Super Bullet Break
When I covered Tinykin a few weeks ago, I mentioned how it was one of the games I missed out on from my PAX East experience. Even before I had a chance to play the game, there were several other titles I played at the event that I would eventually wind up playing upon release. One such game that I could consider a guilty pleasure was Super Bullet Break, a game I knew nothing about at first. What drew me in was, if anyone knew me, the "waifus." It's always the "waifus."
I got a chance to play Super Bullet Break alongside Curse Of The Sea Rats courtesy of PQube themselves at their hour-long private spotlight. Therefore, in all of its intents and purposes, my first impression of the deck-building action game was five months ago in advance. This makes this review a bit different from others as instead of speaking on what drew me to the game, I'll talk about what caused me to stay with the game. In short, I hadn't felt such gratification in playing a game and unlocking "gacha heroes" before I played Super Bullet Break.
If the entire structure screams "Gacha," or "games where you're expected to sink money and time into unlocking your favorite hero," then that feeling is intentional. As expected from the "Super" in the title, Super Bullet Break is a sequel/spiritual successor to the original Bullet Break released on iOS and Android in 2019.
If this is your first time ever hearing of the series, then it's understandable as it was a Japanese-only release. Many of the characters featured in SBB originated in Bullet Break and the gameplay was similar yet different. From gameplay footage, it appeared like a top-down vertical mobile game similar to that of Puzzles & Dragons, minus the puzzles of course.
The game proved popular enough to warrant a sequel and a test run on Western soils. Consider this is the same publisher who gave us Gal*Gun, an install base for a specific niche of gamers that was already established. (I have no shame) What surprised me was how in-depth SBB was, as well as how both forgiving and unforgiving the title was. First, those who are interested in the lore can rest assured knowing that no prior knowledge of Bullet Break is needed.
You play as Akari and later Hikaru and Sumire, a trio of friends who band together to stop a cybernetic threat that is disabling your favorite games. Armed with girls from various games known as Bullets, the player goes through each world, fighting the anomalies until the end, while slowly but surely restoring balance to the gaming world.
Okay, so the plot isn't entirely "high-stakes" as none of this bears any effect on the "real world," but that's the beauty of Super Bullet Break's plot. Sure you're the chosen one to save the world, but you are also a student with mismatched priorities. In the end, it's just another game for you to beat and the "game-within-a-game" works well here.
Akari begins the game with a pre-determined deck of cards, or "magazine of bullets," each with its own abilities. Some will heal Akari or shield her from damage. Others gain an attack boost proportional to the number of bullets discarded. Some may discard bullets which helps trigger discard effects. There are many combinations of effects that provide synergy with other bullets and the more you play, the easier it gets to understand.
What I've learned is that each "game" has a specific archetype that works well with each other. One world for example centers around an idol girl group, each with the passive effect of applying a music buff to the player. When the criteria are reached, bonus damage is dealt to enemies. Some may have an effect that states if a certain number of bullets from an archetype is in a magazine, the player will gain a bonus buff at the start of the round. It may seem overwhelming at first and the game doesn't hold your hand, but it doesn't punish you for mistakes either.
There's a high chance that the player won't survive the end of the first world and that's perfectly fine. As the player goes through rounds, win or lose, they will earn two unlockable bullets they hadn't received before, thus expanding the pool of obtainable bullets. While the player cannot keep the bullets they earn in each playthrough, they are given a chance to obtain them in subsequent playthroughs. This means that deck building is kept random yet balanced as the player doesn't sweep through levels.
The gameplay is similar to that of another deck builder I played, coincidentally, at PAX East. While Power Chord is more of a team-based RPG experience, Super Bullet Break is all about managing the cost of your bullets relative to your enemies. If a bullet costs 5 energy to use and there are 4 paces between the end of your turn and the beginning of your enemies, it's best to use a card that deals 3 energy first then a bullet that deals 5 energy. The objective is to get the most "bang for your buck" while also defending yourself properly as enemies tend to attack harshly.
Before I knew it, I spent most of the afternoon grinding through this title and it was something I didn't expect. Whether it was the colorful graphics, the self-aware tropey characters, or the fulfillment in seeing numbers flash across the screen. What I could tell the reader was that this was an unexpected fun time that I may continue to come back to if I ever wish to unwind. Super Bullet Break can be cruel and unfair, but it's a part of the roguelite experience.
Super Bullet Break is available on PC, Nintendo Switch, and Sony PlayStation 4.