It’s time for another Astro Port game here on Blissful Death, and this time around we’re taking a look at Armed 7 DX, the latest version of a game that has appeared on several different platforms over the course of half a decade or so. Initially it showed up on PC at Comiket in 2008, was localised for PC in 2013, was brought to Steam in 2015, got a port to Dreamcast in 2019 then subsequently appeared as part of PixelHeart and Storybird Games’ excellent Shmup Collection package for Nintendo Switch and Wii U, and as a standalone download on the Nintendo eShop.
Armed 7 unfolds in the far-off future year of 1989, 12 years after the Gogoh invasion of Earth. The war ultimately had a surprisingly positive effect, though: the amount of alien technology humanity was exposed to during the conflict meant that the world was able to make huge technological progress in a very short space of time, and international conflict almost became a thing of the past. The Earth united beneath the banner of the Earth Federation, and all seemed well.
Of course, all was not well in the long term, since the amusingly named Neo Roland Order decided to show up, start blowing things up and claiming that no, in fact they should be the ones to rule the Earth. So they stole a bunch of weaponry and launched an assault on the planet. Now it’s time to fight back against these bunch of horrible bastards and bring peace back to the planet by killing everyone who might stand in its way.
Armed 7 is a mecha shoot ’em up that is perhaps most readily compared to Capcom’s classic “jetpack shooters” such as Forgotten Worlds. By this I mean that it’s possible to adjust the direction of your shots by moving without shooting; in this case, however, rather than being able to fire in all directions as in Capcom’s games, you can simply aim up and down a bit. It’s still useful, though, as it allows you to position yourself out of the way of incoming bullets and missiles and still hit a target.
The game begins with several different possible weapon loadouts. Your main and subweapons both fire when you hold the fire button, while a charge shot builds up power over time and can be released with a separate button. There are four options for each of the main, sub and charge weapons, and different combinations make for surprisingly different game experiences; the default loadout emphasises precise shooting with a single barrage of bullets with supporting missiles, while other options include spread shots, lasers to cut a path through enemies and more.
Being a shoot ’em up built for the home rather than the arcade, Armed 7 is quite player-friendly, with its easier modes presenting a very accessible one-credit clear possibility even for relative shoot ’em up newcomers — more hardcore shoot ’em up fans will find much joy and challenge in the “Insane” difficulty, however.
Part of the way in which the game supports players is with regular appearances of power-ups: these appear in clearly designed ships that fly in from behind and must be shot before they fly away. Red ships drop power-ups to your shot, while blue ships drop shields, which act as temporary hit points on top of your main life bar.
These power-up ships come frequently enough that you can keep yourself pretty safe for much of the game if you’re reasonably careful — but that doesn’t mean you should become complacent. Bullet patterns become more complex as the game progresses, and you start being confronted with a wider variety of different enemy types, including both popcorn enemies and more substantial foes. The latter in particular are worth paying attention to, since obliterating them quickly can result in multiplied score values.
One of the best things about Armed 7 is how it wordlessly tells a story as you progress through the stages. There’s often a lot of interesting things going on in the background, and on more than one occasion you’ll see the boss for the stage you’re on wreaking havoc in the scenery before showing up in the foreground to take you on directly. The final boss battle, which unfolds as you’re both burning up on re-entry to the Earth’s atmosphere, is also a wonderfully dramatic moment.
Visually, Armed 7’s DX version is a little odd. If you look closely at the sprites in particular, a lot of them are very blurry and there’s no means of switching to a more traditional unfiltered “pixel” look — the player sprite in particular suffers quite a bit in this way. But in practice, you’ll tend to find that the game is easy to parse and understand while you’re playing, and you probably won’t be inspecting fine details too closely anyway. In some ways, you can even look on the blurry sprites as simulating the feel of playing on an old television.
Where things do fare a little better is the background detail. Each stage is very different to the last, and there’s some wonderful use of colour to provide a different feel to each locale you find yourself fighting in, as well as some nice subtle parallax scrolling effects to provide depth.
It’s by no means the most beautiful shoot ’em up you’ll ever see, but it certainly has character; Astro Port’s stuff certainly has a distinct visual style about it that is immediately identifiable, and Armed 7 is no exception to that.
Sound, meanwhile, is excellent, with some solid musical accompaniment to the action, helpful sound cues for things like your charge shot being ready to fire, and some satisfyingly meaty explosions.
For those looking for truly spectacular shoot ’em ups, Armed 7 might initially seem like a bit of a hard sell due to its visual jank in particular — but give it a chance and you’ll find a highly playable, very enjoyable and ridiculously addictive shoot ’em up to enjoy; like most of Astro Port’s other stuff, this one will keep you coming back for quite some time to come.
Armed 7 is available now for PC, and its enhanced DX version is available for Nintendo Switch both separately and as part of the Shmup Collection. The physical version of Shmup Collection is still available from publisher PixelHeart.
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