Bullet Soul is a vertically-scrolling shoot 'em up (shmup) from 5pb, makers of the Phantom Breaker series. The Steam release features four playable modes, four characters, and 2-player local co-op. This is one sweet shmup for PC players, and the Xbox 360 version is also playable on Xbox One.
From Xbox to Steam
Bullet Soul was originally released in Japanese arcades and Xbox 360 way back in 2011. For years, the Xbox 360 version remained exclusive to Japan. Then in 2016, publisher 5pb/Mages finally made Bullet Soul available in North America as a downloadable title. And just this week, Bullet Soul and its semi-sequel Infinite Burst became playable on Xbox One via backwards compatibility.
PC gamers love shmups too. Thankfully, Mages has also just released a Steam version of Bullet Soul. This version includes all of the downloadable content previously released on Xbox 360 (apparently the North American 360 version includes it as well). The former DLC includes a fourth playable character and three extra modes, making for a robust package on Steam.
Bullet Soul includes four game modes. It might not be immediately obvious, but you switch between modes by pressing left or right on the main menu.
- Bullet Soul: The main game mode, consisting of five stages and (if players meet the proper criteria) two loops. 1-2 players.
- Version B: A revised game mode with slightly lower difficulty, lower medal requirements, and a fourth playable character. This is the most enjoyable way to play Bullet Soul. 1-2 players.
- Bancho: Select from any stage rather than starting from the beginning. One player only.
- Caravan: A short two-minute score rush. You get unlimited lives, but no bombs. One player only.
Whichever mode you play, you'll start out by selecting from a handful of playable characters. Each character has completely different weaponry, bombs, and stats. The fourth character, Loop (only playable in Version B mode) is perhaps the most effective character. Whoever you pick, his or her character art acts as the border for your side of the screen.
Every shooter needs a gimmick of some sort. Bullet Soul's claim to fame is that killing an enemy makes any shots it fired beforehand turn into harmless plumes of smoke. Thus by finishing off bad guys quickly, you can clear the screen of incoming fire.
Killing enemies to destroy their fire is a simple system that makes Bullet Soul less frustratingly hard than most games of this type. Then again, bosses pack the screen with hundreds of bullets, and those only disappear whenever you destroy a piece of the boss. You won't get through this game without plenty of dodging and weaving.
Bullet Soul also has a fairly well-developed ranking system. Upon completing one of the game's five stages, you'll receive a bronze, gold, or platinum medal based on your performance. To get those platinums, you'll need to discover a high number of the stage's hidden bonuses.
Score bonuses come from destroying certain objects and defeating enemies and bosses in specific ways. As a non-expert shmup player, I didn't expect to ever see a single platinum. But I managed to score two on my own and another by following a guide, which surprised and pleased me to no end. Playing on the "Version B" mode makes the score requirements a lot more reasonable than in the default game mode.
Most good shmups support local multiplayer, and Bullet Soul is no different. A second player can join in at any time during the main game (normal or Version B), but the other modes – Bancho and Caravan are single-player.
Both players have to select different ships, so you can't just steamroll through the game with two Loops. Still, it's good fun to run through the game in half an hour with a friend. Continues are unlimited, somewhat alleviating the stress of trying to differentiate between your own shots and the countless enemy bullets.
Steam controls, system requirements, and user experience
The publisher recommends playing Bullet Soul with an Xbox controller. Since the game was originally released on Xbox 360, it makes sense that everything is optimized for a controller. Players can customize the button mapping, changing the functions of single fire, rapid fire, and bombs to any button, including the triggers.
Playing with a keyboard is less ideal, as the game doesn't allow remapping of keyboard controls. The default keys are fine, but remapping them really should be supported.
Minimum system requirements:
- OS: Windows7/8.1/10
- Processor: Core i3 of Sandy Bridge generation or better
- Memory: 2 GB RAM
- Graphics: Intel HD Graphics Series (It needs 1GB memory allocation)
- Storage: 3 GB available space
- Additional Notes: Xbox 360 compatible game controller strongly recommended
Bullet Souls' system requirements are quite reasonable – even some machines with integrated graphics (such as the original Surface Pro) will be able to run it. That said, the PC version suffers from a few issues and bugs at present.
There are almost no graphical options other than the choice between windowed and full-screen modes and smoothing (antialiasing). The game runs at 720p regardless of monitor resolution. With no built-in Vsync, it suffers from screen tearing (though graphics card software can often force Vsync to get around this). And after exiting the game, some users (including me) find the window size of other applications has been altered.
Mages has stated that they plan to continue updating the Steam game, so hopefully, these little annoyances will be fixed before too long.
Bullet Soul is a quality shoot 'em up with decent production values. The 2D character art, 3D graphics, and stage design all look quite good for the genre. I really enjoy the variety of locations and camera angles featured in the backgrounds, and some of the bio-mechanical monster designs are interesting as well.
Production-wise, the main downside is a complete lack of story (though you get a brief ending). Usually, games of this sort at least feature a flashy introduction cinematic. The playable characters speak a fair amount during gameplay, but their dialog is delivered in Japanese with no subtitles. At least Raiden V bothered to subtitle and dub all of its voices.
Shmups are a fairly niche genre nowadays, so it's important to support the good ones that come to English markets. If this one does well, hopefully, Bullet Soul: Infinite Burst will make it to Steam as well. Shooting game fans will definitely get their money's worth from Bullet Soul, so don't wait to bite the bullet.
- Four modes and four distinct characters.
- Fair difficulty compared to other bullet hell shmups.
- The soundtrack by Kenji 'Itoken' Ito and Kohta Takahashi gets pretty catchy towards the end of the game.
- No story at all.
- The characters' Japanese dialog is not subtitled or dubbed.
- No graphical options or keyboard remapping.
Bullet Soul is available on Steam and Xbox 360/Xbox One for $14.99.
Steam review code provided by the publisher.
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