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Soldner-X 2: Final Prototype Review (PS Vita)

2015-03-16-002320Despite being a perfect platform for shoot em ups, the Vita doesn’t have a great number of them. With a decent d-pad and the horsepower to push some great 2D visuals, it would be the perfect device to fly a space ship through a sea of enemies. While I might dream of a retro remake of R Type or UN Squadron (or even just a decent port of Ikaruga), Soldner-X2 is probably the best game of this genre on Sony’s lovely-but-under-loved handheld.

Two words I’d use for Soldner-X 2 would be satisfying and confusing. The former because this is a seriously well made shooter, and every moment of play is satisfying and fun. The latter because it has such a strange campaign progression and layers on so many unique systems systems that it can be hard to understand how the game wants you to play.

2015-03-13-153123To start with the actual gameplay, this is a basic side scrolling shoot em up. And it’s gorgeous. Nicely animated backgrounds fly past the large, complex 2D sprites. The movement and responsiveness of your ship is perfectly balanced. It’s not a fast game – rather it has a more deliberate pace – but with bosses and later stages introducing some elements of bullet-Hell, it’s utterly engrossing to play. This is helped by a thoroughly retro techno/trance soundtrack that perfectly suits the games retro charm.

But while avoiding bullets and shooting enemies is simple, there’s a lot of complexity piled on top. Maybe too much. You’re collecting rings to fill a multiplier while cycling through various weapons (which are different for each ship and can also be leveled up) while searching for secret keys and strategically using your smart bombs (or using another type of smart bomb that pushes enemies away). It’s telling that your opening moments of the game will have constant prompts on screen to read the tutorial to find out why you’re playing the game wrongly.

In truth none of this matters much at low difficulty levels, but if you’re chasing high scores it will take you a while to understand what exactly you should be focusing on in each stage (other than shooting everything).

2015-03-13-184406And as mentioned above, the progression of the game is confusing too. Upon finishing the campaign for the first time, there will be a rather abrupt title screen that will be most unwelcome. With little hint that the game is ending, you’ll be prompted to go back and find keys for the missing levels to unlock them and see the “true ending”. Meanwhile, the DLC unlocks levels AFTER those secret levels. This means that you be playing stages 1-5, missing a few (not found the keys yet), then playing 8-10. Even after stage ten, there’s no real “ending”.

Does all of that matter? Well it’s a little annoying, but in truth it’s not important. Soldner-X 2: Final Prototype is all about playing over and over to perfect your runs. A series of unlockable challenges task you with goals like “finish the first four stages without losing a life”. You’ll probably knock these challenges off the list without being aware of them, because replaying Soldner-X 2: Final Prototype is not a problem.

2015-03-13-140952Within the missions, you’ll find the smallest criticisms niggle but never ruin the fun because, for the most part, this is a very polished and playable game. There are a few unsatisfying elements for sure. For example when you pick up a power up, it doesn’t instantly disappear, but instead slowly fades out, making you unsure if you’ve actually managed to get it. Still, when everything exploding so beautifully on screen it’s hard to care too much.

Soldner-X 2: Final Prototype presentation isn’t going to win you over, unless you’re into retro rubbish. The game uses a “credits” system, showing it’s coin op roots. Similarly, there’s a feel of an arcade cabinet to the games front end, complete with campy, shouty announcers. The voice acting is awful, but at least it’s awful in an authentic way. One weird aspect of the narration is that it explicitly spells out everything that is happening all the time.

“Sever the tentacles first”
“I’ll do that, then go for the eye!”

Yeah, thanks for the running commentary.

2015-03-16-002302And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the main title music is terrible. It’s neither modern nor nostalgic, making it sound bad for the sake of sounding bad. The music within levels however is excellent. It’s pulse pounding techno and trance that perfectly suit the game, and make you feel like the last twenty years of gaming never happened.

So that’s about it for Soldner-X 2: Final Prototype. For all that the presentation and progression of the game might be a bit flaky, the actual shooting is smooth as silk, and when shooting is this good and the beats are this serious (as serious as cancer), why would you need any other type of game?

4 Bullets out of Hell out of 5

Soldner-X 2: Final Prototype Review (PS Vita), 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating

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