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Konami’s latest game turns the retro space shooter into a blockbuster

A pilot sits in a ship in Cygni: All Guns Blazing.

After nearly a decade of treading water, Konami is slowly rebuilding itself. The legendary publisher will release remakes of both Silent Hill 2 and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, both of which will usher Konami back into the world of big-budget console gaming. Those projects join a collection of retro revivals, including this year’s Contra: Operation Galuga, showing that the company is willing to return to its most beloved franchises. It isn’t just digging up old IP, though. Its publishing efforts are still looking toward the future, even if through nostalgia-tinted shades.

In that sense, its most intriguing game isn’t one of its mega remake but something much smaller. Cygni: All Guns Blazing, a new space shoot ’em up launching on August 6, is the debut game from developer KeelWorks with publishing being handled by Konami. It’s a callback to one of gaming’s foundational genres as players blast waves of enemies from a top-down perspective. I recently demoed the upcoming game, checking out its first few levels. It’s both familiar and a wild swing for the genre, bringing in more complex mechanics and a cinematic art style. Call it modern nostalgia — a phrase that might just describe exactly what to expect from a refreshed Konami in 2024.

Shoot ’em up, evolved

When I say “space shooter,” you probably have a strong visual in your head already. I imagine that you’re picturing a vertical scrolling screen with a small ship at the bottom that unleashes energy shots at enemies dancing in patterned waves. You’d be halfway to understanding Cygni at that point, but you’d still be surprised as soon as you booted it up. It opens with a fully animated cutscene that looks like it was pulled from a Pixar movie. We see our plucky pilot jump out of bed and get ready for a mission all while some energetic music plays. Once I get some story setup and jump into my plane, the camera seamless swoops out of the cockpit and locks into that familiar top-down perspective. Its an early sign that Cygni isn’t just out to make something retro; it wants to evolve the shoot ’em up genre.

That’s immediately apparent once I start shooting. I assume I can just jump in without a tutorial and start firing off shots, but I can instantly tell that I’m not getting something as I’m torn apart. Sure enough, I am. Cygni is much closer to a modern space shooter like Ikaruga than a pick-up-and-play retro one. A tutorial teaches me that I have a set amount of energy represented by bars around my ship. I can allocate that energy to my shield or weapons. Putting it toward my guns will make my shots stronger but leave me defenseless, and vice versa. I can juggle that dynamic on the fly with my mouse wheel, which instantly brings a more active layer of ship management to the genre.

A ship fires at an alien ship in Cygni: All Guns Blazing.

That’s not the only twist. In addition to my standard shots, I can hold down a button to drop ground attacks. I’ll need to pay attention to where enemies are on the screen to make sure I’m hitting them with the right weapon. And even then, there’s still more to learn: an auto-fire toggle, lock-on, RPG progression, and even a pattern maker that lets me shape my shot spread. It’s a lot to take in, which makes it clear that KeelWorks is aiming to bring more depth to a straightforward genre.

With a better knowledge of what Cygni is going for, I jump back into the first level and get a handle on how to play. The basics are easy enough: click a button to shoot approaching enemies. It’s when I start to engage with the rest of my toolset that I start to feel like more of a conductor. When some weak enemies approach, I push my energy to my weapons and lock-on to wipe them out with ease. When I hit a big boss, I dial up my shields and start planning out my hits a little more carefully.

What I appreciate here is that this isn’t a “bullet hell” game where taking one or two hits blows my ship to pieces. Players are expected to get hit — a lot. The action is chaotic with enemy shots coming in dense waves. My shield helps me tank those hits when I need to, giving me some flexibility in tricky stretches of a level. There’s an art to knowing when to play offense and defense.

A ship blasts aliens in Cygni: All Guns Blazing.

It can all be overwhelming at times. KeelWorks is going for a visual spectacle not often seen in the genre, and that does create some legibility issues. The screen is multilayered, with action happening both right in front of me and on a lower level. One section has me flying over a battlefield as my comrades fight off some aliens. I flip on my ground attacks and start dropping bombs to assist them. Moments of air-to-ground interplay aren’t always that clear, though. Sometimes enemies can feel like they’re right in between, leaving me flustered as I try to figure out which attack I’m supposed to use. Now add in a screen full of lasers, enemies, detailed backgrounds, and explosions; it’s a lot.

I imagine that will be the appeal to those who really want to dig in here. Like any good shoot ’em up, these are challenging levels that players will likely need to play again and again to master. Having so many tools to play with, and so much to see on each attempt, makes the idea of replaying stages a little more palatable. Every piece feels like it’s built to keep the heart of the genre in tact while better incentivizing new players to engage with classic loops. I’ve yet to get deep into its progression hooks and pattern creator, so I’ll need to see how those make its handful of story stages feel different each time since the levels themselves are static.

I appreciate what Cygni: All Guns Blazing is going for here, and Konami by extension. It feels like a spirited attempt to preserve gaming’s roots and prove that we’re not done experimenting with old genres. KeelWorks is already making a strong case for it here, though the ultimate test will come from how younger players with no nostalgia for space shoot ’em ups react. Can something old still appeal to newcomers through a modern sheen? That seems to be the wider question Konami itself is intent to answer right now.

Cygni: All Guns Blazing launches on August 6 for PS5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.

Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
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