On the surface, all the shmups are similar to each other – after all, how many variations of the theme of flying up and shooting everything or flying right and shooting everything can there be? If you look deeper though, it becomes obvious that the differences which would not be so noticeable in bigger and more complex games matter a lot in the shorter, more intense experience of an arcade shooter.
Deltazeal is a game that looks and feels similar to other shmups on the market but has a few things that make it stand out from the crowd. The most noticeable thing is that it’s not a bullet hell game – while at times there will be a lot of enemy projectiles on the screen, each pattern has obvious safespots so you don’t have to alter your position slightly at all times to avoid certain death.
Even if you wanted it would be pretty hard as when compared to Tohou games, or anything made by Cave; your ship has a pretty large (although not pixel perfect) hitbox. The enemy bullets also move pretty fast – kind of like in the Raiden series, which seems to be a big inspiration for Deltazeal.
Like Raiden 2, Deltazeal gives you a powerup that cycles through three weapon types: spread, laser and homing. The usefulness of each weapon is also similar: spread is the all-around best, covering the whole screen in a hail of bullets and doing great damage in point-blank range; laser is very damaging even from a distance but you need to position yourself correctly; homing hits everything in all directions but doesn’t do much damage. The level design tries to make it more useful by introducing several areas where enemies come from behind but outside of that, it’s not worth it.
While the weapons are similar to those of Raiden, there is an interesting twist on the formula which makes powering yourself up a much different experience: your ship has ten weapon slots and when you collect a powerup, the first one is filled and the rest are pushed back one space; if a weapon is in the last slot, it’s removed.
When firing, all the slots are used so that you’re basically mixing and matching weapons according to the current situation – having a lot of spread slots will make it easy to blast through the level but the bosses might be easier if you get lasers. Filling all your slots with the same weapon type will make it extra powerful.
Deltazeal has a scoring system that is reminiscent of Battle Garegga: most of the enemies drop items which increase your score. Getting such an item makes the item dropped by the next enemy bigger and worth more points but letting one fall outside of the playing area means that you’re back to square one and have to start from the lowest value ones.
The system is much less forgiving than in Battle Garegga as you can’t ‘save’ your chain – in the aforementioned game if there were a few medals on the screen and you missed some, you could continue the chain by grabbing last of them before killing the next medal-dropping enemy; in Deltazeal it’s just not possible, you always reset your counter.
Your ship has a secondary weapon, a black hole that is charged by killing enemies and used by holding down the fire button (as opposed to tapping it or using a secondary autofire). The black hole cancels enemy bullets and turns them into medals of appropriate value. It’s fun to use but honestly it doesn’t seem useful outside of the bossfights.
The problem with this scoring system is that it doesn’t work to well with the game’s weapon system. Your ship is often not fast enough to grab all the medals dropped by enemies killed with a spread weapon so the resets are inevitable when using it. While keeping all your slots filled with lasers could be a good idea, it’s easier sad than done – it’s easy to accidentally grab something else when action gets hectic and removing an unwanted weapon slot requires not one but ten powerups. Thus, if you want really high scores, you need to be a perfectionist.
On the other hand, scoring in Deltazeal is only for bragging rights. The game gives you absolutely no extends – you start with three ships and that’s all you get. While it does create a lot of tension and is a very strong risk-reward separation, it removes some of the motivations for scoring with the reward having absolutely no tangible effect on the gameplay. It’s also another thing that makes Deltazeal so unforgiving – there is simply no way of getting the lost lives back.
The levels in Deltazeal often have secrets and alternate paths, although I still can’t figure out what triggers them – is it score, is it speed, is it the number of enemies killed, is it something extremely specific or is it all just random? The third and fifth levels even have two completely different variants. It all mixes things up in interesting ways and gives some scoring opportunities (the trains that may appear on level 2 are a goldmine) but it also makes a game a bit too unpredictable given how unforgiving it is.
Whether you’re going for survival or for a high score, you probably want to plan a route and pick your weapons – but all the variations make it more difficult. It doesn’t help that some of the alternate routes or different levels are disproportionately easier or harder than everything else – sometimes early in the first level a few strong enemies will appear that I’m usually not prepared to fight without dropping bombs.
Visually, Deltazeal is reminiscent of the aforementioned Raiden and Battle Garegga games: everything is blocky, mechanical, military-themed, and explosive. Vehicles emerge from the wrecks of other vehicles and combine with each other to form giant, intimidating bosses that you need to fight at the end of each levels.
The backgrounds are standard shmup environments: you fly above clouds, over oceans and cities, and even through huge millitary bases. There are usually two parallax background layers, which is always a plus. Everything looks pretty cool, however looking at it for more than half an hour really strains my eyes. Enabling a linear interpolation filter for graphics makes it slightly better but conversely it makes another thing worse: some of the objects (even without the filter) are simply hard to see, and unfortunately for the players, those things can kill you.
Bullets may blend in with the backgrounds or the explosions and several of the enemies (e.g. the first form of the first boss) have parts that you can fly over and parts which kill you on contact. You can distinguish these while looking closely, but they are easy to miss in the heat of the battle. Battle Garegga had the same problem, but in that game losing a single life was not such a big deal as not only you were given plenty of extends, you were also expected to die (intentionally if the need arose) to keep dynamic difficulty in check.
In Deltazeal, losing a life early can ruin your run so this is really annoying.
Music and sound in the game are nothing special. That’s not to say they aren’t good – the music makes you ready for action and is quite catchy, and the explosions are satisfying to listen to. It’s just that none of it is too memorable – it simply gets the job done.
In addition to the problems mentioned above, Deltazeal has several design issues which make it more annoying than it should be. First of all, sometimes the airborne enemies will appear from the sides, colliding with you and costing you a life. In different situations, they can ruin your medal chain – it’s possible to kill them as they enter the screen, causing the medal to be spawned offscreen (as it always spawns in the center of the destroyed ship), outside of your reach.
Also, while land-based enemies appearing from behind are usually not the problem as you can’t collide with them, the train section of level 2 has some annoying turrets which will fire at point-blank – which they wouldn’t do in a Cave game or in Battle Garegga. This wouldn’t even be a problem if not for the fact that the train moves rather slowly, so if you don’t have a homing weapon, attacking them at point-blank is the only option you have before they move into a more sensible range.
Deltazeal is a port of the arcade game known as G-Stream G2020. The game was then released on Xbox 360 under the name we know today in a Shooting Love 10 Shuunen compilation. The PC port is based on this version and unfortunately it shows. While features like achievements and online leaderboards are present, the whole things was clearly designed with the Xbox 360 controller in mind.
It’s like playing on an emulator – you can rebind different controls to different Xbox 360 keys and you can set anything on your keyboard to be interpreted as different Xbox 360 keys but you can’t set keyboard controls directly. Standard conventions of keyboard-based controls aren’t even used in the menus – the functions usually reserved for the ESC key are given to the S key because it’s mapped to the Xbox 360 start button; you can map start button to ESC but then you’ll be using ESC for continuing which is not intuitive.
Overall, Deltazeal is not a bad game. It’s a decent shooter with several ideas which elevate it above mediocrity. Unfortunately, some of those ideas just don’t work well together as if the designer just threw some gimmicks he could think of into the game. The game does stand out from the crowd a bit, but it also has some problems which will frustrate many players.
This, combined with the fairly lazy porting job and the unforgiving gameplay means that Deltazeal is not the best game for people new to the genre. Shmup veterans looking for a challenge will look past the flaws and enjoy its difficulty and its scoring system which rewards perfect play but if you’re not one of them, you’re better off playing a more polished game – on PC, it might be Crimzon Clover or Mushihimesama.
Deltazeal was reviewed on PC using a digital copy provided by Degica. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.
The Verdict: 6
- Fast-paced, old-school shmup action
- Good art direction
- A few unique ideas
- Several frustrating design flaws
- May cause eye strain
- Lazy porting