flying over each icon will change your gunners’ weapons, each best suited for different situations and level types. You’ll find weapons such as lasers, wide spread 5-way shots, flamethrowers, bombs that are slow but very powerful, energy sabers and even a Bound Shot that rebounds off surfaces for indoor based levels.

What surprised me more though is the multiple options for your gunner formations, chosen at the beginning of the game or when continuing. ‘Normal’ has the gunners face the direction of your ships movement at any given time. This means if you want to shoot behind you, they will face and shoot whatever direction you maneuver the ship. ‘Reverse’ is the same as Normal, but will fire in the opposite direction of the ship’s movement. ‘Search’ was easily the best choice for me, as your turrets will automatically aim and fire at the nearest enemy. There’s a few other choices, like ‘Roll’ that has your turrets constantly orbit around you, shooting in every direction, so there’s plenty of options for you to try out and see what works best with your playstyle.

While I wouldn’t categorize Gleylancer anywhere near a ‘Bullet Hell’, you know, where you have to make pixel perfect movements to avoid touching any of the screen filling bullets everywhere, the small bullets from enemies that do fire at you can be quite difficult to discern from the moving background at times. This is where some of the modern day mechanics that are introduced in this version come into play, should you want to utilize them. Options like holding a button down to reverse time and undo that mistake you just made, much like we’ve become accustomed to in modern racing games. This is a great feature for when you’re trying to learn a boss’ attack pattern or make a rookie mistake, able to undo and try again without having to replay the whole section over.

Should you need to take an unexpected break, or simply want to reload from a specific point in any of your runs, there are also six quick-save slots you can utilize for this should the need arise. This is one of the modern additions, but not the only. If you choose to play in Modern Mode, you not only get a full English Translation of the narrative parts (this was originally a Japanese only release remember) but you can also use the ‘Right Stick’ to manually control your gunners to fire in any direction you want as well, almost turning it into a twin-stick shooter. There’s even a “Cheater’s Mode” for those that want to toggle anything from invincibility, level skipping or other options to try out for fun. There is of course the included classic mode where you can play the unchanged Japanese version for those wanting a challenge without any modern day tweaks or ting 11 stages, Gleylancer will obviously be beaten in a single sitting, though it’s fun to test your skills with different formations for your gunners and harder difficulties that do make quite a difference. Sadly there’s no online leaderboard, so once you’ve got your weekend fill out of it, I doubt there’s much reason to go back. That said, for a measly $6.99 USD asking price, it’s a great little shmup that has a lot of personality full of varied level designs, massive bosses and a great soundtrack.

While it may be an obscure title, one that I’ve never even played before, shmup fans will surely no doubt enjoy their time with it, either with its true original version or a mode with a bunch of modern day tweaks that make for an arguably better experience overall. Gleylancer is a highly underrated shump that was enjoyable to play and replay with new challenges or settings.

**Gleylancer was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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