Despite its relative lack of success in the east (ok, complete lack of success in the east), the Xbox 360 kinda became the unofficial home of 2D shooters last generation. At a glance, you’d think that would be down to the huge success of Xbox Live, but while many shooters were released exclusively on XBLA, the vast majority were actually full retail products. Sure, a few made it over to the PS3, but bizarrely, the majority were 360 exclusives. It was an admittedly odd occurrence, but one that left PS3 shooter fans invariably envious of their shoot em up rich 360 brethren.
Saying that, while the PS3 couldn’t match the 360’s impressive library of shooters, it did at least have one very solid series to call its own. Eastasiasoft’s Söldner-X series might not be in the same league as classics such as Treasure’s Ikaruga and Radiant Silvergun, or even more contemporary offerings such as DoDonPachi Resurrection, but it is a very solid and decidedly more western feeling shooter. Söldner-X was and still is a very solid shooter, but it’s the unquestionably superior sequel that really caught the attention, and the game that, three years after its original release, has finally made its way over to the PS Vita. Why more 2D shooters haven’t made it across to Vita’s glorious OLED display (well, mine is OLED anyway), I’ll never know, but I tell you this much, Soldner-X 2: Final Prototype makes an incredibly strong argument for more to make the transition.
A side-scrolling shooter more along the lines of Gradius than the bullet hell shooters that seemed to flood the market last-gen, Söldner-X 2 tones down the sheer number of bullets on screen in favour of a slightly more measured approach, and while it lacks the physical obstacles found in the likes of Gradius and R-Type, it does make up for that in part thanks to a solid weapon upgrade system, some imaginative enemy patterns and an addictive and well thought out combo system.
The problem is, while everything in Söldner-X 2 is more than solid, it lacks the spark found in many of the genre’s finest. While there is little in the way of current competition when it comes to side-scrolling 2D shooters, the style and visual design mean that the game is inevitably (and rather unflattering) compared to the aforementioned likes of Gradius and R-Type, and sadly, when put up against heavyweights such as Gradius V or R-Type Final, Söldner-X 2 simply can’t compete.
Perhaps I’m being unfair though – those are two of the very finest games in the genre, and while it would be great if they made the jump from PS2 to, well, anything, as it stands, there is little in the way of alternatives (especially on handhelds), and for that reason perhaps more than any other, Söldner-X 2 is well worth a look. The art design can be a bit bland at times and the boss battles aren’t the most memorable that you’ll come across, but make no mistake, this is still a very competent and enjoyable shooter. It runs at a silky smooth 60fps, and on a purely technical level, is actual something of an achievement. With 5 core levels, 2 secret stages and all of the additional, Final Chapter DLC, Söldner-X 2 also happens to be content rich with much more to get through than your average side-scrolling shooter. Sure, longevity inevitably comes via the games’ leaderboards, but as far as shoot em’ ups go, this is unquestionably one of the more generous on the market.
It’s not just the amount of content that makes Eastasiasoft’s plucky little shooter worth playing either; the upgrade system really does give the game a unique feel and while some will lament the relative lack of spectacle, there is certainly something to be said for the way in which the power-ups are incorporated into the combo system and how it manages to find a pleasant visual middle ground between the sheer mayhem of Cave’s shooters and the slower more deliberate pace of classics such as R-Type or Xevious.
Söldner-X 2: Final Prototype won’t be remembered as one of the greats of the genre, but it remains a solid shooter in its own right and one that shines a little more brightly on the Vita’s exemplary OLED (and LCD) display. It might not be an artistic triumph, but it’s certainly a technical one with the games’ 60 fps visuals and pixel perfect port proving beyond all doubt that the Vita could (and really should) be home to many more shooters of this ilk. Whether Söldner-X 2’s release will see a collection of other classic shoot em’ ups make the jump to Vita’s increasingly hardcore handheld remains to be seen, but for now, fans of the genre have a genuinely enjoyable shooter to take on the road.
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