Also available on Wii U, Switch, and Windows
Satazius Next, like Armed 7, is not only a relatively recent release for the ill-fated and underappreciated (at least during its life) Dreamcast, but it's also among the finest shmups I've ever played. Once again, the folks at Astro Port have produced a truly exceptional and breathtaking Dreamcast shooter and, to my infinite pleasure, seen fit to port it both to the Switch as well as my beloved Wii U. As a disclaimer, the screenshots here are taken from the Switch port so as to avoid having to borrow someone else's screenshots as I don't have the ability at the moment to capture screenshots from Dreamcast hardware.
Satazius Next, like Armed 7, is a horizontally scrolling shooter, but Astro Port really went above and beyond with this one. Like their other games, the sprites are fantastic and the music exceptional, and the controls are as tight as responsive as you could possibly hope for. What makes Satazius stand out, though, is the incredible level design. In most shmups, the enemies and their shots are your main danger - hence the colloquial nickname "bullet hell" - and any obstacles in the level are mostly just a minor annoyance to add a little extra challenge. While not to understate the threat that the enemies pose to you, that formula gets flipped on its head in Satazius Next. Especially after the first couple of levels, the obstacles and physical design of the levels is definitely your greatest threat while the enemies mostly serve to exacerbate that threat by limiting your movement with their shots. I very rarely died to enemy fire in this game, but the level itself killed me a LOT. There are tons of platformers with ingeniously brutal level designs and layouts, but Satazius Next is one of the few shmups I've played with equally diabolical level designs, and it makes the game feel totally different to most of the genre. With multiple difficulty levels and weapons to unlock and level up, there's a lot of replay value here, too.
Satazius Next took me over twice as long to clear on Easy as Armed 7 did just because of how difficult the levels got. Once you get to the second half of the game, the brutal levels are accompanied by some seriously damage-sponge bosses, too. It's certainly not the hardest shmup I've ever played, but it's one that poses a genuine challenge as opposed to just being generally "hard," if that distinction makes any sense. You have to memorize not just enemy patterns but level layouts, and that's something most of the genre doesn't require, at least not to this extent. It made for a refreshing (even if frustrating) experience, and I truly can't recommend this game highly enough. It's definitely in my Top 10 Shmups of All Time list now.
My Rating - 5 Neps
I'm a teacher.
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach high school history; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.