There are plenty of very solid twin-stick shooters on the market right now, but few have embraced the genres’ roots as wholeheartedly as Carbon’s Robotron inspired, Ultratron, an arcade-inspired shooter that doubles down on nostalgia while providing the kind of timeless arcade-style gameplay that makes its most obvious inspirations so much fun 30 years after they were originally released. This is a no-frills shooter that embraces both the look and rudimentary mechanics of the games that it so successfully apes, and you know what, it’s all the better for it.
Played on a fixed screen that changes in little more than colour across each of the four very similar worlds that make up the core 40 stages that the game has to offer, Ultratron is a visually simplistic but nostalgically pleasing experience that ramps up the retro-inspired pyrotechnics just enough for the game to feel relatively modern in appearance.
Even with the fireworks turned up to 11 though, the art design always has one foot in the past with both the design of the attacking aliens and of your heroic robot kept clean and simple – heck, enemies even move in those stilted single frame animations ala the Robotron original.
As great as Carbon Games’ commitment to the arcade games of yore is though – when starting up, it actually leans a little too heavily on the nostalgia with challenge subsequently at a minimum as enemies stutter their way across the screen in slow motion. Yes, it all looks very cool and for your first playthrough, that’s absolutely fine, but for high score chasers, having to trudge your way through these absurdly simplistic early stages can prove a bit of a chore.
Still, the challenge does ramp up eventually even if it never comes close to matching the truly unforgiving nature of the arcade originals upon which it is based. While few will struggle to make their way through the core 40 stages, the real joy (and challenge) comes from keeping your multiplier going, something that is immediately squandered the moment you are struck by an enemy, and while this game is far from a one hit kills affair (you can purchase shield upgrades between stages), losing a hard earned multiplier can feel just as devastating.
And that’s really what kept me coming back – the brilliant scoring system. Building up that multiplayer can be an extremely tense affair, and when combined with the simplistic but extremely effective upgrade system, combines to create a game that, while short on content, successfully encourages that one more go mentality that will keep you coming back long after you have beaten the four main bosses.
While there are only 40 relatively basic ‘core’ stages, once the world has been saved, the game happily pushes on to the 50s and 60’s with increasingly difficult enemies and stages that throw multiple boss battles at you to keep testing your skills. Along with these are the usual selection of dodge and assault missions that don’t rewrite the rulebook, but do just enough to add some much needed variety to the gameplay.
With plenty of cool upgrades, powerful pick-ups and rock solid core mechanics, Ultratron is a great throwback to 80s-style arcade gaming while delivering just enough in the way of modern concessions to make it a viable option for those too young to be sold on nostalgia alone. It might not be the most visually memorable shooter you will ever come across and the enemies can get a little lost in the background during some of the more manic latter stages, but despite these minor quibbles, Ultratron delivers the kind of pure gameplay experience that the arcades used to be famous for…….before they were all closed down.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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