Think back, it’s 1990. In the neon haze of the arcade you lock eyes on Blazing Chrome. A stack of quarters in your pocket, rock soundtrack blaring out in glorious stereo. With your best friends in tow you make a beeline for it.
“The year is 21XX. The robots have risen to crush the human race and the last of the resistance have begun a last ditch effort to throw off their metallic oppressors.”
The announcer screams out “Blazing Chrome” in some sort of garbled scratchy digital mess as you line up your quarters and shelve your bottle of sugary beverage just within arms reach to help keep you sharp between stages.
These early arcade memories were crafted for me by games like Narc, TMNT and Street Fighter 2. Blazing Chrome attempts to recreate that atmosphere and wholly succeeds in doing so, so much that it wouldn’t have felt out of place at that time or place. Nostalgia mode engaged….
My first question was whether Joymasher could do justice to a classic run & gun, but their recent work in Oniken and Odallus suggests an attention to detail as well as a real collective love for arcade style scrollers rarely seen in developers today.
To reverse the obvious end of the world scenario you get the choice of two antagonists; Mavra; the human resistance Sarah Connor type or Doyle; the robot overlord turned saviour of mankind. Both lovingly rendered in 16bit pixel sprite, both stylized with a futuristic 80’s vibe. They control the same, jump, shoot and move as expected and there’s also a button you can hold down to fix your aim (like Super Metroid) which anchors you to the spot whilst it’s held allowing you to fire in the eight joystick directions.
Those expecting an achievement or trophy for shooting the first enemy or for simply starting the game should probably stop now; like its source material the game favours punishment. It’s one hit kill for you and death comes in a variety of flavours from bullets, grenades, rockets, lasers and spikes as well as just touching some enemies. It hurts but be assured the difficulty makes the victory sweeter.
Weapons are dropped in canisters or found on the field and can be switched at any point using the triggers of the Xbox One controller. Death comes with a cost though as it also destroys your equipped weapon (with the exception of the default machine gun).
In addition to the guns, each character also has a close range melee attack utilized by hitting the shoot button in close proximity to an enemy. It feels unnatural to start with since one hit kills and you’ll wince at getting so close to enemies but a few slices in you’ll get the hang of it. It’s fairly useful against larger enemies if you can avoid contact.
Turning auto switch off in the menu is highly advised to not stop you from spewing bullets when you accidentally walk into a grenade launcher and it auto switches out from your currently equipped weapon.
Enemies come thick and fast with a variety of gun wielding or melee only robots with some heavier mechs thrown in for good measure. Each stage is split into sections usually culminating in either a short onslaught of smaller enemies or a mini boss before rewarding you with a checkpoint upon which you can restart if you continue.
Manage to beat the sectional checkpoints and you’ll come upon the level bosses as a reward. Bosses are varied with some great, unique designs and come with their own challenging patterns to learn. Each also has a set of weak points which may be immediately available to attack or become available as the fight progresses. Just as you start to feel comfortable, each boss adds new attacks or changes it’s timing upon reaching 50% of its health.
It sounds terrible at first glance; one hit death, loss of upgrades and crazy patterns to remember. It’s not though, it’s exhilarating and the electro rock only spurs you on to keep trying again. If you die it’s because you screwed up. No excuses. This is something the game reminds you often for the first 30-40 mins until you relax into it.
Blazing Chrome never treats you unfairly though or throws a challenge at you that you haven’t in some way been eased into earlier in the game and if you feel it has, it’s due to you mistiming something. The controls are pretty tight so just remember you can’t blame them unless your pad runs out of battery in which case you guessed it, it’s your fault.
Several visual filters are included off the bat to increase the nostalgia and draw you in further. The original filter feels like a SNES game but a quick switch brings on scan-lines and a CRT tube style visual lens for a more arcade cabinet like presentation. For those favouring something a little more recent a 4x filter removes some of the pixelated edges.
A mix-up of early nineties gaming classic sample material thrown into the melting pot delivers a faithful recreation of not only Contra style run & gun but also a Battletoad-esque side scrolling hover bike as well as a surprisingly effective Space Harrier section to spice things up.
It’s not all bullet hell frustration though, not only does Blazing Chrome offer checkpoints and unlimited continues on normal difficulty, the save system allows players to restart from where they left off last time, if their session was cut short; with the same character and any currently equipped weapons. Easy mode offers more airdrops in terms of upgrades and more lives. You won’t even get Hardcore until you clock normal mode but its harsher and the save system is missing.
Although Blazing Chrome is fairly short, at about and hour and a half, the challenge is real. The game offers great replay value for those honing their skills in speedrun or upping the challenge further with two additional characters to unlock and the retro styled hardcore mode. Not only do the creators know their source material, they lovingly recreate it with a passion right down to the scan lines and thrash metal soundtrack.