Bullet Soul: Infinite Burst review: Soul Power

The original Bullet Soul was a game with some neat ideas, but it didn’t execute on them as well as it could have. It was a typical bullet hell shooter in a lot of ways, but it emphasised the negation of enemy bullets as much as it did evasion and smooth flying. By destroying an enemy, all its on-screen bullets would turn into harmless, greyed-out, ghost-like bullet souls, which could be safely ignored.

The developer’s aim was to make a game that was more proactive than reactive. Instead of observing enemy patterns and navigating through their assaults by way of twitch reflexes and rote level memorisation, it encouraged players to forcibly create safe routes by prioritising the destruction of certain enemies. That worked to some degree, but it also—somewhat counter-intuitively—made the game a very passive experience. For the first couple of levels, you could practically clear everything but the boss without ever having to dodge a single shot.

Bullet Soul: Infinite Burst has the same goal of a more proactive shoot ‘em up experience, but it makes it work where Bullet Soul never quite succeeded. The whole scoring system has been revamped to encourage more aggressive and risky play, and while bullet cancelling is still a big part of the game, new enemy layouts make it harder to just sit back and let that mechanic do all the work.

Bullet Soul: Infinite Burst review

At the centre of Infinite Burst is the new Burst Mode and its new scoring system, which uses coins that function more or less like the medal systems you often see in shoot ‘em ups. Enemies drop coins when defeated, which you can (and should) collect to build up your “coin rate”, which acts as a score multiplier. If you ignore a coin for too long, it’ll float off-screen and reduce your coin rate, so there’s a focus on collecting every coin. With big swarms of enemies come big swarms of coins, and trying to collect them all and prioritise the ones closest to being lost—which are helpfully identified by a colour change—is it’s on chaotic, exciting game.

Coin pickups also fills the burst gauge; when that’s full, you can activate Combination Burst, putting you into a powered-up state for a short time. Combination Burst increases your damage output, gives your attacks a wider spread, and makes enemies drop more and higher-value coins. Any coins you pick up while Combination Burst is active also extend its length, and with careful planning and skillful play, you can stretch it out for quite a while—leading to ridiculous scores.

The higher you are in the screen when you kill an enemy, the more its dropped coins contribute toward the burst gauge. If you hang around near the bottom edge of the screen you’ll be safer, with more time to see and react to enemies flying in from the top, but it takes a long time to fill the gauge that way. Flying towards the top of the screen means gives you less time to react (and no time at all, if you fly as close to the top edge as you can), so it’s much riskier, but you also fill the burst gauge much quicker that way. Knowing when to be aggressive and when to pull back is one of the key factors in pushing for high scores in Bullet Soul: Infinite Burst.

Bullet Soul: Infinite Burst review

You want to keep Combination Burst active as much as possible, not just because of the direct score benefits, but also due to the way enemy patterns work. Basically, the quicker you kill the enemies that appear, the more that show up, leading to more coins and bigger scores. The damage and spread boosts that Combination Burst gives you mean quicker kills, in turn letting you fight more total enemies and get the biggest scores you can.

The logical approach is to use burst as soon as it’s full, thereby minimising the number of coins that are “wasted” by being picked up when you can’t fill your burst gauge any more. At the same time, it’s often beneficial to sit on a full gauge for a few moments; a well-timed burst can cover an almost endless string of coin drops, stretching it out much longer than an early burst that gets cut short by a gap in enemy formations. For the score chasers, finding the ideal moments in each level to burst will be a key part in maximising those numbers.

While all this is happening, the old bullet cancelling mechanic is still in effect: killing an enemy will cause any of its bullets to disappear. Unlike the original Bullet Soul, they don’t leave visible ghosts behind, but the function is still the same: clearing paths by prioritising the destruction over certain enemies to give yourself breathing room. Your choice of kill priorities won’t depend just on which foes have the trickiest shot patterns to deal with, but also on where coins have dropped and which ones need to be collected most urgently. 

Bullet Soul: Infinite Burst review

If you want the classic Bullet Soul experience, Infinite Burst also includes Normal Mode, which has the same mechanics as the original release. Without the need to worry about coins or a burst gauge, there’s less to think about (and less visual clutter on screen), so it’s a bit less daunting of an experience. There’s still something that feels good about collecting the ghosts of destroyed bullets, too, even if you’re not pushing for a high score. At the same time, it still has the same problems that this system had in vanilla Bullet Soul, where a very passive style of play is the path of least resistance. This mode still uses Infinite Burst’s new level layouts, which go some way to addressing that issue, but doesn’t incentivise smart movement the way most shoot ‘em ups (and Infinite Burst’s new systems) do.

Beyond all that, Bullet Soul: Infinite Burst is more or less the same as the original. It’s got the same bright art and electric soundtrack, making the whole game overflow with energy. It’s got the same characters, rich in personality as their designs have been from the start, though Loop is now a standard character playable in all modes. Once again, there’s little by way of plot, even by shoot ‘em up standards. It has the same lack of difficulty settings, and—for better or worse—it similarly leans towards the easy side as far as bullet hells go.

Unless you’re particularly attached to the enemy patterns of the original, Bullet Soul: Infinite Burst is easily the optimal version of the game. The original scoring system is still here in Normal Mode if that’s what you prefer, while Burst Mode offers a revamped, deeper twist on the same ideas. It might have been nice to have the original levels included here as a bonus (rather than releasing the two games separately mere months apart), but as it stands, Infinite Burst is the only Bullet Soul you need.

Bullet Soul: Infinite Burst is developed and published by Mages. It’s available now for PC and Xbox 360.

A press copy was supplied by the publisher for this review.

Matthew Codd

Matthew is a writer based in Wellington. He loves all things pop culture, and is fascinated by its place in history and the wider social context.