I love a twin stick shooter. Their simplicity, ease, and often hectic gameplay is the perfect mix for a quick and fun gaming session. Demon Crystals is one of a number of twin stick shooters that offers all of those elements, but how does it stand up to the rest? Read on find out, or if you don’t want to read then scroll down and watch the video review at the bottom.
Demons Crystals, brought to us by Badland Games, is an anime themed shoot fest where you lead Urican demons through countless hazards to bring peace to their world.
There is no complicated plot to Demon Crystals, what you see is pretty much what you get, the action, however, has you gripped making a complex story unnecessary. Each stage sets out a particular challenge, this could be to kill a certain amount of enemies or collect a certain amount of crystals. The levels cannot be cleared unless you complete the challenge.
In true anime style, there are loads of weapon pickups that offer some crazy over the top weaponry to help you with your quest. Each pickup will only last a limited amount of time but there are plenty to grab so you’re never short of a decent weapon. It is virtually impossible to complete a level without the firepower of a pickup, so make sure you search the whole area to find the next weapon. Along with the weapon pickups are orbs that add extra firepower, pickups for extra time, health or speed. There is even a mushroom that you collect that increases your size allowing you simply walk over your enemies.
Like most game of this type, it is sometimes not about where you’re shooting and more about dodging incoming bullets or enemies. After a set number of stages there’s a boss level, these are again about dodging. It can require some perseverance but it’s still fun nonetheless.
One thing that did strike me was the awesome sound. The music is very high quality and had me humming along at times. There are four different demons to choose from but they don’t really do anything different from each other. With the basic XP system your demon will level up but this seems pointless because it is purely to take on more difficult levels and enemies. There is an option, however, to have up to three mates join in and take on the horde but this could prove to be very hectic, but worth a try anyway.
Despite its lack of depth, I had an absolute blast playing it and I think you will too. If I had one criticism then it would be that each demon could do with a super ability, a bit of a panic button if you like, to take out all the enemies on screen at once.
There is no tactical gameplay and to be honest, once you’ve had a good go at it is has the risk of sitting in your installed games all lonely and gathering dust. Demon Crystals is cheap and definitely worth a playthrough, I loved it. At just shy of £4 it’s a pocket money game but unfortunately that’s as far as it goes. It’s not horrible and it’s not amazing, what Demon Crystals is, however, is a lot of fun and worth anyone’s money.
Thanks to Badland Games and Xbox for supporting TiX
Ant Workshop have announce their new game, Dead End Job, will be coming to Xbox One in February 2018, and it’ll be publicly playable for the first time at EGX Rezzed in London later this month.
Dead End Job merges the frantic, addictive, highly replayable gameplay of a procedurally generated twin-stick shooter with the iconic look of a 90s cartoon.
You take on the role of a worker at Ghoul-B-Gone – the #1 experts in paranormal pest control. Ghosts are captured using a tug-of-war mechanic and every ghost you catch, citizen rescued, and job completed is added to the client’s bill. Every week in-game you’re competing against the company golden boy for the coveted “Employee of the Week star” based on the amount of money you earned.
Have you got what it takes to be the best at putting pests to rest?
Dead End Job features stunning cartoon-quality high resolution artwork by Joe Blakeston (Aardman, BBC and RSC), inspired by favourites like Ren & Stimpy. As well as an original soundtrack by the award-winning audio designer Will Morton (Grand Theft Auto series). The addition of Twitch integration allows viewers to help or hinder the streamer by choosing their power-ups.
8DAYS is infuriating. Every step is dangerous, every fight hard fought, and every weapon precious. Indeed, 8DAYS’ mix of twin-stick shooting, bullet hell and stealth is an intriguing and highly challenging hybrid of genres that often feels insurmountable but is oh so satisfying when you overcome it. It’s the best kind of infuriating.
You are an elite mercenary working for the private military company G.O.D Inc. (Gold, Oil and Diamonds), undergoing operations all over the world to serve your outfit’s clients the best you can. This means murder, mayhem, and war mongering. It makes for a nice change, playing in the mud a little, with no clear heroes and villains just different shades of grey. Of course, a story of betrayal and conspiracies soon unfolds around you, but for the most part it simply facilitates new locations for you to struggle through against superior numbers and weaponry.
Equipment is OSP (on-site procurement) with only two slots available to you. Rocks, guns, knives, rocket launchers and more can be picked up and utilised against your enemies, allowing you to brutally bludgeon, shoot, slice and blow-up those that stand in your way. It’s a bloodthirsty and vicious existence serving as a mercenary, but a necessary one, drop your guard and you won’t be returning home in one piece.
Enemies will react lightning fast to your presence, sending a hail of bullets your way, not dissimilar to a bullet hell shooter, or chasing you with their massive knives where one hit can kill you. Even some of the local fauna will attack on site and ruin your day. Furthermore, you can fall off cliffs and fall in rivers, making awareness of your surroundings a crucial skill. It often feels like everything is out to kill you, and it’s equally exhilarating and terrifying, thanks largely to how insanely fast the action is and how easy it is to die.
Fortunately, progress can be broken down into screens. Each time you reach the edge of a screen and move to a new area it acts as a checkpoint. This allows you to break down the challenge into chunks, and once you figure out the troop placement for a particular screen, you can begin to work your way through it, engaging groups individually, skirting round them entirely, or just running for the edge in a mad dash. It’s completely up to you, and each screen is large enough to provide some tactical options, allowing you to make progress through multiple styles of play.
You’re sent on multiple operations with each one offering an entirely different location and set of enemies to overcome. There’s some nice variety here, whether it’s outdoors in a dusty desert or lush forest, or inside an advanced facility. All of which are superbly designed to provide multiple paths to your objective, or large screen where you can choose your method of engagement. Midway through an operation you’ll face a mini-boss, testing your reactions and accuracy thoroughly, then at the end of each operation another boss will challenge you. These encounters offer a mix of threatening and quirky opponents, in line with the action parody tone of the game. They’re delightfully deranged and dangerous.
It can certainly get frustrating when you fail to get past a screen multiple times (see my video), or can’t figure out the best path forwards, but with each screen offering a discrete challenge and a checkpoint, perseverance will eventually get you through. And it’s cleverly designed to make the frustrations as fleeting as possible. Bringing a second player along for the ride in local coop often turns the frustrating into hilarious shared disasters, and the stunning pixel art portrays the blood, gore and murder in a rather fetching way. Sure it’s challenging, but it’s also fun, funny and compelling enough to keep you playing.
Thanks to Xbox and Badland Games for supporting TiX
Livelock is one of the best examples of its genre. It’s an impressive package that expertly balances its setting, mechanics, difficulty, pacing and visual prowess to provide an isometric twin-stick shooter that’s superb fun to play alone or with friends.
You play as one of three Capital Intellects; human minds uploaded into towering robots armed to the teeth with weapons. You are a failsafe, designed to fix any problems that occur over the eons between Earth being irradiated with gamma rays, destroying all organic life, and the time humans can return to the planet, their minds having been stored digitally in several massive storage servers. Of course, something went wrong, with the planet now embroiled in a war between robotic factions. You and your two fellow Capital Intellects must bring an end to the corrupted robotic forces and secure the stored human minds.
It’s an intriguing story that spins a pleasant tale with a handful of twists and revelations over the course of the 6-8 hour campaign. Furthermore, your robot foes have their own leadership and elite forces for you to exchange dialogue with in a Saturday morning cartoon fashion that’s hard not to enjoy. Of course, the Transformers comparison is inevitable, this is especially so with the voice-work, which is largely excellent and some notable one-liners serving up a chuckle or smile, however, it’s treads a darker line than that of everybody’s favourite robots in disguise, therefore it soon differentiates itself enough to become its own original thing.
Whilst an intricate tale is being spun, this translates mechanically to shooting and bashing copious amounts of robots, and it’s terrific fun. The isometric view makes everything looks so small yet at the same time, thanks to detailed environments with derelict buildings and vehicles as well as natural features such as trees and rivers, also provides a wonderful sense of scale. Whichever of the three robots you choose – Hex the ranged weapon specialist, Vanguard the melee specialist, or Catalyst the support specialist – you’re inhabiting a hulking great metal beast of a machine. During the explosive fire fights you’ll knock cars incidentally and send them skidding across the battlefield. Meanwhile, you can walk through most walls, suffering the slightest of slowdown to your gait. You absolutely feel like a huge, unstoppable robot, which is excellent.
The sound design further sales your metal might, with thunderous steps as you walk and shriek of steel on steel as your shred your enemies component from component. Additionally, absolutely stunning visuals and enemy design provides unique robotic monstrosities to combat, a strikingly saturated colour palette, and some of the most impressive particle and weapon effects seen in the genre. But it’s the shadows that really pull you in. Everything onscreen casts one, with framerates largely staying smooth and fast. As the battlefield is changed by the destruction of walls and scattering of debris, new shadows are formed dynamically. It’s marvellous.
However, as previously hinted, there are occasions when the on-screen action compromises the framerate, but it’s thankfully rare and short-lived when it does occur. Additionally, Livelock supports up to three player cooperative play but online only, which is a bit of a shame for couch co-op fans.
If you do venture online for cooperative play you’ll find excellent difficulty scaling to match the player count. Whether playing alone or with others, the challenge is ideally crafted to offer you an intense fight that is often barely winnable, keeping the satisfaction of victory always high and rewarding.
Shooting and smashing robots in intense battles across a variety of locations ends up feeling more akin to Diablo than any traditional twin-stick shooter. The inclusion of melee combat options as well as a host of different special attacks on cool-downs, of which you can only have three equipped at one time, further this similarity. A secondary mode to the story-driven campaign, Open Protocol, builds on the comparison, allowing you to take on levels without the narrative threads and concentrate on high scores and gaining more experience. With experience comes more weapon options to unlock and upgrade, allowing you to customise your characters to a significant degree, even to the point of changing their class specific specialisation, such as equipping Vanguard with ranged weapons instead of his default melee ones. It’s superbly customisable and allows you to shape your characters however you feel or to what best suits your team if playing online.
With weapons and abilities unlocked with experience, loot is kept to a minimum and comes in the form of Firmware for your characters, allowing you to customise their colour, their head and their cape. Collecting capes may sound daft but seeing it flap in the breeze as you tear through hordes of mechanical foes is both heroic and awesome.
Indeed, Livelock is excellent, from the hugely satisfying destruction from the environment and enemies, the complex and unique enemy design – to the point where they’ll limp under the weight of their arsenal – to the thematically excellent soundtrack with unexpected layers of instruments that gives Livelock a one of a kind musical score. It’s a tremendous title and a champion of its genre, hurt quite a bit by a lack of local coop and ever so slightly by the odd hit to the framerate.
Full Mojo Rampage takes a new route on the well trodden path of roguelike games to try to bring us a new blend of gaming mechanics to the genre. Alongside the tried and tested roguelike c0omponents, FMR utilises a unique mix of twin stick shooter, Light RPG Character development with a Caribbean façade that makes this dungeon crawler feel decidedly original when viewed against its contemporaries.
You are placed in the role of a masked voodoo houngan, charged by his Loa with completing a series of challenges for their approval. Across four disparate chapters, each comprised of a randomly assigned and generated level, each with a specific requirement for success. These range from closing magic portals that are randomly located within a map, rescuing zombie servants from skeletal attackers, to simply collecting items that are distributed about the map.
As each game begins, the random numbers begin to shape the world, not only constructing the layout of the levels within, but also where they appear on the overworld map. This variation allows you to take numerous different approaches to the game depending on how the environment is constructed. You could find that the first stage has two side quests associated; allowing you to earn some additional experience or even a shrine or two to allow you to earn or modify some new items to boost your characters stats, or you could find that you are forced straight on to the next chapter without any additional challenges. Core chapters also tend to feature a boss battle, who typically has a far more powerful and potent range of attacks than the generic mobs you encounter throughout. That is not to say these mobs are easy.
In typical rougelike style, you have but one life to live in each adventure. Pick a fight with too many mobs at once and you may find yourself restarting much sooner than you first thought, as their primary mode is straight up attack, and you can find yourself surrounded by enemies If you are a little bit gung ho in how you approach exploring the map. To aid you in this and improve your survivability somewhat, each map also has items and power ups that drop regularly to give you a fighting chance. Some give more benign bonuses, such as increased movement speed or additional health, while others directly upgrade your wand, (albeit temporarily), or increase your overall damage output.
All the while, destroyed enemies have a chance to drop health orbs that allow you to continue battling for longer. Other items have active abilities, sometimes one shot only, allowing you to cast damaging spells or summon powerful companions. At some points, you may do enough to impress your current Loa, and they may grant you a boon that when used will summon them into battle alongside you.
These items are dropped on death, but experience carries throughout, and it is the development of your characters stats that truly allows you to attain access to the end game. As this is a roguelike, you will inevitably die a lot throughout your attempt to conquer the game and when you do, you have to restart the chapter all over again, which can be extremely frustrating or challenging depending on how many times you have already die so far. By levelling your character you can improve skills and stats such as attack rate, damage output, hit points or movement speed, which allows you to make your character that little bit stronger making the next try to overcome the chapter that little bit easier.
Character customisation is not just down to how you level your character and what you have in your inventory, but is also dictated by choices you make when you begin. Your sponsor Loa, initially Baron Samedi while others unlock later, grants you two unique spells and each of the eight Spirits provide different boons. As you progress through the game you will also unlock additional voodoo masks and voodoo pins that add additional perks to your characters, and although the variation is not unlimited it does offer a fairly comprehensive level of individuality that can be attributed to your own character.
The multiplayer is alos well worth mentioning as it provides significant amounts of fun both off and online. The addition of friends allows for an easier time throughout the levels, but this comes at the cost of losing track of some of what is going on, especially when you have the maximum four players running around together.
The difficulty itself is escalates quickly, and you will find yourself dying extremely easily on the later levels of the first chapter when you first start out, unless your reactions are superlative. Basic enemies on level 3 will easily take you out in two hits, where you could quick easily tank a dozen or so hits in the first level. This obviously changes once you start levelling up, but it can seem over punishing to anyone relatively new to the roguelike game style. This, coupled with the repetitive enemy types did cause me to struggle to maintain my interest on several occasions, but the variety and customisation allowed me to push through this barrier. Hopefully, the same will be said of joe blogs on the street.
The world of Spareware is a bleak and desolate one. A catastrophe has befallen the planet, making life extremely difficult in the devastated remains of Europe. Domes have been erected around major cities to protect them from the hazardous environment out with their protection, yet life under the dome is hard. Food riots and anarchists attempt to undermine the system while attempts to explore space for a new planet have been hampered by a clone war on Mars, and the loss of the Moon stations severing contact with all the Scout ships.
These domes are controlled by a Central AI, HelOS in the case of the Helsinki Dome, which runs manages the system according to the VOTE, the democratic system in which the population makes decisions involving the dome. Detecting that a recent vote to remove support for Northern Immigrants would cause 87% of them to die causes a conflict in HelOS schedule between its directive to process the vote and the 1st Law of Robotics preventing actions that would harm a human.
HelOS plans to circumvent that dilemma by creating a new Automata, You, in order to destroy the central server and annihilate the VOTE.
Spareware has an interesting premise overlaying what is a relatively straightforward and polished twin stick shooter. Selecting an area of the world map, you construct then invade with your Automata to gather resources and equipment in order to lay siege to the central core with the intent of stopping the annihilation of a vast swathe of humanity.
The World map has four key archetypes; Fuel Stations where you collect Cells used to maintain and service your Robot, Depots which hold upgrades for your robots, Gates that separate each ring of the dome from the other, and unallocated zones which must be traversed on your way to the centre. Each time you enter a zone, you select your robots head, left and right armaments, body type and legs. Each variation conveys unique bonuses to your character; be it increased movement speed, toughness, magazine size, health or reload speed, while each weapon has its own benefits, be it the rapid fire bolter, the single strike Railgun, the widespread flechette or even the more exotic hellwhip, cancannon or eBola.Each area is procedurally generated, and you are planted in with waypoint markers to the exit and any collectables or gates you must destroy. For Cells, you must defend an area while you hack a terminal against waves of opponents intent on your destruction while Depot items are transferred to you instantly but you must carry them successfully to the exit in order to continue using them. This may seem simple, but it becomes more difficult with how your
Each area is procedurally generated, and you are planted in with waypoint markers to the exit and any collectables or gates you must destroy. For Cells, you must defend an area while you hack a terminal against waves of opponents intent on your destruction while Depot items are transferred to you instantly but you must carry them successfully to the exit in order to continue using them. This may seem simple, but it becomes more difficult with how your bot takes damage. Each of your component parts has a Cell count which must be less than your total Cells in order to take them into the zone. As such, the more beneficial armour and weapons are more expensive to deploy.
As you battle enemies and take damage you begin to lose parts, starting with your head. Once destroyed any benefits it conveyed are lost, and any cell cost spent on the item is forfeit. Make it to the exit without losing any parts, and you receive a full refund of the costs of outfitting your bot. If you are on a Depot level, and the component you collected is destroyed you will need to run it again in order to have it available for any future battles.
Combat is handled in time-honoured tradition, with your right gun fired and reloaded using your right trigger and bumper respectively, and an identical configuration for your left weapon. Each weapons ammo counter is shown on a concentric circle around your character, with your current health showing as a full circle bar surrounding you.
As you progress through the zones you gather experience for the enemies you defeat and at the end of each round you can spend these points in one of your three main skill trees. Support gives active and passive healing, Juggernaut aids in your defensive abilities while Scout primarily focuses on movement skills. Each of the trees also has additional skills which can be utilised giving you more damage with two of the same weapon equipped, increasing your reload speed or even the ability to drop mines or activate protective drones.
While Spareware can be played single player, the most fun is to be had when playing couch co-op. Cell count in this mode is more essential, with each player now contributing to your Cell usage, so you need to keep an eye on your robots overall cost to ensure both totalled are under your current stock. You also now have to take firing lines into account with the fact friendly fire is active.
Enemy types are not incredibly varied, but thankfully the game’s procedurally generated maps and short duration don’t allow the gameplay to become monotonous. With difficulty ranging from casual, which allows even the least experienced gamer join in, up to punishingly Hard which will challenge even the most dedicated shooter fans.
Thankfully the game was relatively bug-free except for the final level. The procedural generation of vehicles in the game caused a car to be spawned on top of a key pylon, needing to be destroyed in order to bring down a shield, rendering it invulnerable. Thankfully I was able to circumvent this problem, but on repeated tries this issue occurred frequently. Also attributed to the final level was a new mechanic which did not tally with the rest of the game, and had no explanation, leading to a lot of running about until I was able to figure out the new mechanic in play.
Overall, Spareware is an enjoyable romp with tuned gunplay and a decent amount of customisation under the bonnet.
AIPD, or Artificial Intelligence Police Department is a twin stick shooter that is surprisingly good fun. I’ll admit that at first I was expecting a story based shooter, but it turns out that I would be playing a flashier Geometry Wars.
AIPD has been developed on the Unreal 4 Engine and it looks great. If you love neon, you’ll feel right at home, it’s very TRON-like and the ships and enemies all look great. As the game starts you are presented with a “How to Play” section that provides you with still images and diagrams. It takes you through the games mechanics and what they different enemies do, as well as explaining what the different pickups provide and what your super weapons can do to help you get through the waves.
The gameplay is fast and fluid, and it feels great to play. You face wave after wave of enemies until you die, but as you complete each wave you are given the ability to alter the difficulty of the game on the fly in exchange for more points. Different options include increased difficult in getting hold of super weapons, more powerful weapons, or having the speed of your ship decreased, making it easier for your enemies to get you,. It’s quite tactical, going for difficult challenges early on can make things difficult for you, the modifiers stay active throughout the games 15 waves so its worth keeping things as simple as possible early on. You also need to manage your health and avoid overheating your weapons. The amount of enemies on screen at anyone time can get quite overwhelming, but the frame rate holds out really well.
AIPD has 4 games modes which are basically variants on the standard game mode, but there is a fifth section which lets you design your own game – You essentially determine which challenges the game starts with, as the game goes on you’ll have less to choose from, but that just means your ship just gets a couple of seconds to rest between waves. It would have been nice to to customise how much each challenge was worth and the possibility of stacking them would have been quite a nice idea. I dare you to turn all the challenges on at once and see how long you last! You can save up to three variants so you can constantly adapt how the game plays.
AIPD is great game, the modifiers and tactics add a new element to twin-stick shooter genre and it’s great being able to design your own variants. It’s a great looking title, and well worth spending some time with.
In modern gaming there seems to be a divide in what is expected from games today. On one side you have the Hollywood-esque tours de force of exposition and plot that defenders of the gaming past time oft quote as the reason gaming is not just for children, but should be treated as a mature, ageless medium of its own. You then have the middle of the road games that try to find a balance between engaging story and tactile game mechanics which make up the majority of games on the market today. Then you have games that don’t care about character development or emotional engagement, focusing solely on pure, refined, unadulterated mechanics to draw a crowd.
Crimsonland without a doubt falls into the latter camp. The plot consists of “survive increasingly difficult waves of enemies until you can reach the next wave of difficult enemies”. That’s it. There is no character arc, no redemption or soul searching, just Guns, enemies and blood.
Those of you close to my age (or older) may remember the old classic, Smash TV, and Crimsonland hits a lot of the same notes, but on a much larger scale.
Graphically, you can tell that this started its life as a 2003 indie pc title from the team over at 10tons Entertainment. Simple and small, it does therefore allow for most of the fighting area to be visible at one time. This is in itself crucial when it comes to the multiplayer.
A recurring theme from my last few reviews, Crimsonland doesn’t have an online multiplayer, so gathering up to three of your closest gaming buddies for some couch co-op is the only way to play. This in no way dimishes the game as the most fun I had was when playing with several players. That said, unlike previous titles I reviewed, there is enough game here to roll solo if you so wish.
Like most twin stick shooters the targeting can be a little fiddly to get to grips with at first, not made any easier by the size of the sprites, but once you get the hang of it you will soon be decimating enemies with consummate ease.
Each of the 60 story levels see you dropped in toting a starting pistol with waves of enemies spawning in increasing numbers or difficulty levels. As you progress and dispose of enemies, new weapon types and boosts appear to make progression easier. There is a wide range of weapons available to unlock as you progress and you will soon find ones that suit your play style. This variation extends to the boosts as well, with a wide range of specials that provide temporary boosts and extra damage to ease the passage of each round. Add to this the three difficulty levels, and you get a lot of bang for your buck.
Other than the main campaign, there are 5 other modes to absorb your time, each based on ever increasing hordes of enemies. These are also where the perks you have been unlocking in the main campaign start to play a part. Basic Survival sees you equipped with your trusty pistol and ever increasing waves of enemies. Rush has you attempt to survive an alien onslaught while limited to a trusty assault rifle. Weapon picker slaps you down with limited ammo, but more weapon spawns at random locations. Nukefism does away with ammo altogether and has you running around making good use of the powerups that appear far more often and finally Blitz is a fast pace survival where you can only use the weapons and perks unlocked in the campaign. As you progress your experience will rack up and you will level up. At each level up point you gain the ability to select a perk to improve your chances of surviving further.
This is where the perk system truly shines. Each conveys its own weighted benefits such as Thick Skinned which reduces your overall health but decreases damage taken, or Ammunition Within which allows you to keep firing while reloading but each shot diminishes your health.
Although it lacks the finesse or graphical excellence of some other games I really enjoyed my time with Crimsonland. If you have a close group that play together, this is a brilliant game for playing with friends.
Tachyon Project’s familiar twin-stick shooting action incorporates a few new tricks to make the genre feel little fresher, but a few missteps take its toll to make the fun dwindle quickly.
Indeed, Tachyon Project’s first impression is promising. Partly animated cartoon sequences present a story of two programmers developing a self-learning hacking program that they then unleash on the internet. However, the pair are soon apprehended leaving their new program alone and searching for answers. It’s an intriguing setup of a partially aware AI searching for its ‘parents’, giving you more drive and agency to keep you playing. However, the story isn’t as captivating as if first seems, falling on clichés. It’s addition is a great idea, especially for a genre that so rarely has a story to tell, but it won’t be what keeps you playing.
High score chasing is the main attraction, which is true for many in the genre. Playing as the AI you’ll dart around a limited space shooting a variety of different programs as they spawn and try to destroy you. Interestingly you’re not destroyed after being hit by an enemy, instead the limited time you have to complete a level is drained. It’s a terrific new approach to health that makes the game less punishing and more original. Additionally, time is gained by destroying foes. However, poor spawn points for enemy programs threatens to undo the clever health system, with enemies spawning anywhere within the play-area as opposed to specific points along the edges as in many of its ilk.
However, there’s some neat innovation present that the genre could do with more of. A stealth mechanic means enemies that are searching for you only move towards the last location you fired your weapons from, allowing for some tactical play. It’s a smart and thematically appropriate ability that shows a lot of thought and consistency with the overall narrative. Additionally, levels are split by checkpoints which, when you die, you can reload from, reducing the difficulty to manageable bite-sized chucks. Finally, you can customise your weapon’s load-out to suit your style of play. It’s a similar idea to the recently released Ultratron, and it’s great to see this kind of innovation help to increase accessibility.
However, a few additional flaws creep in and upset the balance. The soundtrack’s tempo is all over the place and rarely syncs up with the on-screen action. There are also some odd breaks in the flow and tempo of play when groups of enemies are destroyed, leaving you darting around the play-area with nothing to shoot or do, losing precious time. Finally, the story comes to a close too swiftly and leaves score hunting as the only option for longevity.
Tachyon Projects has some great ideas that are implemented splendidly, but multiple flaws that have significant enough impact on the overall game to undo the good ruin a lot of the fun. It’s certainly on the right track for producing a refreshing experience for the genre, but it’s not quite there yet. What’s left is a mostly fun, occasionally frustrating, and overall short, neon fuelled twin-stick shooter with better alternatives already on the market.
Thanks to Xbox and Eclipse Games for their support
The twin-stick shooter genre is a path well-travelled on the Xbox platforms, with these typically highly challenging titles being an alluring game to twitch reaction players and pixel perfect performers, all vying for those hard to achieve achievements and those precious top spots on leaderboards. Ultratron is a little different, bringing a couple of refreshing tweaks to the formula that makes it a far more accessible shooter for newbies, but one that still delivers on its rewarding challenge for the veterans.
You take control of a robot, capable of firing energy weapons in 360 degrees, whilst moving around a small battle arena as waves of enemy robots spawn in and try to gun you down. Wiping them out is your mandate, with a multiplier kicking in and increasing your score for every enemy you destroy, and lost for every hit you take. Meanwhile power-ups randomly appear to enhance your weaponry or aid you with friendly turrets, and fruit travels across the arena, boosting your score and striking a nostalgic tone. In fact Ultratron plays heavily on a sense of nostalgia, providing charmingly basic 8 bit geometric enemies, as well as your character, along with recreating the CRT shape and flicker on-screen – with the flicker reserved for the end of level stats screen so not to compromise combat. However, despite its 1980 visual identity, its lightning pace, oodles of enemies, and neat lighting and particle effects on weapon’s fire hint at the modern power underneath.
As you destroy enemies they drop coins for you to collect, and at the end of each short level this currency can be spent on upgrades for your robot. It’s a cleverly implemented system, as your lives are tied to the amount of shields you have. Once you take a hit and lose a shield, it’s lost forever unless you buy it back at the upgrade screen. Additionally you’re challenged with risk/reward decisions on whether to purchase shields, weapon upgrades, pet robots to help you out, and smart bombs to clear the arena of foes, etc. You can’t buy everything you want, coins aren’t dropped generously enough, and in fact the coins also de-spawn rather quickly, encouraging you to collect them whilst possibly exposing yourself to danger. It ties the experience together wonderfully, creating a multitude of potential upgrade paths, motivations, and combat scenarios.
At the end of every tenth level is a boss and a checkpoint. Defeat the boss and you activate a checkpoint, meaning if you die you can restart from this point, with all your upgrades and coins intact. As such Ultratron isn’t as difficult as many of its ilk, and with a little perseverance you can make it through even the most difficult sections. However, the brilliant motivator behind it is that urge to create for yourself the perfect playthrough; one where your upgrades are well considered, where you don’t lose shields too often so you can buy the more advanced weaponry. The checkpoint system essentially breaks the experience down into ten level blocks you feel the need to perfect, and it’s a highly compelling system.
Veteran twin-stick shooter players are likely to find the challenge a little on the easy side due to the checkpoints; however, the online leaderboards and achievements offer plenty of incentive to perform staggeringly insane feats of skill. This becomes especially difficult after level 40 where bosses start appearing in packs and the levels between them are so intense and full of enemies you’re operating more on instinct. Ultratron achieves a terrific balance to cater for a variety of skill levels.
What appears to be a simply twin-stick shooter is soon revealed as a smart and highly inclusive action title, ideal for those well trained in fast paced shooters as well as those who are less so. A nostalgic aesthetic gives it a unique identity that’s easy on the eyes yet appealing, and the upgrade system that ties in to your amount of lives provides a brilliant tactical and strategic element to each playthrough. The genre is well represented on Xbox One but Ultratron is up there with the best of them and more accessible than most.