Psyvariar, a shmup by the developers Success, was released in Japanese arcades in 2000, and while it certainly didn't achieve icon status like Radiant Silvergun, it certainly proved to be competent, and worth it's money. Three years after that original release Success provided the Playstation 2 with what it needed. A good old fashioned shmup with a twist. Upon booting up Psyvariar, you're treated to an opening movie showing some nice 3D scenes, with the main theme complimenting it perfectly. Press Start, and you are given 2 choices; Medium Unit and Revision. Psyvariar Medium Unit is the original game which was first released on coin-op, and while it is still enjoyable today, it certainly doesn't feel as polished as its sequel, Revision. Before explaining Revision and why it is superior to Medium Unit it is important to examine the basic premise of Psyvariar.
On the first attempt, after holding down the fire button, speeding through the somewhat short stages, and killing anything in sight, it might appear that this is no different from any other shmup and is just a basic variation of Mars Matrix since both games have crazy bullet patterns. As in most shmup games the object of Mars Matrix was to avoid all bullets and then defeat the boss at the end of each stage. Psyvariar is a different in that you must hit the enemy bullets. This is where it gets interesting. The ship has only one destructible part, which is the center. If the ship hits a bullet head on, it will blow up, and a life is lost. However the ship does have indestructible wings, which can be used to graze every bullet hurled towards the ship. This is called the "Buzz" system, in which contact can be made with any projectile or enemy to collect points. Not only does this add to the score count, but on the top corner of the screen, there is a level up meter. Everytime a "buzz" is made, the meter rises steadily, and once it's full the ship levels up.
To progress to the more difficult stages, a tactical style of gameplay must be adopted. To survive heavy enemy firepower, and screen filling bullet patterns, you must utilise the brief moment of invincibility, which occurs once the ship levels up. The best practise is to keep the lvl meter at approx 95% full for the end of stage boss. Once that is achieved invincibility can be used to avoid death, and defeat the stage.
The main differences between Medium Unit and Revision revolve around the implementation of the buzz system. In Medium Unit a bullet/enemy can only be buzzed once, whereas in Revision the object can be buzzed more than once. The result is that Revision looks very impressive and levelling up is a satisfying experience. Another slight variation is that the destructible core in Medium Unit is slightly bigger, and it is easier to be destroyed. Since the core in Revision is smaller it allows the gamer to take bigger risks in order to level up. While it might appear that Revision is just as a more refined, and polished game, it also features extra stages than the original. The better the performance the higher the opportunity of unlocking harder later stages is. While the path isn't predetermined, choosing the more difficult levels is recommended since it aids in achieving an overall higher score and level of the craft.
The stages can be described as being slightly short, which in a sense is disappointing considering that the buzz system is so well implemented that the feeling of wanting a level to end will never arise. The real meat and bones of the stage can be found during boss battles. During the latter part of the stage, in typical fashion the screen starts flashing with "Warning", notifying the arrival of the boss enemy. Not only are Boss battles a challenge, but they are also offer good character variation with each boss being able to shoot beams, small bullets, torpedoes, and other flying monstrosities, all of which can be buzzed. To get the most fun out of Psyvariar, and to make it really challenging it is highly recommended that freeplay is turned off.
There are two Special Edition packages available to buy in addition to the standard release. The Sound Box, which features Psyvariar Complete with a special edition Soundtrack. The second edition is the Capture Box. This features Psyvariar Complete, and a special edition DVD ROM showing a Japanese player simply completing both Medium Unit and Revision with just ONE credit. It is an astounding watch, not only does it show stages that the average player will have extreme difficulty getting to, but simple observation also shows how to get to them. It is truly unbelievable, and really does inspire one to set the game to 1 credit, and attempt to enter new heights of unfound skill. The harder stages, such as stage X-A, require a certain level attained in order to play at it, and it is for this reason that setting the game to one credit is an advantage.
How exactly how does Psyvariar look? To call it a "2d shooter" isn't exactly true graphically, since practically everything is polygon constructed. Enemies spawn from smooth scrolling, and on some stages, extremely fast paced 3D backgrounds, which are well designed, and look good. There are some nice lighting effects when levelling up, and a lovely "grazing" effect while buzzing heavy firepower. Everything certainly looks right, and considering Medium Unit is about 3 years old it still fares well to this very day, although it doesn't match Revision's cosmetics.
Overall, Psyvariar has to be one of the most original vertical shooters to date, with a very refreshing idea known as the "buzz" system. The system not only works well, but also offers a highly enjoyable and addictive gameplay experience. The "one more go" feeling exists within this game, and the challenge to beat your previous score is very exciting. Excellent sound and music add to the experience of just sheer old school fun. A must have for anyone with an appreciation of 2d shoot em up action.
A review by Ramtin Mahinpourian