Solar Shifter EX is the latest bullet hell game, and what Shmup fans will want to know, is it actually worth a purchase? Another question would likely be, is; is it really a bullet hell game? Oh most definitely. The game is relentless with multiple waves of enemies and a stream, no, a raging torrent of water reminiscent of the elevator scene from the classic film The Shining. Just without the blood. Instead, bullets and lasers will be filling up the screen. As for answering the question of is it good? Let us continue.
The game does come with a story, and whilst not original in any way, being a cliché used many times over, it fits in with the genre well. Aliens, invasions, destruction, you know the drill by now. Not saying it’s terrible by any means as you would have expected something along these lines for a bullet hell game where you control a space faring vessel. We will now focus on this first, which is something that you will need to be aware of. You have a health bar for your ships hull, which has the capacity to absorb damage like a wet cardboard box would. You get be taken out in mere seconds. This I did find a major issue, as it means constantly reloading. Not that load times are a problem, they are reasonably short, but you will find this a slight annoyance if like me you aren’t all that good at games like this. There is no ship upgrades aside your primary and secondary weapons. Upgrading these seem redundant as the damage output doesn’t appear to increase all that much. Unless enemies health is higher the further into the game you progress. Again, it does seem a bit of a waste of implementing this if damage dealt to ships with increased health is going to be the same difference all the way through. All being said, this does not make Solar Shifter a bad game.
There are issues with clipping during the first level, which doesn’t appear during the rest of the game. But is noticeable for the duration. These issues do not ruin the enjoyment, being minor niggles in my personal opinion, however they will be picked up on by some. For a casual gamer, or someone who has not played many bullet hell games such as myself, you will be facing a very tough challenge. The last game similar to this that I played, was the rather good Teslapunk. Which I did find easier too. It will punish you for making mistakes, and not learning enemy attack patterns, again and again. Learn where to position yourself, and you will advance further and find a generous checkpoint placement. I did feel frustrated at times, but the sense of satisfaction when I passed a tricky section made the frustration transform into joy.
There is a system in place that allows you to shift about the screen to evade incoming bullets and lasers, sometimes ships in their attack paths. Use of the right analog stick can move you about in any direction. Or holding a face button down will bring up 4 locations on-screen to move too. A unique idea I’ve not seen before, and gives Solar Shifter a unique edge over the competition. A feature I highly recommend that you get to grips with as soon as you possibly can. something that will make all the difference between success and reloading for the umpteenth time. But watch out, shifting into an enemy is instant death. This I have found out many times already.
The level designs for the space flight sections are by far my favourites, what with the colourful nebula backgrounds, and various planets and satellites scattered about. Planet surfaces feel void of life. Mostly rocks and then a few buildings added, which felt like an after thought. It’s not the most important aspect of the genre, especially when you have to pay attention to where the incoming fire is coming from, but the planet locations feel empty, plain and simple. The space backgrounds do add a nice touch of colour, so this does even out.
The camera changes frequently during the game, which makes it more of a challenge. But given some levels have invisible walls, meaning you have a limited amount of space to manoeuvre about in. Slightly annoying, especially if you are having some difficulty progressing further into the story mode. Within reason, they may have gone for a cinematic approach, but limiting the playable area makes Solar Shifter a harder game than it already is. On the plus side, it is a responsive game to play with regards to game mechanics, and whole lot of fun to boot. The shifting ability gives you an advantage should you learn to incorporate it into your tactics, along with learning attack patterns.
Whilst Solar Shifter doesn’t completely reinvent the genre, and I think it would be a hard if not impossible feat to achieve, it certainly adds a new dimension what with shifting. A feature I believe will help set it apart from any other games that are available or will appear in the future. A fast paced bullet hell, and one that is easy to pick up and play, but hard to master. Fans of the genre will likely be in their element. Some aspects could be better, but on the whole a game I have enjoyed. More ship upgrades would be welcomed for sure.
I’d advise casual gamers to think before they buy, given how much of a true bullet hell it really is. But take time to learn the game and you wont have too much problem. Maybe the commander Volker who appears on-screen in his ship to give you a pep talk, and then proceeds to leave you in the lurch to face off against a massive horde of enemies just wound me up no end. Where is the help boss? Seriously. No need to abandon me like that.
To conclude the review, Solar Shifter is a fun Indie game. Targeting a niche corner of the gaming community in all honesty, but if you’re feeling brave and fancy your chances then give it a go. A few issues that if they were fixed and or changed, would have warranted a higher score.
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