Prepare yourself against an onslaught of bullets, lasers, debris and a shaky camera action with this new bullet hell! Made by Elder Games and published by Headup Games, Solar Shifter EX is being released on all operating systems 9-11-15 and will be available for the latest consoles early next year.

Solar Shifter EX

The game begins with a small cinematic of a ship arriving to a planet. While the level loads you can read the backstory, which is simple and straightforward like many other shmups story’s. However I would have liked to see them toy with an original idea just to shake up things. Next you’re on scene, so get ready for the baddies.

A different kind of hell

This game touts itself as a “bullet hell”, a particular branch of shoot ’em ups. Many of you may be familiar with Touhou, a good example of the sub-genre. Basically, the screen is bullets. You’re in hell, and those are your punishing flames.

Like platform games, schmups are easy to make and thus are popular with amateur developers. Bullet hell games are a different beast to tame.

The gameplay

You move your ship, you shoot your enemies, you try not to get killed and collect currency to upgrade your ship and guns. A unique feature is the ability to teleport a short distance away or “shift” as the game calls it. By pressing the shift key you can then press any of the directional buttons to warp to one of four portals that open up in the screen. Mastering that skill is vital to dodge some enemies and bullets, specially the ones who sweep otherwise unavoidable lasers around the screen. You also get to play with enemy ships sometimes, giving you a chance to toy with the deadly skills that were recently focused on you.

And while fun, I found using it little except to avoid the aforementioned lasers: most of the time, your destination is in the way of bullets, missiles or other ships. Most of the time I end up using trial and error to see where I’m safe and stay there, not moving and just shooting, which brings me to the next problem in this game.

Ohhh shiny! Oops, now I’m dead

The graphics are very fun. The level doesn’t scroll or remain static, you have an action cam that moves around and changes angles between enemy waves and you see in the background other forces fighting each other and exploding. Destroyed enemies go down spectacularly in a flashy display of smoke and debris. It’s really pretty, also really deadly.

You will find yourself distracted a lot by the background. Some enemies you think are really close are part of it, so you’re not sure of where to go or where to shoot. The moving camera means that where you expect your shot to land is not where it actually hits- this one is specially infuriating against one of the bosses.

Worse of all, the explosions are so visually loud that you can die because it distracts and obscures your vision in the area. I suggest playing this game with the eye candy turned off.

The levels

The game has 18 missions and 8 different environments and they are quite pretty. While the story itself is a bland run of the mill alien attack, you see hints of worldbuilding here and there and that is much appreciated. The background action and the action camera, despite making the game harder in such a way it feels like cheating, really do make you feel like you are part of something bigger than yourself.

My one gripe with the levels is- an I admit to being subjective here- the way the dozens of enemy types come at you. Most of the times they don’t come in a particular pattern that you can weave and dodge and shift around taking names and kicking ass. Most of the time it feels like a clumped together wave of enemies designed to zerg rush you to death. It could be because of the changing angles that completely screw with my spatial awareness though, and I’m not completely used to the novel changes this game brings.

Verdict

The game is quite hard but also very attractive. The novel gameplay is very interesting and I suggest that shmup fans should definitely buy this game. If you’re in doubt check the gameplay video and decide for yourself if this is the game for you.

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