For many, this 360, HD upgraded edition of Under Defeat will be their first experience with G.rev’s sublime shooter. For a select few though, its release will prove the welcome return of a dear old friend. It may not have been particularly lauded upon release (what with it never escaping the shores of Japan) and, technically speaking, probably isn’t in the same league as Treasure or Cave’s finest genre efforts, but there was, and still is, something really rather special about this unassuming little shooter out of Japan.
Released originally in arcades back in 2005 and later ported to the Dreamcast in 2006 as one of the last games to ever grace Sega’s much loved box of dreams, Under Defeat is a relatively simplistic, old school shoot ‘em up. Yes, you do pilot a helicopter with a few additional control options over the more rigid fighter jet norm, but for the most part, this is extremely traditional stuff. You shoot a myriad of enemies, you move in time with a scrolling screen, you collect bombs and upgrades and you spend as much of your time dodging enemy bullets as you do firing your own. It’s not quite bullet hell, but it’s certainly bullet Detroit.
There are a few elements however that help this undeniably enjoyable shooter stand out from the crowd. The most obvious of these (you will be surprised to hear) is the games’ story, and in particular, its subsequently rather controversial aesthetic. While Under Defeat does conform to genre type by having an extremely basic, borderline novelty storyline tacked onto the core shoot ‘em up gameplay, it’s the fact that you essentially play (for all intents and purposes) as a Nazi, and its subsequent effect on the art direction that, whatever your personal response to the artistic choice, certainly imbues the game with a unique artistic design.
Before anyone goes throwing their arms up in disgust though, please take into consideration that a) the term Nazi is never actually used and b) this, rather unsurprisingly, is a very stylised universe, one that, in all honestly, would be foolish to take too seriously. If anything, this twist on conventions is used primarily to give the game its unique aesthetic, and like many games of this ilk, is so far removed from reality that to be offended would be absurd as the concept itself.
Playing as the German speaking characters of the Empire (complete with SS-style uniforms), you are charged with taking down the dastardly, English speaking, Union forces and their array of obviously Allied and Axis inspired weaponry. As I said, this is all surface stuff, but still, it’s rare to find a game brave enough (or stupid enough) to put you on the other side of the fence – even if that other side is suggested rather than flat out confirmed.
Still, whatever your take on the aesthetic choice, there’s little arguing with the quality of the gameplay. While the combo system and attack waves are traditional, almost to a fault, it’s the epic boss battles and unique helicopter controls that help to keep this shooter feeling fresh 7 years after its original release. Unlike the Dreamcast and Arcade originals which forced you to hold down fire to keep your helicopter in place when tilted to the left or right, the 360 version allows for a more natural control scheme thanks to the second analogue stick (think Geometry Wars and you’re on the right path). The ability to angle your shots may seem like a minor addition to classic shoot ‘em up gameplay, but I for one was surprised by how strongly it affected the gameplay and my subsequent approach while the additional analogue control, while initially awkward, becomes second nature in no time at all.
While Arcade Mode allows you to revisit the game in its traditional arcade/Dreamcast format (complete with the hardcore option to put your TV on its style for a truer arcade experience), it’s the all new ‘New Order Mode’ that helps to justify Under Defeat’s retail release and relatively high asking price. With full 16:9 support and an impressive lick of HD paintwork, this updated version of Under Defeat looks absolutely fantastic. Yes, it may not be a technical wonder, but the combination of the new aspect ratio, improved definition and consistently impressive art design combine to make this one of the best looking shoot ‘em ups of the generation.
Ok, so the fact remains that, while the new additions are successful, this is a game that would probably feel more at home on XBLA, but for the hardcore out there, the inclusion of the Under Defeat soundtrack, a digital art book and, quite quaintly, a letter from G.rev CEO and Under Defeat executive producer, Hiroyuki Maruyama will certainly help to sweeten the deal. It won’t be for everyone, but for those with fond memories of the Dreamcast original or a proclivity towards Japanese-centric shoot ‘em ups, you could do a lot worse than giving G.Rev’s artistically unique shooter a go. We’ve had to wait 6 years for this to make it out of its native Japan; it would be a shame to let it slip by unnoticed.
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