If there’s one thing I still love using the Nintendo Switch for after all these years, it’s collecting niche arcade shooting games. Whether it’s a beefy port full of bonus content or a bare-bones emulated re-release, it’s so much fun to have a new, portable home for all of these bullet hell and shmup classics. As someone who’s only really fallen in love with the genre in the last decade, it’s also a great opportunity to explore the history of these games and dive into titles that were before my time. Case in point — Gleylancer, a 16-bit shmup released for the Mega Drive back in 1992. Despite making waves in Japan, it never got an English overseas release, even when it was ported to the global Wii Virtual Console in 2008. Ratalaika Games has brought Gleylancer to all modern consoles, though, including Nintendo Switch for this review, and it isn’t just packing a full English translation for the first time ever — it’s got plenty of other bonuses that blow other shmup ports out of the water.
Gleylancer is impressively story-driven for a ’90s arcade shooter: When a space captain to a federation of starships is suddenly kidnapped by enemy operatives, his daughter Lucia rushes to commandeer a prototype space-fighter and set out to rescue her father. There are only a handful of cutscenes after the lengthy opening cinematic, but it’s still way more than I expected and all flawlessly translated. It’s also plenty of motivation to dig into the impressive amount of content the game has to offer. With 11 stages to shoot through, it’s one of the lengthier classic shmups I’ve played.
One of the most unique elements of Gleylancer is how crucial your subships are to combat. Rather than existing as bonus bullets that fire in the same direction as your main attack, you can choose to have your two floating sub-ships fire independently of your own main attack using a variety of different patterns. You can have them fire opposite of your main beam, fire in the direction of your movement, automatically target nearby enemies, constantly spin in all directions, and more. It’s a really compelling system that adds an extra layer to combat, especially when the numerous weapon types you can pick up mid-level give your subships different bullet types than your own.
Gleylancer defaults to a new “Modern” gameplay mode that peppers a bunch of impressive quality-of-life improvements into the experience. In this mode, you can swap between every subship type with the press of a button instead of being locked into your choice at the beginning of the game. You can even take things a step further and manually control your subships with the right stick, adding an extra layer of mental gymnastics to go through during tougher battles.
Most impressive, though, is the Rewind feature. At any time, you can hold a shoulder button to rewind through your entire play session. Wanna undo your death to an unfair bullet, or rewind a couple minutes back to get rid of the weapon you picked up? Go nuts. You can’t rewind backwards through any save states you’ve made, but the ability to rewind Forza Horizon-style makes the game a breeze to speed through. At times, too much of a breeze — bosses in Gleylancer are often a little un-intimidating, and adding the ability to rewind through them just makes them even more of a cakewalk.
If you’re feeling iffy about the idea of being able to rewind at will like that, you could unbind the Rewind button or simply swap to Classic mode — a raw 1:1 emulation of the original Japanese release of the game. You can even swap to Cheater mode, which automatically enables the original cheat console you’d normally have to jump through hoops to access. Probably my favorite new feature of all, though, is the massively in-depth CRT filter function. You can slap an old-school scan-line filter onto your screen, but from there, you can alter a huge amount of settings — scanline size, screen curvature, CRT gamma, and more — to perfectly emulate the old-school glow and fuzz of the monitors this game was designed to run on.
As impressive as all the new features are, I’m a sucker for museum-style bonuses in classic game ports, and Gleylancer is lacking in that department. No art galleries, no music collections, no design documents. It’s minor in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a nice extra to see out of games like this. Regardless, for the low launch price, what does come with this Gleylancer re-release is outstanding. The game already aged like wine, but these new features make it a sleek and rewarding must-play for modern shmup fans.
A Nintendo Switch review code for Gleylancer was provided by the publisher.