enfrdeitptrues

Shoot 'em Up

  • A Second Look At Starclaw: Battle of StarSpace Nebula

     

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    Game Info:

    Starclaw: Battle of StarSpace Nebula
    Developed By: Cenokga
    Published By: Cenokga
    Released: Oct 3, 2020 (Ver 2.0.4)
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Shoot ‘em up
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for Everyone 10 and up: Fantasy Violence
    Number of Players: Up to four players
    Price: $9.99

    Note: This is a re-review of an existing review on the website. You can check out the original version here.

    Back in June of 2020, Christ Centered Gamer experienced one of its more dramatic moments. The website published its lowest ever review for a game called Starclaw: Battle of StarSpace Nebula. To make a long story short, things happened and there was tension from both sides. Fortunately, the situation was able to be diffused and no hard feelings were had in the end.

    Cenokga reached out to me as he updated his game numerous times for a second opinion on the game. With how games are these days, improvements can be made without having to print out whole new copies and ship them all over the world. Reviews in a way can be outdated the very second they publish for better and for worse as major updates can change the very fabric of how a game plays. Everyone deserves second chances, so I figured, why not?

    Starclaw is an 8-bit top-down shoot ‘em up, similar to the games of old like Galaga. The goal is to go through 64 levels contained in 8 worlds, soaring through space and traversing the various planets while hordes of enemies attempt to gun you down. You play as Captain Starclaw, an anthropomorphic cat whose mission is to stop the invading force from reaping the resources that StarSpace Nebula and Earth collaborate have amassed. It’s a pretty standard plot to simply get the game moving. Captain Starclaw is accompanied by his commander and computer AI that debriefs him on threats or the situation at hand. He is later joined by other pilots, which I will admit is a nice way of implementing the co-op features.

    Changes have been made to the general loop of Starclaw. Previously, the pacing of Starclaw was excruciatingly slow. Enemies typically spawned in all at once and once you took all of them out, you would have to wait until a certain point until the next wave of enemies respawn. This could take anywhere from 5 seconds to 25 seconds depending on how fast enemies were wiped out. Now, enemies gradually appear so moments are always filled with enemies instead of long periods of downtime. This is an improvement to the gameplay.

    A Second Look At Starclaw: Battle of StarSpace Nebula
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: An improvement to the general speed/pace; more game modes were added; decent sense of humor in the dialogue
    Weak Points: Constant crashes; some powerups flat out do not appear in story mode; bosses remain tedious; way too lengthy for the genre; constant reuse of enemy design; bland backgrounds; annoying sound effects/music
    Moral Warnings: Space ship violence and explosions

    Even the controls don’t feel as slippery compared to ver. 1.0. Although, an autofire toggle is sorely needed. There are clearly enough buttons to make use of it, and mashing the fire button for minutes on end puts a massive strain on your hands. If or when your ship happens to go off screen, pressing Q+E or the left and right triggers on your gamepad will have it reappear right in the middle. Going out of bounds is a strange feature, and seemingly something other people besides me had a problem with it as it was addressed by this new button combo. Some enemies and bosses utilize it by pushing your ship out of boundaries, but if enemies can push you off the screen, or you fail behind and you can just instantly reappear, why not just remove it altogether? It simply doesn’t feel right. Even with these gameplay changes, Starclaw remains repetitive, as there are very little changes to the basic enemies themselves.

    The powerup system is slightly improved. Shield powerups now overwrite each other so you’re not stuck with a bad shield if you accidentally pick one up, but this also means you can replace your better shield with a worse one. Powerups are mostly the same, but missile count is now significantly reduced. You can only hold up to 20 missiles at a time instead of the nearly limitless amount before. Missiles have a situational use as they are too slow for the standard enemies, but are great on bosses due to their huge size and large damage. Stockpiling a bunch to quickly dispatch of them used to be a strat, but is now no longer an option.

    I also noticed that there were two powerups missing from the game, and they were the best ones too—being the infinite missiles and the super shots. Either I am the unluckiest person on the planet or there is some sort of programming error because even after hours of playing version 2.0, I did not see either powerup once. I even reinstalled the game and still did not come across it. Without these powerups, bosses end up being more of a pain than they were originally.

    Bosses are also changed in some ways. In version 1.0, they were massive bullet sponges that took a long time to complete. Strangely enough, they still take a long time to defeat but due to some unintended side effects. There’s the “anti-powerup” that I like to refer to as the blue star. One new effect that the blue star has is increasing the size of enemy ships if an enemy runs into it. They still retain the same healing effect for bosses. As these blue stars tend to have a common chance of dropping after an enemy ship is destroyed, bosses will typically heal up a lot of the damage you did to them, ironically still making them bullet sponges. With the lack of the two best powerups previously mentioned above missing from the game, this makes the repetitive encounters with the black hole generator bosses agonizing.

    The only thing that changed about the music and sound effects is that now you can lower it through the settings. Music is very subjective so I still don’t think any of it is good, but at the very least you can opt out of it entirely without having to messi with the volume control in your operating system.

    A Second Look At Starclaw: Battle of StarSpace Nebula
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 22%
    Gameplay 3/20
    Graphics 3/10
    Sound 1/10
    Stability 1/5
    Controls 3/5

    Morality Score - 95%
    Violence 7.5/10
    Language 10/10
    Sexual Content 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical 10/10

    I can’t tell whether stability is better or worse, as I still experience crashes in Starclaw. In 1.0, I was able to reach the first form of the final boss, but couldn't defeat him as he was immune to all forms of damage. In 2.0, I can’t even get close to that as numerous crashes still prevent me from completing the game. Sometimes it would crash on the ice world. I would start over, manage to complete the ice world, and then experience crashes in the forest world. Crashes seem to be random and unexplained, possibly being unable to find certain path findings to continue the script.

    Beyond the story mode, there were new modes added. Endurance, Boss Rush, and Vs. Battle complement the experience. Endurance is a basic survival mode where you complete waves of enemies until you lose. Boss Rush is exactly what it says on the tin, but I can’t comment on it as I’m unable to finish the game. Vs. Battle is split in two, with one side being Vs. Enemy where up to four players compete to see how many enemies can be defeated or Vs. High Score where you and your friends compete for the high score. Strangely enough, the powerups that are missing from the story mode appear in the vs. modes.

    Morally, it’s the same as before. You shoot ships and they blow up. Everything else is squeaky clean.

    When looking at version 2.0 and comparing it to version 1.0, Cenokga has listened to feedback. The pacing of the game is increased, the shield mechanics are redone, more game modes are added for replayability and it does feel somewhat better to play. As much as it pains me to say, even with the improvements, I still cannot recommend Starclaw as all of the fixes and updates feel minor at best. Unfortunately, there are still so many fundamental flaws within the gameplay loop, the music and sounds, the copypasted enemy design, and the constant crashes that I am unable to find a target audience for Starclaw, even with it being generally safe for most to play. The extra game modes end up being fluff as they still share the same flaws as the standard experience. I would not have blamed Cenokga one bit if he simply abandoned Starclaw and moved on to his next game, but he didn’t, and I can commend him for that at least.

  • Aces of the Luftwaffe – Squadron (Xbox One)

     

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    Game Info:

    Aces of the Luftwaffe – Squadron
    Developed by: HandyGames
    Published by: HandyGames
    Release date: July 24, 2018
    Available on: PS4, Switch, Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Shoot ‘em Up
    Number of Players: Up to four locally
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for Fantasy Violence, Mild Language
    Price: $14.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you HandyGames for sending us a review code!

    It’s 1942 and just when Europe thinks that the war with Germany is over, the Axis are launching an attack on the USA. It’s up to four European pilots to save the world by shooting down lots of planes, zeppelins, and flying saucers. As great as these pilots are, they each have a weakness or ailment that tends to impair them at the most inconvenient time.

    Mark Taylor has been experimented on and poisoned by a mad German scientist and gets sick randomly as a result. When Mark's poison kicks in he has to fly slowly or he will lose health. Melissa Monroe is afraid of heights which is kind of ironic for an ace pilot. When her fear is in play her plane goes off the screen. Steve Davis has narcolepsy and needs to be defended when he conks out. John King goes berserk when he gets really angry and when he’s enraged, his ship can damage allies if they go near him or his bullets.

    Aces of the Luftwaffe – Squadron
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun gameplay with local co-op support
    Weak Points: No online multiplayer; stuttering
    Moral Warnings: Aircraft violence; language; derogatory terms 

    There are five chapters with five levels each. The last level always has a boss battle which is eluded to in the previous level. Although I enjoyed playing co-op with my son, I found that I fared better against the bosses solo. Playing co-op only adds one more life and sharing them with a lesser skilled player makes boss battles even more challenging.

    Excluding the boss battles, every other level has a main objective and an optional one. By completing each objective you’ll earn skill points which can be used to upgrade pilot abilities. Each pilot has a unique skill set such as repairing or increasing the damage/defense for everyone. Throughout the game, other aircraft become available and they usually provide different perks and trade-offs worth looking into. I like the aircraft that adds 15% health but subtracts the same amount from my damage.

    Aces of the Luftwaffe – Squadron
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 69%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 3/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7.5/10

    Many enemies drop medals which can increase your experience points and pilot levels. Besides medals, you can also pick up weapon upgrades which stack up quite nicely. Going from bullets to flamethrowers and eventually laser beams makes things very interesting. When playing co-op it’s difficult to share the limited number of weapon upgrades. Skills points take a lot of effort to acquire, but there is a hidden one in each level and it’s worth replaying them if you have missed it by chance.

    Aces of the Luftwaffe – Squadron looks and sounds good with the 2D artwork and good voice acting. Unfortunately, there is some cussing in the dialogue. Though the word sh*t is never finished, you can tell what the pilot was trying to say. Other words like God, d*mn, and h*ll are spelled out completely. There is some slang used to describe the Germans including the term “Krauts.”

    While this title ran well on my Xbox One X, I did notice some occasional stuttering and performance issues which is a bit surprising.

    Overall, I enjoyed playing this game with my son and daughter. I did have to take out multiple bosses on my own though. The character weaknesses are more frustrating than funny, but they do add to the challenge a bit. The difficulty really cranks up in the fourth chapter so brace yourself for that if you plan on picking up this $14.99 title.

  • Beat Da Beat (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Beat Da Beat
    Developed by: 2 players
    Published by: Nekki
    Release date: March 10, 2016
    Available on: Android, iOS, PC, Windows phone
    Genre: Shoot 'em Up
    Number of players: Single-player 
    ESRB Rating: E 10+ For mild cartoon violence, comic mischief, mild language 
    Price: $7.99

    Thank you Nekki for sending us this game to review!

    On a quiet night a couple was enjoying time together watching the stars and appreciating the city’s skyline.  Suddenly, a spaceship appears and kidnaps the girl after a brief fight between the boy and the aliens.  The main character then hops into his ship and chases after her.

    Like many bullet “heck” games you have to dodge the many bullets that are making a beeline towards your ship.  The bullets vary in speed, shape, and size.  Like the enemies, they move in time with the pumping dubstep music in the background.  The bullets and enemies can brush against your ship, but a health heart will be removed if they touch your tiny hit-zone.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Great music and choreography
    Weak Points: No controller support
    Moral Warnings: Spaceship violence; mild language (bad*ss)

    Each of the ten available spaceships starts off with only two health hearts, but they can be increased if you pay to upgrade them with in-game currency.   A few ships can be unlocked with money, but a few of them only become available after beating the game on a specific game mode.  There are four difficulty levels (casual, normal, hard, bad*ss).   

    Since the enemies and their movements have the same patterns throughout the nicely choreographed levels, the only different between the difficulties is the number of bullets.  Bullet-fire will come from all directions: top, bottom, sides, all at once, you name it.  The starting ship has the ability to slow down time, Matrix style, and it’s very useful when you’re overwhelmed with bullets.

    Beat Da Beat
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 82%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Bosses appear on every other level and they are pretty challenging.  If you’re able to beat them before their song is finished, you’ll unlock the Steam achievement “Ain’t nobody got time for that”.  There are other achievements for pimping out all of your spaceships and for completing the game on various difficulties.    There are also global leaderboards for each of the difficulty levels.  

    The retro pixel graphics are decent and I must admit that the bullet are as beautiful as they are deadly.  I like the guy in the corner that dances, head bangs, or plays air guitar along with the music.  There is an epilepsy warning and it should be heeded with all the flashing that happens during gameplay.   

    I really enjoyed the dubstep music and you can check it out on SoundCloud.  If you like rhythm and bullet heck games, Beat Da Beat is a dream come true.  If you don’t mind the mild language and spaceship violence, there is a lot of fun to be had here.  I'm hoping that it gets controller support soon though.

     

  • Blasters of the Universe (Oculus Rift)

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    Game Info:

    Blasters of the Universe
    Developed by: Secret Location
    Published by: Secret Location
    Release date: August 31, 2017
    Available on: HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Windows
    Genre: Shoot ‘em Up
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $14.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Secret Location for sending us this game to review!

    It didn’t take long for the virtual reality marketplace to get flooded with shovelware games. We have reviewed plenty of sub-par wave shooters that don’t stand out from the crowd. There’s also a metric ton of retro themed games out there. With two strikes against it, I wasn’t anticipating much from Blasters of the Universe. I’m quite happy to say that Blasters of the Universe is a gem of a VR game and one of my favorites that I have played this year.

    The game’s story is rather simple but functional. The “god” of the ‘80s arcades has been sucked into virtual reality and challenges you to conquer him. Of course, he won’t go down easily and hurls his various alien themed minions in your general direction.

    True to its Shoot ‘em Up theme, you get a customizable gun that has various parts to change out to tweak its firing power, speed, and capacity. The base gun gets the job done, but each level has a couple of unlockables worth looking into. Some worthwhile upgrades are firing clusters of bullets and ammo that refills itself for each enemy taken down.

    Blasters of the Universe
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun virtual reality bullet heck game
    Weak Points: Pretty challenging but fun enough to keep trying
    Moral Warnings: Fantasy violence; aliens; language (*ss, sh*t)

    Besides your gun, you’ll also have a trusty shield. This shield is crucial to protecting your only weak spot, your head. Your head is vulnerable from all angles and you’ll have to physically dodge out of the way from swarms of bullets coming at you from multiple directions at once. The shield has a health bar that gradually refills during periods of non-use. Bullet grid attacks and powerful laser beams will destroy your shield so try to dodge those manually if you’re able to. There are numerous shield upgrades that vary in size and recharge time. You’ll need your shield deployed as much as possible; however, in order to refill your ammo you’ll need to drop your shield temporarily. Be sure to utilize small breaks in enemy waves to refill your ammo.

    The enemy variety is pretty good with flying and ground based units that will try to flank you from the sides after a short while. The enemy forces move around quite a bit and targeting them quickly takes some skill, especially once you move away from the laser sight in favor of other weapon upgrades. Like all bullet heck games, there’s a formidable boss at the end of each of the levels in this title.

    At the end of each level you’ll be shown a chart of your stats and progress. You’ll be shown the level progress (if you did not complete it), the number of bullets fired/blocked, enemies killed, head shots given and near misses that you’ve received. There are endless modes available if you want to see how long you can survive with your five life hearts.

    Blasters of the Universe
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 80%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 6/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Occasionally you’ll unlock a temporary power up like the ability to fire a devastating laser beam. Be sure to take advantage of this ability when given the chance to do so! If you’re proud of your performance, you can see how you stack up on the Steam leaderboards. There are thirty-seven achievements to unlock as well.

    The voice acting in this title is decent, but sadly consists of some foul language that should not be heard by young children. If it wasn’t for the language, I’d be happy to show this game off to everyone. I love how my recently played Steam games show up in my Oculus library. Blasters of the Universe usually runs fine when playing through the Oculus software, but one time the gun's sound effects were missing. Since it ran fine every other time, this seems to be an isolated instance.

    If you don’t mind some sci-fi shooting and language, Blasters of the Universe is worth adding to your VR library. The price tag is a reasonable fifteen dollars and is sure to provide hours of entertainment. It’s a fun way to work off some calories too.

  • Blue Revolver (PC)

     

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    Game Info:

    Blue Revolver
    Developed by: Stellar Circle
    Published by: Stellar Circle
    Release date: October 11, 2016
    Available on: Linux, macOS, Windows
    Genre: Shoot 'em up
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $14.99

    Thank you Stellar Circle for sending us this game to review!

    Blue Revolver is the first game produced by Stellar Circle and it’s built from the ground up to be fast and furious for beginners and shoot 'em up veterans alike. One of its features is to alter the difficulty by your skill level. I’m not sure how exactly this works, but when I played the game on my unplugged laptop the game was slower paced than normal and I played exceptionally well that time around. I chalked it up to my laptop being on battery, but it could have been the difficulty adjustment at work. There are three difficulty levels you can choose from: normal, hyper, and parallel. There’s a nice surprise for those that can complete the game in parallel mode. I have no idea what that entails.

    I’m not particularly good at shoot 'em ups, but I do enjoy playing them. Blue Revolver is well polished and quite fun to play. Although there are two pilots to choose from, I can only find the backstory on one of them, Mae. An environmental group called “Blue Revolver” is after the rabbit-eared genius pilot after she provoked them with her hacking and destruction abilities. Val doesn’t seem to have much information about her other than being labeled as an errand girl on the Steam store page. Each pilot has a unique ship and abilities for it.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Solid gameplay that adapts to your skill level
    Weak Points: Leaderboards only work in Windows, errors out if you’re offline
    Moral Warnings: Spaceship violence

    Both ships have three firing modes: power, wide, and follow. I preferred the wide firing mode to have a broad scattering of my ship’s bullets. Mae’s ship also has offensive abilities like plasma lancer, hyper laser, cluster missile and the defensive ability, vortex barrier. Val’s offensive abilities include arc caster, hyper laser, and cluster missile. For defense, she has a stasis field. Each ability is rated for its power, coverage, and efficiency. Choose wisely!

    Like most shoot 'em ups your ship has a tiny vulnerable spot that you need to protect from bullets, lasers, and missiles. In theory, this sounds pretty easy, but when your screen is filled with bullets it takes some skill to dodge everything. Bombs can be used to clear the screen but they’re in limited supply so you’ll have to use them cautiously.

    Most enemies can be taken down with a small spray of bullets but the mini-bosses and end level bosses will require more firepower to go down. Your ship’s special offensive ability will come in handy to do significant damage to them. All enemies big or small will drop loot that you should collect if you want to raise your game score. When your game ends, you can submit your score to the online leaderboard if you’re playing this game in Windows. I’ve noticed that you’ll get a strange error if you try to do this while offline or if your internet drops on you.

    Blue Revolver
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 94%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The anime-style character artwork is great looking and the backdrop of the two pilots is nice, though I would have preferred a bigger game window. There will be an HD version of the game and I look forward to checking that out when it releases! The story mode has five missions and they all take place in different terrains. The levels and enemies have a good amount of variety and complexity to them. There are also twenty-four individual missions you can complete in any order.

    As you play, you can unlock various background music remixes and artwork from the game. There are also forty Steam achievements and trading cards offered. The upbeat techno soundtrack is available to purchase for $7.99. The Japanese voice acting is upbeat and fitting.
    Overall, Blue Revolver is a solid shoot 'em up that’s worth grabbing if you’re a fan of them. Not surprisingly, it has spaceship violence and explosions so it’s pretty tame morally. Between the leaderboards, Steam achievements, multiple difficulties and number of missions, there’s plenty of replayability here.

  • Circuit Breakers (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Circuit Breakers
    Developed by: Triverske
    Published by: Excalibur
    Release Date: November 17, 2015
    Available on: PC, Mac, Steam OS
    Genre: Shooter
    Number of Players: Up to four locally or online
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $9.99

    Thank you Excalibur for sending us this game to review!

    Circuit Breakers doesn’t have much of a story, but some of the loading screen texts elude to the robots stealing some crystals that probably belonged to the characters.  Either way, if you see robots moving in this game, it’s your job to put them out of commission in this top down shooter.  There are swarms of robots and you have to survive long enough to make a safe exit and head into the next room with even more robots waiting for you.

    There are different types of robots including ones that swarm, rush, or shoot back at you.  To counterattack, the heroes have unique weapons that can give them the upper hand.  Aldo uses a machine gun that is fast and good for short-range attacks.  Shelby has a powerful, but slower shot gun.  Samson is equipped with a slow, but devastating missile launcher.  Tay has a laser attack that can shoot long-range enemies. 

     

    Circuit Breakers
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun shoot ‘em up game that’s best enjoyed with friends
    Weak Points: Nobody to play online against; controllers have to be enabled before the game is launched (not hot plugged in); no bots for single player
    Moral Warnings: Robotic violence

    Besides robots, there are crates and cargo trains that can be blown to bits.  Each item destroyed will leave behind energerium which will level up the character’s weapons as long as they have a steady flow of it.  If a player doesn’t collect enough energerium to maintain the weapon’s current level, it will begin to level down to its previous state.  The upgraded weapons are super effective and worth striving for.

    There are numerous hidden achievements for each of the characters to unlock.  Some of the challenges including exterminating a certain number of robots or collecting a vast amount of energerium.  Steam achievements are available as well but they will take some time to unlock with their tough requirements.  The biggest killing streak I have achieved to date is two hundred which is quite a bit less than the five hundred the Steam achievement demands.  I also have not defeated twenty-five bosses yet. 

    Circuit Breakers
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 93%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    When playing solo, you only have three lives with three hit points apiece.  Fortunately, healing kits are fairly common and often needed.   While playing co-op multiplayer the lives are unlimited as long as somebody in the party is still alive.  There’s a ten second respawn delay and much can happen in those ten seconds!

    Currently, Circuit Breakers fully supports local multiplayer and players can join in as long as the controllers are enabled before the game is launched.  We found out the hard way that plugging in a controller mid-game does not work.  Multiplayer is a blast and is hands down better than playing solo.  Online multiplayer is available, but is considered to be in a beta state and the game warns about possible crashes.  While I have not experienced any crashes, I wasn’t able to find anyone online to play against.  

    If you have friends to play alongside, I highly recommend looking into Circuit Breakers if you like old school shoot ‘em up games.  The graphics and sound effects won’t blow you away, but the game play is fun and suitable for people of all ages.  There’s no blood or gore, just explosions from blowing up robots.  My kids and I enjoyed playing together and we look forward to more hectic battles ahead.   The game retails for a reasonable $9.99, but I have seen it for less than $4.00 on Steam.

  • Circuit Breakers (Xbox One)

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    Game Info:

    Circuit Breakers
    Developed by: Triverske
    Published by: Excalibur
    Release Date: August 15, 2017
    Available on: PC, PS4, macOS, SteamOS, Xbox One
    Genre: Shooter
    Number of Players: Up to six locally or online
    ESRB Rating: E 10+ for fantasy violence
    Price: $9.99

    Thank you Excalibur for sending us this game to review!

    Circuit Breakers originally was released for PC, macOS, and SteamOS in 2015. My son and I enjoyed playing it though we didn’t get to utilize all four of the player slots. Now that Circuit Breakers is available on consoles, the player count has been upped to six on most platforms! My husband joined my son and I in testing the Xbox One version.

    In the future, artificial intelligence has advanced enough to create the first fully sentient robot, System 2. However, it becomes fearful for its safety and flees into deep space. To defend itself, it creates a massive robot army that begins to plot the invasion of their former masters. Your team is dispatched to stop this from happening by any means necessary. If you see robots moving in this game, it’s your job to put them out of commission in this top down shooter. There are swarms of robots and you have to survive long enough to make a safe exit and head into the next room with even more robots waiting for you.

    Circuit Breakers
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun shoot ‘em up game that’s best enjoyed with friends
    Weak Points: Online multiplayer is score attack only
    Moral Warnings: Robotic violence

    There are different types of robots including ones that swarm, rush, or shoot back at you. To counterattack, the heroes have unique weapons that can give them the upper hand. Aldo uses a machine gun that is fast and good for short-range attacks. Shelby has a powerful, but slower shotgun. Samson is equipped with a slow, but devastating missile launcher. Tay has a laser attack that can shoot long-range enemies. Other unlockable characters like Gadd (arguably the most powerful) are also available.

    Besides robots, there are crates and cargo trains that can be blown to bits. Each item destroyed will leave behind energerium which will level up the character’s weapons as long as they have a steady flow of it. If a player doesn’t collect enough energerium to maintain the weapon’s current level, it will begin to level down to its previous state. The upgraded weapons are super effective and worth striving for.

    There are numerous hidden achievements for each of the characters to unlock. Some of the challenges include exterminating a certain number of robots or collecting a vast amount of energerium. Xbox achievements are available as well but they will take some time to unlock with their tough requirements. The biggest killing streak I have achieved to date is two hundred which is quite a bit less than the five hundred the Xbox achievement demands. I also have not defeated twenty-five bosses yet.

    Circuit Breakers
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 93%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    When playing solo, you only have three lives with three hit points apiece. Fortunately, healing kits are fairly common and often needed. While playing co-op multiplayer the lives are unlimited as long as somebody in the party is still alive. There’s a ten second respawn delay and much can happen in those ten seconds!

    Local multiplayer is a blast and is hands down better than playing solo. While the Microsoft store page says that six players can play online, it’s not accurate. The only online multiplayer interaction is comparing your score attack scores with those of your friends (provided you’re signed into your console).

    If you have friends to play alongside, I highly recommend looking into Circuit Breakers if you like old school shoot ‘em up games. The graphics and sound effects won’t blow you away, but the gameplay is fun and suitable for people of all ages. There’s no blood or gore, just explosions from blowing up robots. My kids and I enjoyed playing together and we look forward to more hectic battles ahead. The game retails for a reasonable $9.99, but I have seen it for less than $3.00 on Steam.

  • Close Order (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Close Order
    Developed By: Raconteur Games
    Published By: Black Shell Media
    Released: January 21, 2016
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Shooter
    ESRB Rating: E – Mild Fantasy Violence, Mild Language
    Number of Players: 1 
    Price: $4.99

    Thank you Black Shell Media for sending us this game to review!

    Every now and then, a video game comes along that tries something new. While most of the biggest and best-advertised games tend to play it safe nowadays, you can still find something that tries to break the mold if you look hard enough. What you might find could be rough around the edges, but packed with great ideas that are certainly worth a look – and Close Order certainly fits that bill.

    Close Order is a 3D space shooter game programmed in Unity, and Raconteur Games’ first showing. As a space shooter, it lies somewhere in between Tyrian and Rogue Squadron: though you’re limited to a 2D plane, you’re fighting in a fully three-dimensional environment. Unlike both of those games, however, Close Order does not give you a single ship, or throw small groups of ships at you a few at a time – your enemies are great in number, as are your allies. While your freighter is lacking in firepower, what it does have is minions.

    The meat of the game comes from its minion system: defeating an enemy awards you with one of three currencies, which you then spend to create some form of robotic helper craft that will fly alongside the main freighter. These minions come in offensive, defensive, and hybrid forms – for instance, one ship shoots a volley of slow-moving bullets that cover a wide area, while another has a sturdy energy shield to soak up attacks. You can buy, sell, repair, and rearrange your minions on the fly, and the game offers three different formation patterns to set up your squad. With no restrictions other than currency and minion limits, you can dynamically change your fleet to adapt to different situations. As you play, you’ll steadily unlock more minion slots and types. It’s a fresh, possibly unique take on the shooter genre that is executed well – at least, at its core.

    Close Order
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Innovative gameplay; solid visuals
    Weak Points: Very short; very easy; doesn’t use its ideas to the fullest
    Moral Warnings: Ship to ship combat; mild language; one level involves shooting escape pods

    The tragedy of the system is that Close Order offers very little with which to truly test its limits. There are only a handful of enemy ship types, and while they behave differently – some might try to flank you, while others will bunch up for a focused assault – only the dedicated kamikaze ships do anything other than shoot at you. Every enemy in the game can be outgunned by simply circle-strafing, up to and including the few bosses you’ll fight (save for one in an enclosed space). Likewise, there was little reason to switch up the minion setup at any time; a simple diamond formation with defensive units up front and shotgun-type fighters behind cleared the whole game with little trouble. Since there’s a dedicated minion repair button, and since repair costs are so low compared to how much money you rake in, there’s nothing stopping you from mashing the R button to become effectively invincible, as long as you keep your unfixable freighter safe.

    The game offers eight story missions and two survival maps; none will take you much more than ten minutes to complete. Survival mode involves fending off increasingly difficult waves of enemies, rewarding you with a new minion type at the end; you can also slightly customize the maps, though you’re limited to enemy density and difficulty. The story missions vary the gameplay slightly, occasionally making you chase down fleeing enemies or traverse an obstacle course with mortars shooting at you. All in all, though, the content is a little lacking; survival mode could offer some more longevity to the game, but since circle-strafing trivializes every enemy, it’s just an exercise of holding down A or D, shift (to boost), and left mouse while sometimes hitting R to repair.

    The story in Close Order exists; that’s about as much as one can say. Set in the future where Earth was destroyed in a planet-wide nuclear accident, and with the survivors populating the stars, three companions set out to make their way back to the ruins of Earth to track the remnants of humanity. Each mission has the three main characters of Mary, Abe, and Chakor talking about the current situation, and the first hub of five missions give a small narrated slideshow of the background of the events. These give the universe some appreciated character, but every new element is immediately and permanently discarded once the level is complete. Only the last three levels have some form of continuity, in the sense that the team is working to build a warp drive, but each level still punts you back to the hub world with no real sense of conclusion. What little flashes of story you get are rather interesting, but they remain just that: flashes.

    Close Order
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 69%
    Gameplay - 10/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4.5/5

    Morality Score - 87%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    Outside of the gameplay, Close Order is mostly stable. The controls are simple and intuitive, with one exception: right clicking sends you to the minion purchase screen, but also sells a minion if you’re on the formation menu, meaning that moving from the latter to the former will always remove one minion. Also, there’s a big “repair all minions” button on the formation menu that simply doesn’t do anything at all, so hitting R is the only way to repair. In-game, however, every motion and command is accurate and responsive, with the above issues being minor annoyances at best.

    The graphics look quite nice even on the lowest setting, and are also stable enough that frame drops, if any, went unnoticed. The music is fitting and nice to listen to, if not particularly memorable, though it would drop out for a few seconds at seemingly random times while playing. The sound effects are clear and varied, adding a forceful punch each time you fire. The 2D art is simple but stylish, which fits the feel of the slideshow-style intro movies – though these slideshows get unexplainably choppy at times. The enemy ships vary according to their capabilities, making it easy to discern opponent types; in particular, the dangerous kamikaze ships leave a bright orange trail as they fly, making it impossible to lose them in the chaos. There’s not much to fault Close Order on style-wise.

    Morally, the obvious issue is the combat the game is based around: it’s limited to exploding ships that you’re told are piloted by mercenaries, but they’re never shown. There are a few rare instances of mild swears, with the most egregious being the hardest survival mode difficulty being called “bad*ss.” Perhaps the biggest issue lies in a single level, where you’re tasked with destroying escape pods fleeing a viral outbreak on a space station, even though it’s implied that they’re all filled with the people that started the infection. It’s complicated by the fact that the characters talk about rescuing them, and seem to come to the conclusion that it’s worth it to try to jam them into quarantine aboard their freighter, but your only option is to shoot them all anyway.

    In the end, Close Order is a game full of potential that simply goes unused. A solid core combined with an innovative mechanic make it enjoyable to play, but the lack of content and challenge leaves much to be desired. Still, as a new developer working under the restrictions of Unity, it’s an impressive first outing; should they revisit this game in the future, they could pull off something truly amazing. Sitting at $4.99, and with a runtime under Steam’s refund time limit, it might be worth checking out – and consider letting Raconteur Games keep that five bucks if you do.

    -Cadogan

     

  • Cloud Cutter (PC)

     

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    Game Info:

    Cloud Cutter
    Developed by: Just Two ltd.
    Published by: Just Two ltd.
    Release date: May 6, 2021
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Shoot ‘em up
    Number of Players: Up to two players locally
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $18.99

    Thank you Just Two ltd. for sending us this game to review!

    Cloud Cutter is a Shoot ‘em Up powered by the Unreal engine that promises top-notch graphics and classic old-school scrolling shooter gameplay. There isn’t much of a story, just thirteen missions to complete by yourself or with a friend. A second player can join if you have an extra controller handy.

    If you’re playing by yourself the first couple of missions will have you flying solo, but you’ll get a couple of helper drones a little later on. The moment a second player joins, the helper drones will fly away. The difficulty seems to remain the same between single and multiplayer. There are three game difficulties (Normal, Medium, and Hard).

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun and challenging gameplay; multiple difficulty levels
    Weak Points: Level selection cut off; game crashes if controller USB/battery status changes 
    Moral Warnings: Combat violence 

    You begin each mission with only one life. Your goal is to make it to the end without dying. Aside from the bullets, missiles, and deadly energy orbs, many of the ground-based enemies blend in with the environment and may not be noticeable until they open fire. The longer you can go without getting hit, the higher your score multiple will be. When you get hit, the gamepad will rumble (if supported) and “streak broken” text will display on the screen.

    Along with ground-based units you’ll also be fired upon from ships, helicopters, and squads of fighter jets. Bonus points are awarded for taking down an entire squad. Depending on your score and percentage of the enemies taken down you’ll be awarded a bronze, silver, or gold star for each completed level. Oftentimes you’ll get a Steam achievement for completing a level or final boss within it. In total, there are thirty-four Steam achievements available.

    The controls are pretty straightforward. The basic fire attack happens automatically. At regular intervals a sonic attack recharges and can be used by pressing the right trigger. As you attack enemies they’ll often drop power-ups that can increase your firing speed or unlock special attacks. One of the power-ups slows down time, while another has a super-powerful laser beam. Another powerful attack is the 3-point missile strike that paused the action to select the three points to be blasted. Last but not least are the health replenishers which always seem to be sparse and never enough.

    Cloud Cutter
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay: 17/20
    Graphics: 7/10
    Sound: 7/10
    Controls/Interface: 4/5
    Stability: 4/5

    Morality Score - 94%
    Violence: 7/10
    Language: 10/10
    Sexual Content: 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural: 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical: 10/10

    From an appropriateness standpoint, there is just aerial combat and the enemy won’t think twice about shooting your jet out of the sky. Since your jet is on auto-fire it’s hard to tell who fires the first shot… One of the levels is called “Dam” and it took me multiple tries to get past it. My family groaned when I told them I was stuck and couldn’t get past the Dam level.

    Cloud Cutter is a fun game and I had a lot of fun playing it. My biggest complaint is the level selection menu is cut off on the right-hand side and I was never able to fully read the most recent level before actually launching it. Another issue I ran into was a controller’s batteries dying while playing co-op. The game didn’t handle the battery/controller swap very well and ultimately had to be restarted to remap the controllers properly.

    It took me a little over four hours to complete this game but more skilled players may be able to do so in an hour and a half. If you’re hesitant on spending the asking price of $18.99. I have seen it half off on Steam sales. It’s definitely worth adding to your Wishlist.

  • Cookie Invaders (PC)

     

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    Game Info:

    Cookie Invaders
    Developed By: Igniting Spark Games
    Published By: Igniting Spark Games
    Released: December 1, 2020
    Available On: Microsoft Windows
    Genre: Shoot'Em Up
    ESRB Rating: None specified
    Number of Players: Singleplayer (online involves score comparisons between players)
    Price: $19.99

    I'd like to thank Igniting Spark Games for the review key for this title.

    Ever since Space Invaders, shooting invading aliens has become almost completely passe. The formula has been almost done to death, and until Cookie Invaders, I found it hard to imagine they could liven it up. Taking the above pessimism from people like me as a challenge, Cookie Invaders decided to innovate the genre by blending it with a few others, such as rogue-like and action strategy games.

    The story is simple, tongue firmly in cheek parody of the usual Space Invader plot. Oh, the aliens are invading, but they decided to disguise themselves as cookies, cakes, and other sweet things we humans love. Of course, we humans aren't foolish enough to fall for it, so we send up spaceships to fend off the confection shaped menace.

    The gameplay is, on the surface, much like a "bullet h**l" game, in which you must move a spaceship around to shoot enemies while avoiding taking lethal damage. However, due to a life and shield regeneration mechanic, it's possible to short term "ram" enemies to do damage, but prolonged ramming will drain you to zero, so it's a tactic to be used sparingly.

    Cookie Invaders
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: An adorable premise; Excellent blend of rogue-like and strategic action RPG mechanics to the space shooter genre
    Weak Points: A bit repetitive despite the attempts at keeping no two games the same
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence

    Elements of the rogue-like and action strategy genre are blended into the gameplay, as each gameplay session is randomized, and there is a level-up system where various attributes of your spacecraft can be enhanced with points. There are also unlockable cosmetic redesigns for your spacecraft, a challenge mode, and a few other unlockable bonuses redeemable by earning in-game currency based on points earned during gameplay.

    The graphics draw inspiration from the "cute-em-up" sub-genre, in which shooter games are satirized with adorable parody art. Cookie Invaders does this by having the aliens resemble various sweets, and the designs are colorful, varied, and quite silly looking. The sound and music aren't anything particularly notable, rather generic synthesized "alien invasion" music common to the space shooter genre, but none of it is hard on the ears either.

    Controls are done with the keyboard and mouse. As of the time of this writing, there is no controller support. The controls are straightforward, mostly using the mouse to move your spaceship and fire your missiles. The few features like detonating modules (aka bombs) that rely on the keyboard are accompanied by a helpful keypress guide.

    Cookie Invaders
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 96%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Stability is outstanding. The game is made using the Unity engine, and it runs fine. The quality can be toggled in-game for any level of computer hardware, and switches between windowed and full-screen mode without issue. For those who intend to play on Linux via Steam Proton, I am pleased to say it will run out of the box with no issues I could discern.

    Morally, there is very little wrong with this title. There is very cartoony violence against cookie, candy, and other confection shaped enemies, which disappear in a silly-looking explosion when destroyed, but otherwise, this has no foul language, sexual content, or other material that is remotely offensive.

    In a genre that has been nearly run into the ground, Cookie Invaders dares to be innovative and I have to admit, while space shooters are not usually my cup of tea, this was pretty entertaining. Morally, it's suitable for any young child or older who can operate a computer. Overall, if you want a silly yet fun game shooting silly space aliens with a surprising amount of depth, then I can't recommend Cookie Invaders highly enough.

  • Cotton Reboot! (Switch)

     

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    Game Info:

    Cotton Reboot!
    Developed by: Rocket-Engine Co. Ltd.
    Published by: ININ Games
    Release date: July 20, 2021
    Available on: PS4, Nintendo Switch, Windows
    Genre: Shoot em’ Up
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for fantasy violence and suggestive themes
    Price: $39.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you ININ Games for sending us a review code!

    The X68000 computer was released by Sharp in 1987 and was exclusive to Japan. The graphics were on par with the Sega Genesis and the Yamaha YM2151 sound chip was decent too. Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams came out initially in 1991 and utilized the X68000 nicely. You can play the original game in the X68000 mode to see how far it has come along in the HD Arrange Mode.

    The story in this title deals with the world being shrouded in darkness. A bikini-wearing fairy is looking for someone to undo this curse and stumbles upon a young witch named Cotton. The only problem is that Cotton doesn’t mind the darkness and has no initiative to help out until the fairy offers her willow candy in return.

    Cotton Reboot!
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun gameplay; infinite retries; cute visuals
    Weak Points: Exiting the game will reset your progress; pricey
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence; the main character is selfish and has to be lied to in order to save the world; the fairy wear skimpy outfits, zombies

    After agreeing to help out, Cotton is whisked into action shoot em’ up style flying on her broom and dodging incoming enemies and projectiles. Cotton has a couple of attack methods including targeted bullets and area of effect attacks that can damage many enemies on the screen if not all of them. Most of the seven stages have a mid-boss and a final boss at the end. The last stage just has a final boss to contend with and she’s tough.  I’m thankful for the infinite number of retries that would have translated to quarters in the arcades.

    The game is pretty short and can be completed in less than two hours. You can resume your progress as long as you don’t exit out of the game. Beating this title in one sitting is totally doable and after doing so the first time around, you’ll unlock new characters to play as. There are online leaderboards you can submit your score to see where you stand across the world. As usual, I won’t be dethroning anybody anytime soon.

    Cotton Reboot!
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay: 13/20
    Graphics: 8/10
    Sound: 7/10
    Stability: 5/5
    Controls: 5/5

    Morality Score - 80%
    Violence: 6.5/10
    Language: 10/10
    Sexual Content: 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural: 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical: 10/10

    While the original graphics were charming, the HD Arrange Mode visuals are greatly enhanced and add even more charm to this cute game. I love the art style and expressions Cotton makes, especially when she gets denied enjoying the hard-earned candy after defeating each of the bosses. The added sound clips are a nice touch, but I don’t understand what they’re saying since it’s in Japanese.

    Cartoon violence is a given since you’ll be shooting and dodging bullets. The fairy doesn’t wear much and must be providing obligatory fan service. There’s a wide variety of enemies and some of them are undead with detached body parts.

    Overall, Cotton Reboot! is fun and I can see why people loved it when it first became available. Being able to compare the original and HD versions of the game is pretty slick. With that said, for a game that will only entertain for a few hours, I think that the asking price of $39.99 is a bit steep. If you loved the original game or enjoy good shoot em’ ups, Cotton Reboot! Is worth checking out.

  • Crimzon Clover: World Explosion (Switch)

     

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    Game Info:

    Crimzon Clover: World Explosion
    Developed By: Yotsubane
    Published By: Degica
    Released: October 29, 2020
    Available On: Nintendo Switch, Windows PC (in the form of Crimzon Clover: World Ignition, with a promised Explosion update coming soon)
    Genre: Shoot 'em up
    ESRB Rating: E for Mild Fantasy Violence
    Number of Players: 1-2 with local multiplayer
    Price: $19.99 ($9.99 for the Windows version of World Ignition; upgrade price not announced)

    Thank you Degica for sending us this game to review!

    While I have been long familiar with the shoot ‘em up genre as a long-time casual fan, I am far from an expert, and a lot of progress has happened in the time since R-Type, 1942, and Gradius. As these things turn out, the genre had a massive explosion in popularity in Japan, especially from the 90s through the 2000s, even to the present day. Several extremely popular series in the genre come from that time, including Touhou and Cave’s shooters.

    Written by one man who goes by Yotsubane, Crimzon Clover was released for Windows in Japan all the way back in 2011. It quickly became a huge success, as just a couple of years later it hit arcades, and even got a worldwide release on Steam and GOG in 2014. No doubt looking to take advantage of the Switch’s explosive popularity (no pun... okay it was), Degica brought this shoot ‘em up classic to Switch.

    For those not familiar, there are two primary types of shoot 'em ups: the horizontal and vertical styles. In both cases you pilot some ship or craft that shoots bullets out in front of you towards enemies on the screen. This is almost always a form of 2D; first-person games are a different genre. These games started way back before scrolling screens with games like Space Invaders, and moved up to scrolling screens with games like the previously mentioned classics like Gradius and 1942. There is even a sub-genre of shoot 'em up, sometimes called bullet h*ll (I prefer to affectionately call them 'bullet heck' games), where you avoid waves and waves of shots, instead of just well-timed ones. This game is of the vertical 'bullet heck' style, where your ship starts at the bottom of the screen, and flies up towards the enemies. Ironically, it's not well suited to the more common wide screens, which is why this game offers a vertical orientation mode, if you want to rotate your Switch (or even TV/monitor) vertically. Everything in this game is displayed in a combination of 3D rendering and pixel art - or at least I think it is; the Switch isn't exactly known for a high resolution.

    Crimzon Clover: World Explosion
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Incredible spectacle of bullets flying everywhere; challenges appropriate to both newcomers and experts; exciting adrenaline rush the whole time
    Weak Points: Somewhat short (though this is common to the genre); Arrange version is single player only
    Moral Warnings: Animated violence against enemy space ships

    While I am far from an expert in the genre, it’s funny how even with relatively little experience, how you can still tell when a game is good. The first time I played this, I kept going until I had finished it (thank goodness for infinite continues!). It was quickly obvious that this was a blast to play and something special. Little did I know at the time that this game has long been on people’s best of the genre lists.

    From the very beginning, no matter what mode you play, your bullets flash in bright colors, and your enemies are clearly visible, with also clear bullets. You know how to hit enemies, and you know how to avoid them. Everything is really fast-paced, with stuff moving around constantly. Explosions are loud and impactful, and sound great. Particularly powerful enemies shoot bullets in waves, where you often have a specific pre-planned spot you should try to be in so that you don't die when hit. While dying can often require only one hit (unless you happen to have a shield up - availability depends on game mode and how recently you died), your hitbox is vanishingly small - it's that little glowing dot in the center of your ship. Many modern shooters do this, so that you still have a chance with the screen just otherwise flooded with things trying to kill you.

    Crimzon Clover: World Explosion
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 94%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    There are three main modes, with sub-settings in each one. There is 'Novice' 'Arcade' and 'Arrange', which varies on difficulty levels called 'Boost', 'Original', 'Unlimited', and 'Time Attack'. The only exception to this is 'Novice', which only has 'Boost' and 'Original'. 'Boost' mode changes based on your skill, while 'Original' is a standard difficulty. 'Unlimited' mode is basically expert; things get crazy here. 'Time Attack' is where you have a limited time to get as many points as possible. Use as many lives as you need!

    'Novice' is a simpler mode, with a much more manageable amount of enemies. 'Arcade' is what is sounds like; difficult, and meant to eat (free) quarters, or lives. All new to the World Explosion edition is 'Arrange', which has Gradius-style upgrades to your ship. Each mode also allows you to choose a ship to fight as.

    Crimzon Clover: World Explosion is honestly a fantastic game for shoot 'em up fans, or anyone interested in the genre. I've really enjoyed my time with it, and it surprised me how few complaints I had, other than the genre typical short length - you're supposed to replay these games over and over for a higher score - which incidentally, has online leaderboards. Morally, you shoot bad guys out of the sky; nothing unusual since the beginning of video games. Degica has promised that the upgrades currently included in the Switch version will be coming to the PC releases in the future, but for now, the 'Arrange' mode is all new and exclusive to the Switch. Regardless of which version you play, it's a blast - and highly recommended.

  • Darius Cozmic Collection Console (Switch)

     

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    Game Info:

    Darius Cozmic Collection Console
    Developed By: TAITO Corporation
    Published By: ININ Games
    Released: June 16, 2020
    Available On: Nintendo Switch; PlayStation 4; various classic consoles like SNES, Genesis, and TurboGrafx 16
    Genre: Shoot 'em up
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for Fantasy Violence
    Number of Players: 1-2 local with online leaderboards
    Price: $59.99

    Thank you ININ Games for sending us this game collection to review!

    Back in the early 1990s, there were several really popular side-scrolling shoot 'em up game series. I was probably most familiar with Gradius and R-Type at the time, but I also remember playing a few others as well. I'm not sure if I played Darius or not back in the day, but picking it up now, these are games that play well and are quite enjoyable, if not a bit difficult. This collection spans just a few years, with the oldest game released in 1990, and the latest 1993.

    The basic format of the games should be somewhat familiar to fans of the genre. You fly left to right, blasting enemies out of the sky with either your blaster, bombs, or both. You can collect various orbs that enemies drop to make your weapons stronger, which can help them do more damage or cover more area (or perhaps both). There are also pickups that grant you shields so you can take more than one hit before you die. You fight bosses at the end of each level, to make sure you're skilled enough to tackle what's next. Many games use this format, but this one is not without differentiators.

    One simple thing that is hard to miss is the enemy design. Many of the more powerful enemies, bosses included, tend to strongly resemble fish or other aquatic creatures. I'm not sure why that's the case, but it certainly is. Another, more important difference, is replayability. Unlike many games where you simply go from one level to the next, many of these offer branching paths, where you can choose which level you wish to play next out of a list. Some games have the branches merge at certain points, while others seem to offer a full set of differing levels based on your choices. This tweak to the simpler formula of the other mentioned shoot 'em up titles is welcomed and really buoys replayability for anyone looking to get the most out of these games.

    Darius Cozmic Collection Console
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellent emulation of some classic shoot 'em up games; nice new added features like save states, replays, online leaderboards, and additional competitive games modes
    Weak Points: Really pricey for what's on offer
    Moral Warnings: You shoot at bad guy aliens that sometimes look like fish

    There are two collections available; one for the arcade titles, and one for the console ones. This is the console collection. It's interesting, because you can clearly see the strengths and weaknesses of each console that they were released on while playing the games therein. For example, you have a single Sega Master System title, which honestly is the weakest game (understandably). Then you have the PC Engine a.k.a. TurboGrafx 16 titles, Darius Plus and Darius Alpha. The latter is noted to have been a limited release of which only 800 were made. Sadly, Super Darius, which is mentioned as an upgraded version of Darius Plus which was released on Turbo CD, is not included. What's most interesting about these games is the notably lesser color palette along with the incredibly fast pace. These titles are intense! Also, Darius Alpha is the single game with the most added to it - there are three additional modes with online leaderboards, which includes a score attack mode, a time attack mode, and a 4 minute time trial mode.

    The Sega Genesis/Mega Drive title (along with the single Master System port) is Darius II, along with its Western game, Sagaia. It's fairly slow paced compared to the others, but it plays well and the FM music sounds great. It handles a lot of enemies, and backgrounds have some trippy effects, and overall it's my favorite title out of the games included. There are both the Japanese and US releases included; the Japanese one is the basis for the online enhanced version called 'special mode' with leaderboards. The Master System version is more of a curiosity than anything I would expect most people to play, though I will say it seems to be a bit faster-paced than its technically superior counterpart.

    Darius Cozmic Collection Console
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 94%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The two SNES releases are Darius Twin, and Darius Force (Japanese) or its Western title, Super Nova. These both look really nice, though if I had to pick one, Darius Twin seems like the better title, if for no other reason than you immediately respawn when you die rather than having to restart the level like they make you do in Darius Force/Super Nova. Both have nice graphics, plenty of bad guys on screen at once, and more complex music using the more advanced sound chip on the SNES. Even so, I'd still probably give the nod to the Genesis game because the FM synth of that one somehow just feels right with action games like this. Darius Force, the Super Famicom (Japanese) release is the title used for the enhanced release with the boss endurance mode added.

    If you like shoot 'em up games, there is a lot to like in this Darius Cozmic Collection Console edition. What is harder to swallow is the price tag. If you combine together the various ports and releases into one game each, there are basically five titles here (six if you separate out the Sega Master System version). For the full retail price of $59.99, the value proposition is in the eye of the beholder. They are offering a separate arcade collection, which has four titles (7 total versions provided), that I have not had the opportunity to review at this time. That collection is $44.99. If you want both the console and arcade game collections, for the (nearly) complete Darius experience, prepare to drop over $100.

    Outside of the potential value proposition, the Darius Cozmic Collection Console edition is a pretty good collection. Morally, there is little more to worry about than shooting various technological or aquatic creatures. With that said, these are a good challenge, and I didn't see a way to 'cheat' like many modern collections offer, so if you do decide to play these, be prepared to 'get good'.

  • Dariusburst: Another Chronicle EX+ (Switch)

     

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    Game Info:

    Dariusburst: Another Chronicle EX+
    Developed By: TAITO Corporation
    Published By: ININ Games
    Released: July 27, 2021
    Available On: Nintendo Switch; PlayStation 4
    Genre: Shoot 'em up
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for Fantasy Violence
    Number of Players: 1-4 local with online leaderboards
    Price: $39.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Taito for sending us this game to review!

    After reviewing the arcade collection of Darius games from last year, I fell in love with the series, and did something I rarely do: I bought Dariusburst: Chronicle Saviors (I'll sometimes abbreviate it as CS) on Steam, despite not having to review it. Even on sale it wasn't exactly cheap, but I enjoyed the series so much, I wanted to support the developer. Once I played the game I purchased, I knew it was the right call –- it has a ton of content, plays great, and looks super sharp at 4K. Color me surprised that when I went to review this game, I realized I'd played much of it already!

    What happened is that Chronicle Saviors includes 'AC Mode', which is the entirety of the Dariusburst: Another Chronicle EX (non-+) version of the game inside the Dariusburst: Chronicle Saviors package. Three out of four of the game modes that EX+ offers are included with CS. So, if you already own Chronicle Saviors, you have to decide if the new Event Mode is worth repurchasing the game for. Alternatively, Chronicle Saviors has more content, but at a higher price. Which version to get is up to you. (Note: Chronicle Saviors is not on Switch.)

    Dariusburst: Another Chronicle, and its re-releases have an interesting history. First was Dariusburst for PSP. Unfortunately it was only released in Japan back in 2009. (This game was eventually re-released on Android and iOS as Dariusburst: Second Prologue.) Approximately a year later, the Arcade game Another Chronicle was released in Japan (it came to the US a year later) and greatly expanded on Dariusburst (and likely made it more difficult; gotta munch those quarters). About a year after that (2011 if you're keeping track) Dariusburst: Another Chronicle EX came to Arcades. In 2015, the Chronicle Saviors version (that includes Another Chronicle EX) came to PS Vita, PS4, and Windows via Steam. However, this Switch/PS4 release, EX+, is the very first time that all of the features of the Arcade version, including the time-limited Events are all included.

    Dariusburst: Another Chronicle EX+
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Faithful reproduction of the arcade experience with lots of extras; an excellent game for shooter fans; first time we get to play Event Mode; ultra-widescreen view is awesome for this kind of game
    Weak Points: Graphics are kind of pixelated on Switch; arguably better package available (at a higher price) in Dariusburst: Chronicle Saviors on PlayStation 4 and PC
    Moral Warnings: You shoot at bad guy aliens that sometimes look like fish

    So, for those not familiar with Darius, in short it's a side-scrolling shoot 'em up where the level (generally) scrolls left to right, where your spaceship shoots down enemy spaceships (and space fish) with blasters, missiles, and a few other attacks to save the human race. Some levels have just a few visible enemies, while others have dozens on the screen at once. Darius was also an early pioneer in ultra-widescreen gaming; the first arcade game had three CRT monitors all projected onto a single screen using a combination of projection and mirrors. Future games used some combination of 1-3 screens, though the series stopped using multiple screens after 1994. Thankfully, with Another Chronicle and the invention of LCD screens, they used a dual widescreen monitor setup to once again get that ultra-widescreen view, which is awesome. There's no other way to put it - I absolutely love the crazy ultra-wide aspect ratio of this game. Thankfully it's all included - even on Switch. If you find the enemies too small to see (not an issue I experienced, even on a handheld switch - but it could be if you are far from a smaller TV) you can press a button on the controller and it will zoom in. Just realize that stuff can happen that you might not see!

    The game is fully 3D rendered, with a side perspective 2D view; this is a graphical style often called 2.5D. Interestingly, the rendering resolution is low enough that pixels can be easily seen on screen; apparently this was also the case on the original Arcade. (I haven't seen the Arcade or PS4 version, so I can't compare them with this Switch one, where pixels are easy to see.) Despite this, the game looks decent enough, with good sound and music to keep things pumping while you blast enemy space aliens away. The frame rate is solid, which is far more important on a game like this than resolution. I really enjoyed all of the time I spent with Dariusburst: Another Chronicle EX+. You can watch my first time playing on this stream here: 

    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 94%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Like many games of this genre, some enemies drop weapon, missile, and shield powerups. Thankfully, they stick around when you die – it can take many pickups worth of upgrades before you get powerful, so this is a big relief. There is also a charge meter (depending on the ship you choose) where you can charge a powerful blast to do tons of damage to a boss, or clear the screen of lots of enemies. Some bosses have certain attacks where they shoot a bright beam that is generally instant death if touched. If you can get the timing right, you can perform a Burst Counter, where your beam counters their powerful blast for insane damage against that boss. I know it's possible to do in this game, but it's not easy to get right, and takes practice. I haven't pulled one off in this game yet.

    There are four game modes available. The first is simply 'Original Mode' – these are the original levels, where you start by picking one of three (the farther down the harder) and at the end of each level, you choose which of two levels to play after that. Top levels are always easier, and bottom ones more difficult. Once you've mastered this mode, a harder 'Original EX Mode' is also available to challenge you. These levels follow a similar formula to the Original levels, but these are much harder. It's nice that the game makes it clear what to expect when it comes to challenge on each of these game modes.

    After this there is 'Chronicle Mode', where you select a star system, and then choose an area to liberate. Some have various objectives that you have to complete. I counted around fifty systems to complete. If that wasn't enough, you also have sometimes dozens of objectives to complete per system. It's honestly insane, and can easily keep you busy for quite a long time.

    The final set of activities, and what is completely new to this EX+ release, is 'Event Mode'. In the original Arcade, thirteen challenges were available for a fairly short time frame – typically for only a week or two – and these are all now available for any player for the first time. Also, there are eight new EX+ events unique to this game. Each of these events are either time or score attack based, where you are aiming for a target time or score, and some have other limitations like what ship to use.

    There are eight total ships available in EX+, and each is subtly different. I haven't fully explored all of the nuances of them all, but from what I understand, many come from older games, so their attacks resemble the ship from that game. In some cases, special attacks, like the Burst Beam, might be altered or replaced depending on the ship. The Origin Silver Hawk, for example, lacks a Burst Beam entirely, but in its place it gets a more powerful normal blaster. Each ship does play slightly differently, so it can be fun to figure out which one's your favorite.

    Like many games in the Darius series, this one supports simultaneous local multiplayer. You can play with up to four friends at once – and it's awesome. If you enjoy cooperative play with lots of enemies to blow up, I'm sure you'll appreciate how easy it is for friends to join.

    Dariusburst: Another Chronicle EX+ is a fine addition to the Darius series, and a great game for any shoot 'em up fan. I enjoyed it immensely playing solo – and with friends it's even better. Morally it's squeaky clean, unless blowing up aliens that look like spaceships (or space fish) is a problem for you. While the $39.99 asking price may seem steep, when you consider all of the game modes available, it's really a reasonable asking price for a game that keeps on giving. If anything, if you play games on a PS4 or Windows PC, your choice is harder – Chronicle Saviors costs more, but you get a lot more content, too. That game's CS Mode includes 186 additional levels, on top of the entire AC EX game (as mentioned, the Event Mode levels are not present). If you don't have access to a PS4 or PC, and only game on a Switch, then it's a no brainer – Dariusburst: Another Chronicle EX+ is a ton of fun to play, and worth every penny. Highly recommended!

  • Defenders of Ekron (PS4)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Defenders of Ekron
    Developed by: In Vitro Games
    Published by: In Vitro Games
    Release date: August 15, 2017
    Available on: PS4, Windows
    Genre: Shoot ‘em up
    Number of players:
    ESRB Rating: Teen for blood, violence and mild language
    Price: $14.99

    Thank you In Vitro Games for sending us a review code!

    The Technocratic Republic of Ekron is being threatened by a group of renegades promoting a civil war. You play a young pilot named Eneas who is about to undergo training to pilot a mech-like war machine called an Anakim. Each Anakim is different, and yours can deploy a temporary shield and can fire lasers and a charged attack. It can also scan the environment to learn about enemies and their weaknesses.

    When you first launch the game you’ll enter a typical shoot ‘em up type of level with smaller enemies and a formidable boss at the end. You’ll have an AI companion who is good to shadow during the boss battle as they seem to know its next move. During these couple of battles you’ll learn the basic controls which consists of the left joystick to move and the right joystick to aim.. The right trigger shoots your primary weapon and the left trigger deploys the shield. Firing the weapons and using the shield uses up energy which is replenished by your ship not using either ability.

    Defenders of Ekron
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Neat mashup of adventure and shoot ‘em up games
    Weak Points: Frustratingly difficult
    Moral Warnings: Spaceship violence, haven’t encountered language but I couldn’t get very far into the story

    The first two skirmishes are not too challenging and that’s the only break you’ll get in this game. The training and the story missions that follow are tough as nails and will deter any gamers who are looking for a relaxing gaming experience. It took me a couple of gaming sessions to get through the initial training, but I was happy when I completed it. In all honesty this game is more challenging than fun for me.

    During the training something goes wrong with your pilot and some modifications have to be made to their Anakim to compensate for their missing skill/ability. Once the story missions begin, your Anakim can collect energy on the battlefield and regenerate health as needed. In total, there are ten stages, but I gave up on the first one.

    Besides the story missions, you can partake in over fifty drills/challenges. Each of these drills have objectives like completing it in a certain amount of time, or not taking any damage. You’ll earn a star for each cleared objective. The stars are used to unlock harder skirmishes. Along with honing your skills, you’ll also earn energy canisters which can be used to make upgrades to your Anakim in the hangar.

    Defenders of Ekron
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 79%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 88%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Although the Anakim is mech-like in appearance, it looks more like a spaceship since this game is shown in a top down perspective. As far as I can tell, the whole Anakim is vulnerable instead of a small hitbox like many shoot ‘em ups I have played.

    The visuals are decent in this game and I like the painted style artwork though it does seem a little rough around the edges at times. The characters look good and their avatars show emotion as they are talking back and forth. Some of the banter between the pilots is humorous at times. Sadly, I couldn’t get far enough into the game to see any foul language. Since the ESRB mentions language, we're basing our moral score on their recommendation. Like many shoot ‘em ups, violence is a given.

    Defenders of Ekron is the first title released from In Vitro Games and it’s got a lot of promise and polish. I just wish it wasn’t as hard and I hope that their future titles will offer multiple difficulty levels. The asking price is a reasonable $14.99, but don’t buy it unless you want a punishing difficulty.

  • Demon Truck (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Demon Truck
    Developed by: Triger Mountain
    Published by: Adventurepro Games LLC
    Release date: September 26, 2016
    Available on: Windows, Mac, Linux
    Genre: Shoot em’ up
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $4.99

    Thank you Triger Mountain for sending us this game to review!

    There’s not much of a story in Demon Truck other than you glorifying Satan by dispatching any obstacle or vehicle that gets between your fearsome truck and the Next Hell.  To make things interesting, your truck has a mind of its own and steers itself.  All you can do is ram into objects with temporary invincibility and shoot down enemies and bosses that get in your way.  Both your boost and ammunition gauges are limited and need time to recharge.  

    While enemies can be avoided instead of shot down, you do get score bonuses for taking them all out in a perfect run.  If you miss just one enemy, you’ll get a mediocre rating.    After a wave is completed you’ll get to choose one out of two randomly selected power-ups.

     

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun shoot ‘em up that is easy to learn, but hard to master
    Weak Points: I felt guilty playing this at church
    Moral Warnings: You’re driving a wicked truck that glorifies Satan by running over and mauling other vehicles; "demon's danglies" are a power-up; language on the Steam page but didn’t notice any in the game

     

    You can equip your hellish rig with guided missiles, flame throwers, laser beams, and other options like the ability to hurl exploding clowns at your enemies.  The power-ups are stackable so showering your opponents with clowns is totally possible and rewarding.  There’s a Steam achievement for equipping three clowns at a time.  Other power-ups increase your ammo, health, and boost amount.  "Demon's danglies" increase your score multiplier which comes in handy if you’re looking to etch your name on the global leaderboards.   

    In the beginning you start off with three health hearts (that are shaped like actual anatomical hearts).  Each time you collide with an obstacle or enemy attack you’ll lose one.  Replenishing your health is often a choice as a possible power-up after completing a wave.  Of course the game taunts you for choosing it by naming it “Heart of Cowardice.”  

    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay - 19/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 73%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 8/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The bosses are intimidating and require you to expertly time your attack and defensive maneuvers.  Once they are defeated you’ll earn an additional health heart.  Like the enemies and level layouts, the bosses are randomly selected.

    The 2D visuals have a 16-bit look to them, but they look and run great on lower-end systems.  The explosions and fire particle effects look nice, especially after clearing a menacing boss!

    Zircon composed the music in Demon Truck along with other games like Soulcalibur V,  Monkey Island 2 SE, and Phineas & Ferb: AT2D.  While he wasn’t the lead composer, he did assist in other popular titles like Street Fighter II THDR, and Crypt of the Necrodancer. The sound effects are good too.  

    The $4.99 price tag is very reasonable for this well polished and fun game.  If it wasn’t for the hellish theme and demonic premise I would wholeheartedly recommend this title.  If you don’t mind glorifying Satan with your devious rig, then you’ll want to check out Demon Truck.  

  • Drifting Lands (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Drifting Lands
    Developed by: Alkemi
    Published by: Alkemi
    Release date: June 5, 2017
    Available on: macOS, Windows
    Genre: Shoot 'em Up
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $18.99

    Thank you Alkemi for sending us this game to review!

    Citizens of the Ark live together or die together. They are the few survivors of worldwide devastation that wiped out billions of humans and robots. Together they piece together ships and try to make a living in space, but now they are under attack and must continue to fight for their survival.

    When you first launch the game, you’ll have to select one of two difficulty levels and a ship. In the Forgiving mode you won’t ever lose your ship and all of your broken equipment can be repaired (for a fee) and is never destroyed. Normal mode allows for complete ship and component loss. Ships are not cheap, but if you get another and are low on funds, free base components are available to get you flying again.

    There are three different ship classes and they each have their own strengths and weaknesses. You can always buy the other types later on in the game, funds permitting. The Interceptor is fast and has good firepower; its only drawback is that it only has two armor slots. The Marauder is a more balanced ship that provides three armor slots. If you’re looking for a tough ship then you’ll want the Sentinel with four armor slots. It’s the slowest ship out of the bunch.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun and challenging shoot 'em up gameplay with RPG elements for upgrading various ship components for the best configuration possible
    Weak Points: No voice acting; good but repetitive soundtrack
    Moral Warnings: Language (hell, d*mn, sh*t); drinking/drunkenness; religion shown in a negative light; meditation and references to mother nature; optional smuggling quests

    Like many 2D shoot 'em ups your ship has a hit zone that will deplete the shield when it comes in contact with enemy ships or their bullets and/or lasers. Once the shield is gone, your ship’s HP will start to drain. It is always advisable to manually retreat and keep your cargo and credits you have earned instead of losing all of it by relying on the auto retreat module. Without the auto retreat module you could lose more than your current cargo and credits. Even with manual or auto retreating you still have a chance of stuff breaking, or having the retreat fail altogether. Be sure to read each equip-able item’s flaws before attaching it to your vessel.

    Your ship has three main attributes: structure, power, and navigation. Depending on the model of the ship, the maximum amount of points you can assign varies. You can purchase and assign points until the maximum amount is reached or your wallet is empty. Many of the components you install will raise and possibly lower these attributes for you. Higher level items have a required minimum amount needed before you can install it. Like many good RPGs, better equipment is just a mission away.

    There are three types of missions: story, side quest, and glory missions. Each mission is randomly generated and classified as short, average, or long in length. There are ten tiers and the difficulty spike between each tier is significant. A boss battle/trial must be completed before advancing to the next tier. Since some of the missions are linked together, mastering the manual retreat is a must. It's better to leave on your own terms and not fail multiple missions at once. As you rise in the ranks more ships and power-ups for them become available for purchase. The story missions and side quests only take place in the first five tiers. The later five tiers are for bragging rights and glory missions.

    Drifting Lands
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 76%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 6/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    The glory missions don’t provide with you with any credits or loot. They’re for ace pilots who want to have their names on the leaderboards. After completing your first couple of story missions you’ll notice that you only get to keep 10% of the credits earned per mission. The rest of the money goes to the crew who provide you with shelter and basic components if needed. The side quests offer a way to make more than the 10% cut as long as you’re willing to supply and smuggle rare and unique items.

    Visually, this game looks stunning and there is a lot of eye candy with the bullets, lasers, and enemies all over the place. There's a decent amount of variety in the enemies and bosses. The cutscenes are minimally animated and get the job done. The lack of voice acting is noticeable. While I enjoyed the background music, I noticed the same few tracks playing over and over.

    Aside from smuggling, you’ll encounter drinking, drunkenness, mutiny, and foul language. An enemy group has a strong religious slant and demands that your group atone for their sins by taking orders from them. One of the characters meditates and seeks balance with mother nature.

    If you don’t mind the moral issues and challenge, Drifting Lands is bound to entertain gamers who enjoy shoot 'em ups and RPGs. With the random levels and one-hundred difficulty levels of challenge, there is plenty of replay value. The asking price is a reasonable $18.99 and there’s a demo available if you want to give it a test drive beforehand.

  • DYSTORIA (PC)

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    Game Info:

    DYSTORIA
    Developer:Tri-Coastal Games
    Published by: Tri-Coastal Games, IndieHound
    Release Date: February 20, 2017
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Action, Arcade Shoot em up.
    Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: Unrated
    Price: $14.99 on Steam or less than $2 on Kinguin
    (Kinguin Affiliate link)

     

    Thank you Tri-Coastal Games for sending us a review code.

    What was it with the '80s and neon lights? I never got that trope nor do I know if I want to. However, at least it makes for good video game settings. Space is full of bright lights and neon in DYSTORIA, an arcade like space shooting game. Gravity is nearly non-existent as every wall and angle is yours to move on in every level. Put on your sunglasses and let's survive in DYSTORIA.

    DYSTORIA starts with a randomly working arcade machine appearing in a back alley. Once you touch it you're taken onto an alien ship where they ask you to train on a simulation device. Not everything is as it appears, at first you get emails congratulating you on completing stages. Yet as you progress, the messages you receive seem a bit more ominous.  

    DYSTORIA
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: A fun pick up and play game that inspires you to actually beat your own scores.
    Weak Points: A short game with nothing else going for it other then gameplay.
    Moral Warnings: Just inoffensive ship-to-ship combat.

    With the gameplay you get right to the point. Story takes a back seat to stages, scores, and collectibles. Not to say the story is necessarily bad, but DYSTORIA does not need Shakespearean dialogue. Yet once you're put into the pilot seat, you either beat a certain number of enemies or you collect orbs to exit each stage. The levels will mess with you as you explore, every plane of the game can hide treasures and enemies form you. You collect nucleons to unlock new weapons in one of your three weapons slots. Salvage collected from enemies will allow you to unlock new ships. Each ship has different stats on handling, speeds, shields, and turning. You'll also have hidden ship pieces to find in stages to unlock a special ship for your use.

    This is a game that is quick, simple, and fun, yet it doesn't have a lot of longevity to it. The art style is creative, the six axis gameplay allows for a lot of fun level design and joy in exploration. Yet this is a game that can get repetitive quickly. If you are immune to motion sickness and if the constant neon doesn't burn your eyes, you'll be finished with the game in about four to seven hours. Another problem with the neon minimalist art style is the enemies of the world don't really stick out to you. While it's more than ok to play a game without a gigantic story, the world doesn't have life to it. This game seems to have been compared a lot to Tron, but Tron is remembered as a classic film for more than just the neon game world. Tron and his enemies were brought to life with a mix of visuals, character development, and world building. That being said, considering the fact this is a two man indie team and it's not a game hounded with early access bugs or a poor development history, the game's price of admission is more than fair. Not every game needs to be long, open world experiences with hundreds of collectibles and extreme replay value. Nor do I need a complex story filled with exposition and character development. I can see myself picking up DYSTORIA for quick blasts of gameplay to challenge my high score.

    DYSTORIA
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 98%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The soundtrack would be what you make of it. The early techno style will be lost on some and a heavenly experience for others. The game also breaks some immersion when you realize that the ships aren't really special: you'll want to work towards using the ship with the best stats. With the classic arcade feel this game touts, maybe unlocks should have been done away with. If all the ships were unlocked it could be about challenging yourself with the weaker ships. The ships don't affect the power of your weapons either, further weakening the point in keeping the ships locked away. It's just a padding on keeping the stronger ships away from you to tempt people into staying with the game more.

    Other then blowing up virtual enemy ships, This game has no moral failings.

    This game is a great pick up and play experience with a right amount of challenge. Unlike other games that try to give the arcade feel, DYSTORIA accomplishes this in spades. More developers should have the courage to make simple and to the point games like the crew that brought us DYSTORIA.

     

  • Explottens (Preview) (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Explottens
    Developed By: We.R.play
    Published By: We.R.play
    Released: June 2017 (Early Access); September 14, 2019 (Apple Arcade)
    Available On: iOS, macOS, Windows
    Genre: Shoot ‘em up
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Number of Players: Single player
    Price: $4.99

    Thank you We.R.play for providing us with a preview code!

    What a funny title, Explottens. Rolls off the tongue very well. This interesting shoot ‘em up comes from Pakistani developer We.R.play. I like seeing and experiencing video games from places you wouldn’t expect them to come from. Explottens stars Captain K.I.T as he leads his group of sky-soaring kitties to take out the devious K.L.A.W organization in intense dogfights. (Or”cat”fights in this case.)

    Explottens starts almost immediately with an interesting tutorial to get used to the rather simple controls. Despite it being a flying shoot ‘em up, it takes more from a twin-stick shooter. Controls are very simple with the standard WASD for movement, the mouse for aiming, shooting, and dodging, and the V key for special abilities. They respond well in combat and feel good to maneuver with, but I did have a few issues when navigating menus—sometimes, clicks fail to register. Explottens also doesn’t seem to support gamepads as far as I’m aware.

    After the tutorial, the main menu is shown where you can start up the game or mess with the options. A world map is displayed where Captain K.I.T accesses the levels or the shop where various weapon types, planes, and sidekicks can be bought. Weapons range from the standard straight bullets, a short-ranged cone spread of bullets, a laser, a piercing weapon called the atomizer, and rockets. Sub-weapons consist of a short-ranged flamethrower, an orbiting set of plasma balls that protect you from gunfire, and a gun that shoots backward. Each of these sub-weapons also determines what your special ability is too. All of the previously mentioned weapons can be upgraded with coins earned through the stages.

    Explottens
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Quick to pick up and play; cool presentation and style
    Weak Points: Unbalanced difficulty settings; a couple of crashes/soft locks; Steam version seems to be behind compared to the Apple Arcade version
    Moral Warnings: Lots of aerial combat with explosions everywhere; main character says “Oh we are f-” before it cuts out; main antagonist is a magician who uses magic mixed with technology

    Thirty stages in total exist within Explottens with three difficulty settings comprising of easy, medium, and hard. There’s a sense of imbalance within each difficulty setting and it’s not because each of them determines how many hits K.I.T can take or dish out, but the number of coins and experience earned. Easy, of course, earns the least amount of coins and experience while medium doubles what you get. Hard doubles even what you would earn on medium. If you spend too much time on hard and want to go down to medium or easy for a few levels, going back to hard makes it even more difficult due to the missing experience and upgrades you would have acquired otherwise. This potentially means that a bit of grinding may have to happen in earlier levels just to make up for the lost power.

    Hard mode can be very punishing because enemies, especially bosses, take a lot of damage in the earlier levels whereas the smallest mistake can mean failure. However, any coins and experience earned within the levels stick around so hard mode can eventually be conquered with sheer tenacity. I’d probably recommend starting with medium, then coming back to hard as a pseudo-new game plus, unless you’re just really good at shoot ‘em ups. This may possibly be influenced by mobile games as those typically encourage people to grind levels/stages for the harder difficulties.

    Levels are meant to be picked up and played as the shortest levels don’t even last 30 seconds while the longest levels are just barely above two minutes. I feel this style works very well for a shoot ‘em up as there never has to be a commitment to this experience. If you wanna just sit down and knock out a few levels in a few minutes, then go right ahead. More mobile influences can be felt through Explottens (even though I believe this was released for the PC platforms first) with the fast-paced nature and large UI interface.

    I’m not too sure if We.R.Play has ever heard of SWAT Kats before, but I get a lot of vibes of that show from this game. Both have anthropomorphic feline characters, the protagonists are cats who fly planes and jets, both have a rockin’ soundtrack, and both have the story centered around a maniacal villain who uses both technology and magic to take over the world. Either they are also people of culture or it's just the biggest coincidence ever. The soundtrack consists of guitars and guitar riffs that sound nice and fit thematically. There aren't a huge amount of tracks available, but they’ll mostly get drowned out by the loud sound effects so I never felt it getting repetitive. The sound effects pack a lot of boom. My personal favorite is the laser sound effect with a nice charging sound that unleashes a powerful bang.

    Explottens
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay 15/20
    Graphics 7/10
    Sound 8/10
    Stability 4/5
    Controls 4/5

    Morality Score - 85%
    Violence 7/10
    Language 9/10
    Sexual Content 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural 6.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical 10/10

    The cats themselves and the art style is cute, cheery, and colorful. It has a very cartoon-like style to it with a mix of chibi too. They are simple and do the job. The portraits for the characters are in a bit more detail, with a somewhat rougher appearance. The environments are diverse and you’ll see bright clear skies and cloudy volcano environments through the thirty levels.

    However, I did come across a few bugs. On the final level, I did witness one crash, although I’m not too sure what caused it. I wasn’t able to replicate it again. On the Spider Cat level, sometimes a soft lock happens when there is a phase that happens where you’re supposed to destroy a group of enemies. One of these enemies just walks off-screen to the abyss, putting the boss fight in an incomplete state. Other than those two instances, those were the only major bugs I noticed.

    In terms of moral warnings, they are pretty few and far between. Explottens is primarily aerial combat with explosions everywhere. During one boss fight, Captain K.I.T says “Oh we are f-” before being cut off by the boss fight. As stated previously, the main antagonist and leader of K.L.A.W is a magician who uses magic mixed with technology.

    Now, I enjoyed my time with Explottens. It’s a fast-paced and high-speed shoot ‘em up. It’s competent in what it does, even if it doesn’t innovate on the genre. Anyone of any skill level can play, and the morality of it is nothing that most kid shows haven’t already seen. Despite Explottens being a good game, I cannot recommend purchasing it—if you have access to the Apple Arcade versions that is. Steam is behind in terms of updates as compared to Apple which features a survival mode, and a whole new set of levels with unique boss battles. There also seems to be radio silence for the Steam version as the last update was sometime in January of last year. This makes Explottens on Apple Arcade the superior one in terms of content. If you still decide to buy Explottens on Steam (or if that's your only option) as it's still a perfectly serviceable game and sold at a good price, just keep in mind that what you're getting into is essentially an "outdated" product.

  • Flewfie's Adventure (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Flewfie's Adventure
    Developed: Cosmic Boop, Valorware
    Published By: Valorware
    Released: September 23, 2021
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Shoot ‘em up
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Number of Players: Up to two players
    Price: $14.99

    Thank you Cosmic Boop for providing us with a review code!

    Flewfie’s Adventure is an adorable 2D twin-stick shoot ‘em up (more like cute ‘em up) by Cosmic Boop and Valorware. The main character is Flewfie from planet Cutemellow, a planet where chibi-styled bipedal animals come from. The cat Uzuu wreaked havoc on Scientist Snail’s lab and stole his UFO. Flewfie, Scientist Snail, and their friends Bunn Bun and Pinky Panda must traverse the cosmos to planets where Uzuu has spread chaos and put a stop to him as well as save the many inhabitants corrupted by the chaos.

    The world of Cutemellow and the various planets have a very bright and colorful art style to it, reminiscent of equally delightful designs such as Neopets and Club Penguin. Every planet is uniquely designed such as Cutemellow having a more nature-like aesthetic. Later levels will take inspiration from places such as a sugary-sweet land made of cake, a haunted graveyard world, and an ocean planet. The clean art has everything pop out in a good way and manages to be very pleasing to look at.

    Flewfie has his own UFO to pilot and navigates the 25+ levels with it—and sometimes on foot. The UFO has full freedom of movement. Whether a player uses keyboard & mouse or a gamepad, shooting is slightly different. For gamepads, tilting the control stick automatically shoots in that direction. For keyboard & mouse, simply pointing and clicking in the direction will suffice. Both control methods work perfectly and choosing one or the other is purely up to personal preference.

    Flewfie's Adventure
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Interesting bullet designs and patterns; adorable visuals; strong soundtrack 
    Weak Points: Can suffer from repetition; the Fyued card game is required for 100%; can’t change difficulty settings 
    Moral Warnings: Cute cartoon violence; supernatural elements with demons, ghosts, and magic books

    Flewfie’s Adventure is divided in three segments. The overworld has you interact with the various characters saved throughout the journey. Sometimes they give out pieces to your UFO or outfit that can increase stats. The levels themselves are designed similarly to an ant tunnel with lots of tightly-packed corridors and places to navigate to and many enemies shooting at you. Shooting at enemies and defeating them earns experience to level up with, and increases your defense and attack. Despite the visual variation for each level, the gameplay loop can feel similar as every level has you collect five tokens, save these creatures called Bundrops through puzzles or obstacle courses, and carry circle or square shapes to unlock doors to further progress. The fact that you’re doing this from the first level up to the very last level means repetition can set in place. The levels and customization could have used a bit of work too as instead of feeling more powerful with higher levels and more pieces for your UFO and costume, it feels like you’re just doing it to keep up with the enemies as they start to scale heavily with each completed level.

    Boss battles tend to break the pace of the levels and happen every one or two stages. Each boss has their own unique design as well as patterns both in the way they move and the shape of their bullets. Bosses are mostly fairly simple but can be fun as they keep you on your toes. Some of them nearly adopt a “bullet heck” style and maneuvering through the barrage of projectiles while making sure you do enough damage yourself is engaging.

    The last and optional segment is the card game Fyued. It can be somewhat confusing at first, but the rules are that each player is given three cards. The cards are based on enemies and characters seen throughout the game. Each card has three different numbers indicated by left | right | center. Left and right indicate the corresponding spot it points to on the field while center is for when a card is placed on top of another. The higher number wins and swaps the card to your side. Whoever has the most cards on their side after all three cards are used up wins, and the loser has to give up one card. Personally, I didn’t like Fyued so I didn’t delve much into it. Unfortunately for completionists, Fyued is a requirement for 100% as there are over 100 cards and some levels require beating an NPC at Fyued to obtain full completion for that level.

    Flewfie's Adventure
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 84%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 4/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    There are three difficulty settings: easy, normal, and hard. Difficulty cannot be switched once chosen, which is a bummer for me because after about a little more than halfway, I started to find the experience a little too easy on normal. I think anyone who has played a shoot ‘em up before should play on hard.

    Flefie’s music and sound effects are surprisingly good. The music is of course as cute as the game, but there are also some pretty intense scores with lots of variation. I even caught myself humming some of the tracks a few times. Sound effects are distinct, with each enemy and action having a different one, making it easy to tell apart from some of the more chaotic segments.

    Moral warnings, given the type of game this is, are pretty few as expected. As it is a shoot ‘em up, there is violence, however, most of it is light or cartoony in nature. The supernatural elements are a bit more than the violence. There is an entire world based on a graveyard with various creatures such as ghosts, demons, vampires, magic books that shoot magic circles, and ghouls.

    Flewfie’s Adventure is best played in short bursts and can be enjoyable if you take your time with it. For the price, it has a fair amount of content. The experience can be somewhere between 6 and 8 hours if you simply play through the levels and mostly ignore Fyued. Since most levels can be fully completed your first time around, the majority of the replay value lies in a harder difficulty or the Fyued card game. Moral warnings are, once again, very few so the majority of people can safely play it. It’s quite the treat if you wanted your shoot ‘em ups to be more on the cute side.

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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