Blasters of the Universe Review
Anyone who glanced at the VR library will know the platform is overflowing with wave shooters — many of which are rather forgettable. With Blasters of the Universe, Secret Location attempts to give new life to the tired formula of VR shooters by cranking everything, from visuals to gameplay, up to eleven. The result is a spectacular sensory-overload of neon colours and retro influences, mired only by an unforgiving level of difficulty.
Local arcade bully, Alwyn, has stolen a cutting-edge VR arcade machine. Not only has he somehow transported himself into the system, Alwyn has also laid claim to the digital world, declaring himself “Grand Master”. Now it’s up to you to blast through his endless hordes of minions and smack some humility into the guy.
“The neon-soaked art style and the wacky enemy designs makes you feel like you’re in some sort of strange ’90s cartoon.”
The term ‘bullet hell’ has never more aptly described a game than Blasters of the Universe. Each level is jam-packed with enemies attacking from every angle. At first, they fire single bullets, which are easy enough to sidestep. Soon, their shots evolve into terrifyingly complex patterns — barrages of rotating spirals and even walls of bullets in the shape of Space Invaders. To help alleviate some of this damage, you’re given a shield in your left hand, but this shield quickly overloads if you block too many hits. This means your best course of action is to physically dodge around incoming fire. Now, bullet hell games are tough enough in 2D, so imagine weaving around bullets in virtual reality — it’s no easy task! Blasters of the Universe challenges your physical fitness just as much as your ability to memorize enemy spawns and bullet patterns. Luckily, you’re given five lives before game over and only hits to your head count as damage. It’s a novel way to play, and I ended every session exhausted and drenched in sweat.
Of course, no shooter is complete without some memorable weaponry. Blasters of the Universe does one better, giving you a plethora of options to customize your gun into something totally unique to fit your playstyle. Every component can be swapped out, from the barrel, magazine, to the type of ammo, with each change having a huge effect on how your weapon handles. For instance, one barrel increases bullet speed, effectively transforming your gun into an automatic rifle, whereas another shoots out additional projectiles, giving you a pseudo-shotgun. The weapon frame plays the biggest role, with each offering a different superpower, like a massive-damage-dealing laser or a protective bubble that absorbs all damage. Weapon parts are unlocked with progression, providing an incentive to get through the campaign — that is, if you can put up with the insane difficulty.
Even on the first level, Blasters of the Universe is punishing. The sheer quantity of enemies — many of which are airborne — and bullets whizzing past makes it very easy to become overwhelmed if you’re not careful. Getting nicked by a stray bullet could mean a frustrating restart. I found one enemy particularly troublesome, as he requires a ton of damage to bring down, and fires homing rockets that loop back for a second strike if they miss the first time around. Since the gameplay is so physically demanding, it’s only a matter of time before you tire out and start making silly mistakes. Surviving the waves of enemies is only the beginning, as you’ll also have to defeat a boss at the end of each level. These bosses are all unique in their appearances and attacks, and you’ll need to learn their respective patterns to overcome them. But since there’s no way to earn back lost hearts without restarting, these battles often feel unfair, and maybe even impossible for some players.
“Surprisingly, the real star of Blasters of the Universe is actually Grand Master Alwyn, a villain you’ll grow to simultaneously love and hate.”
Another issue I had with the difficulty, though unintended, is in reloading. Unlike other VR shooters, there’s no haptic feedback when it comes to reloading your weapon. When there’s so much action happening around you, it can be hard to tell if you’ve successfully inserted a fresh magazine. On more than one occasion, I thought my gun was reloaded when, in reality, the magazine was lying somewhere on the floor, leading to me taking unnecessary damage.
The retro aesthetic goes a long way in setting Blasters of the Universe apart from the competition. The neon-soaked art style and the wacky enemy designs makes you feel like you’re in some sort of strange ’90s cartoon. On top of that, an electrifying synth soundtrack pumps you up during each fight. You’ll smile at all the pop culture references, from Sega to Guardians of the Galaxy. Everything is over-exaggerated and unapologetically-’90s, making this game world a delight to the senses.
Surprisingly, the real star of Blasters of the Universe is actually Grand Master Alwyn, a villain you’ll grow to simultaneously love and hate. Alwyn is snarky, annoying, and completely lacking in self-awareness. You’ll catch him floating high-and-mighty above each level, judging your every move and laying down some real quotable smack-talk at every opportunity. It is through his quips that you start to catch hints of vulnerability beneath his apparent arrogance. Sometimes, I didn’t know whether to laugh at him or feel sorry for him. At his core, Alwyn is simply someone who seeks belonging, retreating into the virtual realm when the real world has failed him. This imbues Alwyn with a depth not seen in your typical videogame baddie — an unexpected treat for an indie VR title. With that said, I found it rather jarring that Alwyn occasionally curses. In a game with floating hearts and a cartoony villain, the use of profanity feels directly contradictory to the overarching tone. Hearing Alwyn drop the F-bomb for the first time jolted me out of the experience, and I stopped to ask, “Did he really just say that?” Thankfully, profanity can be disabled.
While Blasters of the Universe doesn’t revolutionize the genre, it has more than enough good ideas to make it one of the top wave shooters available. Rarely does a videogame ever try so hard to make you have fun and succeed. You’ll fall in love with the ’90s nods, quirky humor, and of course, Grand Master Alwyn. Though it might not take long before you give up in a fit of rage, while it lasts, Blasters of the Universe is one for the books.
*** Oculus code provided by the publisher ***
- Awesome ’90s theme
- Loads of weapon customization
- Great villain
- Too difficult
- Reloading needs work