With all-new entries in its flagship Metal Gear Solid series still on hiatus, Konami's release schedule over the last few years has felt thin. Well, except for when it comes to Yu-Gi-Oh! games and Pachinko machines I suppose.
It was a very nice surprise, then, to be invited along to a Konami preview event where I got to go hands on with not one, but four upcoming Konami games due out at various points this year. The collection of games on show were rather eclectic and they spanned multiple genres ranging from shmups to family-friendly party games but, crucially, it was just nice to see Konami acting like a video game publisher again.
During the event, I was given 50 minute hands-ons with Super Bomberman R 2, CYGNI: All Guns Blazing, Super Crazy Rhythm Castle and of course the biggest draw of all, Metal Gear Solid: Master Collection Vol. 1. You can listen to me tell Aoife Wilson all about my time with that, and all of the other games on show, in the video below, or you can go read all about them in word form just underneath the player.
Super Bomberman R 2
As a huge fan of Super Bomberman R Online's 64 player battle royale mode, Battle 64, I couldn't help but feel incredibly disappointed with Super Bomberman R 2.
Super Bomberman R Online started as a Stadia-exclusive game before it jumped over to all the other major platforms as a free-to-play title which provided me with many hours of fun. The fact it was free and had crossplay functionality across all platforms meant that it was an ideal game for some community based live stream shenanigans, or at least it was until December 1st 2022 when Konami shutdown the servers and killed the game for good.
Battle 64 then was the first thing I checked out when I sat down to play Super Bomberman R 2 and it was almost identical to the previously free version that I'd played before, bar a couple of new unlockable characters. That means any fans of Battle 64 will now need to fork out around £45 if they want to play a game that they had previously enjoyed for free. Super bummer, man.
Now obviously there's more to Super Bomberman R 2 than just Battle 64 and so I also tried out the new Castle mode where attacking players must open treasure chests that defending players are guarding (confusing), the Grand Prix mode where teams must compete to collect the most amount of crystals (boring) and of course the standard Bomberman battle mode that everyone knows and loves (classic).
Super Bomberman R 2 also comes with a single-player campaign which we weren't allowed to play or record footage of for fear of 'spoilers', which seems bizarre to me as I can't believe there is anyone out there who cares that deeply about Bomberman lore. But you never know, I guess!
Most notably about this collection however, is that I played it on the Switch and it seemed to perform rather badly in moments of high action. Even though I was only playing locally or against bots, often when big explosions happened the game would pause for a second, or chug along until the dust had settled. I'd have maybe expected that if I was playing online with some bad ping going on, but it was worrying to see this happen offline.
CYGNI: All Guns Blazing
As someone who rarely plays bullet hell SHMUPS due to how hard I find them, CYGNI: All Guns Blazing was a very pleasant surprise!
Developed by Scottish studio KeelWorks Ltd, CYNGI is a top-down, twin-stick vertical scrolling shooter that brings both old-school Konami arcade nostalgia and a dose of modernity, thanks to its gorgeous visuals and accessible gameplay that is less punishing for people who aren't massive fans of the bullet hell genre.
For my hands-on with CYGNI, I was allowed to play 3 levels from the game, with the first level lasting around 20 minutes and the other two (levels 3 and 5 I think they were) coming in at around 10 minutes of heavy blasting. Just like most bullet hell style games, the action on screen was overwhelming at times but the game's core mechanic of balancing your shield and weapon systems played a huge part in keeping me alive.
Destroyed enemies will drop energy pickups quite regularly which constatly refill your defenses but, at the touch of a button, you can assign that energy to your weapons in order to boost your offensive capabilites. Or, if you end up in trouble, you can do the opposite and power down your weapons in order to give yourself a bit more alive time. This means more skilled players will be able to max out their firepower while newer players will still be able to last a lot longer than your classic one hit kill shmups from the past.
While I did enjoy CYGNI's flashy HDR visuals, especially the neon laser fire and the impressive explosions, the rest of it was rather 'grey' to say the least and this meant that the levels I played through did feel rather samey, despite each one having a different boss battle at the end.
CYGNI was also the only game on show that I couldn't capture for myself, due to the fact that there were a fair few bugs present in the build. The game crashed to the dashboard for me during a boss fight and the first level was severely unbalanced but with a TBD release date at the moment, there should be plenty of time for some polish.
With all that said though, I do see CYGNI as a great entry point for people who've always struggled with top-down shooters before and, as it's also playable in 2 player co-op, this could be the stepping stone that shmup noobs need in order to get into the genre.
Super Crazy Rhythm Castle
What do you get when you cross something like Overcooked with Guitar Hero? Most people would think the answer to that would be, 'a complete mess', but in the case of Super Crazy Rhythm Castle the result was surprisingly charming!
The whole premise of Super Crazy Rhythm Castle is as absurd as its fever-dream-like level design. Each of the 1 to 4 players picks a wacky character and then they make their way through the Rhythm Castle working co-operatively to juggle playing music, Guitar Hero style by matching button presses to on-screen prompts, with bizarre tasks like throwing beans at angry egg plants.
Unfortunately I was only able to play the game solo so I don't think I got the full effect of this one, what with it being a party game and all. To the game's credit it did play absolutely fine in solo mode and the multi-genre toe-tapping tunes I played along with were a joy to listen to. I was also constantly surprised by the originality and inventiveness of the mini games and the game world in general so it'll be great for those with a short attention span too.
If you're a fan of family-friendly co-operative party games I'd say that Super Crazy Rhythm Castle is definitely one to listen out for.
Metal Gear Solid: Master Collection Vol. 1
Let's be honest, you probably skipped all the other write-ups and came straight here, right? Honestly, I don't really blame you, this is the main event of course and it's a collection that legions of Metal Gear Solid fans will be chomping at the bit to get.
But it's not just Metal Gear Solid fans who will get something out of the Metal Gear Solid: Master Collection Vol. 1. I'm very much a Metal Gear noob, and the only one I've ever completed was Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance on the original Xbox. In fact, this event was the very first time I'd even tried Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater and, quite honestly, I left feeling really excited by the prospect of finally having a convient, modern way to rectify a huge hole in my gaming knowledge.
While comparisons can be drawn between Metal Gear Solid: Master Collection Vol. 1 and Konami's previously released Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection, I came away feeling like this collection was more akin to the Atari 50 Collection. The Master Collection is nowhere near as detailed as Atari's interactive museum piece and it's not as nicely presented, but it does still feel like you're holding an important slice of gaming history in your hands, especially when it comes with a lot of extra goodies like it does here. There's screenplays for Metal Gear Solids 1 through 3, game soundtracks, downloadable graphic novels and even a huge digtal masterbook that covers events from across the whole series. Plenty then for mega fans to sink their teeth into as well.
Due to the limited time I had with the collection, which I played and captured on Nintendo Switch, I was only able to sink 10 minutes or so into each game, but I came away impressed nonetheless. The NES and MSX games run as expected, in 4:3 ratio with customisable borders, as does the original Metal Gear Solid, which also comes packaged with the Special Missions, VR Missions and Integral versions of the game.
Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3 however were the HD versions from Bluepoint that released as part of the HD Collection in 2012 and, according to other outlets like IGN, these were running in 720p at 30fps on the Switch. This is bound to be a disappointment for fans of the original HD Collection which reaches 60fps on the Xbox Series X but, as a newcomer to most of the games, I've got to say, this didn't really dampen the experience for me and I didn't even notice the frame rate drops that others spotted in my video coverage (13:49 and 16:30 are the timecodes if you want to check out some examples for yourself). I guess I just expected old games to be a bit creaky.
Due to the current discourse going on around the technical aspects of this collection, it would certainly make sense for Konami to spend the next month or so tightening up the ports so that anyone who forks out for it gets the definitive Metal Gear experience with this collection. It would seem silly for this not to be the case and so I reached out to Konami for clarification to see if the end product would target 60fps, especially on XSX, PS4 and PS5, but so far I've not heard anything back. With that in mind, if you're really particular about your Metal Gear experiences, I'd probably hold off pre-ordering the collection until Konami, or someone else (hello, Digital Foundry), can confirm either way.
For me though, I'm not too fussy. I don't own any of the games in the collection and as someone who sits on the older side of the gaming (ZX) spectrum, a slow framerate here and there isn't really going to bother me to much. It's just going to be nice to finally have a chance to check out these classic games that I've heard so much about. That way, one day, I might not have to pretend that I understand all of the Metal Gear Solid references that my colleagues keep making in meetings...