enfrdeitptrues

Shoot 'em Up

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    boxart
    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.

  • boxart
    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.

     

  • boxart
    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.

  • boxart
    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.

  • boxart
    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.

  • boxart
    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

     

  • 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.

  • boxart
    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.  

  • boxart
    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.

  • boxart
    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.

     

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Ghost Blade HD
    Developed by: Hucast Games
    Published by: 2Dream
    Release date: February 28, 2017
    Available on: PS4, Xbox One, Wii U
    Genre: Shoot ‘em Up
    Number of players: up to two locally
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $9.99

    Thank you Beefjack for sending us a review code!

    When you first launch Ghost Blade HD, you get to select a single or local multiplayer game and a ship, and then start shooting things and dodging hundreds of bullets.  If you want to find a reason for blowing stuff up, you’ll need to head over to the website since it’s nowhere to be found in the game. 

    Since we've been to the game's website already, we'll share a quick recap of the story.  Roughly 10,000 years ago an artificial intelligence called Shira was built to protect Mars.  Unfortunately, the AI became corrupt and began attacking the colonies.  Since the colonies are defenseless, they call for help from the Earth Defense Force fleet.  As “Evil Shira” launches an invasion force and sets its sights on ruling the galaxy, it up to the bravest fighter pilot (you) to stop it.

    There are three ships to choose from and each of them has a different shooting style that gets more and more powerful as you collect power-ups.  When fully upgraded, many of the attacks can spray bullets canvasing half of the screen or more.  Firing bullets and automatically dropping bombs is easy enough; the real challenge is dodging the enemy bullets, missiles, and laser beams simultaneously.

    Ghost Blade HD
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Easy to learn, but hard to master Shoot ‘em up game
    Weak Points: Relatively short with only five levels
    Moral Warnings: Spaceship violence; women wearing revealing swimsuit-like outfits

    Your ship has a tiny vulnerable spot that should be guarded at all costs.  When hit, your ship will either auto-deploy a bomb and clear away all of the enemy fire, or it may subtract a life.  There are lives and credits; while lives can be replenished in game, credits never are.  When you run out of lives, you can continue at the cost of a credit and after you use all of them up, it’s game over.  Once your game ends, you can add your name to the online leaderboards.

    Even though I got further than my brother, he still has the number one score on the easy difficulty.  Combos really pay off in points.  The leaderboards are separated by the three difficulties and I have the number one spot on normal.  Since beating the first boss was challenging enough for me on normal, I haven’t attempted the hardest difficulty yet.

    There are five levels in total and each of them ends with a monstrous boss that needs to be defeated in ninety seconds or less.  If you beat the game, you can try again at a harder difficulty or with a different ship to get some more replayability.  Depending on how you good you are at shoot ‘em ups, you may beat this game on your first sitting.  (I didn’t.)

    Ghost Blade HD
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 87%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    There are thirty-seven achievements if you’re into those.  In order to get them all, you’ll have to pilot each of the ships.  The Xbox controls are simple enough with a joystick to move and pressing the A button to fire.  The X button unleashes a more powerful attack.

    Since you’ll be shooting down enemy ships, there is some violence.  Each ship has a bathing suit clad woman representing them.  I am assuming they are the pilot, and if so, they sure have revealing flight gear.  Other than that, this game is relatively clean.

    All in all, Ghost Blade HD is a solid Shoot ‘em up game that’s fun by yourself or with a friend.  The levels are action packed and the bosses do a good job in reducing the number of lives you have left.  If you enjoy bullet heck games this one is worth picking up.  If you’re really good at them, you may want to wait for a sale since this one only offers five levels.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    EVE: Gunjack
    Developed by: CCP
    Published by: CCP
    Release Date: November 20, 2015
    Available on: Gear VR, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift
    Genre: Shooter
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for fantasy violence
    Price: $9.99

    My husband and I recently passed down our Samsung S4 phones to our kids and replaced them with S7’s.  Besides getting a couple years of Netflix, we also got Gear VR headsets, and 6 games for free.  This review is based off of the Gear VR version that came in the game bundle.

    There’s not much of a story in Gunjack other than protecting your mothership from pirates that are attacking your company’s mining operation.  Throughout the twenty-two levels the enemies will become faster and deadlier. The first few levels are pretty easy and shouldn’t take too long complete.  Depending on the percentage of enemies killed, maximum combo, and number of lives used, you’ll be awarded between one and three stars per level.  If you have only received one or two stars, you’ll need to replay those levels to unlock missions in the second half of the game.

    The headset controls work flawlessly and the head tracking for aiming is pretty accurate.  Firing the guns is accomplished by tapping on the touchpad on the side of the Gear VR.  In between enemy waves it’s a good idea to reload your ammunition.  That is done by swiping back on the touchpad on your head.  Sometimes power ups are dropped and in order to activate those, you’ll have to swipe forward.  You can only have one active power up at a time, so choose wisely!

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun VR experience with smooth head controls
    Weak Points: Only twenty levels; limited controller support; visuals get blurry when not centered
    Moral Warnings: Spaceship violence and some language (*ssholes)

    There are offensive and defense power-ups available.  Some useful temporary weapon upgrades include homing missiles, bombs, and laser guns.  There’s also a stasis field that slows down enemies too.   Any missed enemies will do damage to your turret.  Fortunately, there are ways to repair it.  You can use repair kits and scrap metal floating in space to replenish your turret’s health.  If your health gets depleted, you can retry a maximum of three times, but your end score will suffer as a result.

    The enemies get sneakier and they get power-ups later in the game that will render them invisible or invincible to attack until you take out the unshielded foe.  Some enemies will steal your equipped power-up or render your turrets completely useless with EMP bombs.  The enemies are usually color coded so you’ll learn which ones to aim for and which ones to avoid altogether.

    Graphically Gunjack looks decent and is powered by the Unreal 4 engine.  The boss ships are intimidating and some of the ships are shaped differently and are bigger than others.  I like how you can look down and see your virtual body, arms, and legs.  If you twist your neck as far as it can go and look behind you, the pilot’s body is actually headless.  Items front and center are crisp, but objects that are not in focus will appear blurry.

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

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    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

    The sound effects are believable and the voice acting of your commander is good, but repetitive.   He often uses the phrase “if I hadn’t seen it, I wouldn’t believe it.” Unfortunately, one of the phrases he uses has the word *ssholes in it.  Although it’s not him, he sounded like John Goodman. 

    After a while my hands felt heavy and I wanted to try using a controller instead.  I synced up the Snakebyte idroid:con Bluetooth controller to my phone.  While the triggers for firing the guns worked, I was not able to reload my ammunition no matter what buttons I pressed.  Unfortunately, the Samsung controller that was designed alongside the Gear VR has been discontinued and alternatives may not be 100% compatible.  The PS4 controllers I had in my house did not work at all.  The SteelSeries Stratus XL however, worked perfectly.

    If you’re new to VR and are looking for a fun game to try, Gunjack will fit the bill nicely if you don’t mind shooting down space pirates and some language.  If you’re good you will be able to complete this game rather quickly, but racking enough stars to unlock missions in the second half required some replaying of previous missions on my part.  The normal price of $9.99 is reasonable, but getting it for free is even better.

     

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Hatred
    Developed by: Destructive Creations
    Published by: Destructive Creations
    Release Date: June 1, 2015
    Available on: PC
    Genre: Shooter
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: AO for intense violence, blood and gore, strong language
    Price: $19.99 on Steam

    Thank you Micah from Techraptor for gifting us a copy of this game to review!

    Hatred is a controversial game that has built up a lot of hype due to its removal from and re-admission to Steam's Greenlight process and for receiving an AO rating from the ESRB. Violence is not uncommon in today's videogames and many of them earn their Mature rating from the ESRB. While the violence scenes in Hatred were graphic and heartless, I thought it would be much worse to warrant the dreaded AO rating that prevents games from being sold in popular retail markets.

    The story in this game is pretty much non-existent. The nameless character wants to cleanse the world from the useless parasites (people) that infest it. Before he goes down in glory, he wants to execute as many people as possible. Not surprisingly, there are Steam achievement for killing a set amount of hipsters, junkies, police officers, SWAT, and soldiers. 

    At first I was curious if killing in this game was avoidable. Sadly, my hopes were dashed when I had to execute a drugged hostage in order to complete the tutorial. The tutorial will teach you how to shoot at close and long range targets, use grenades, and basic maneuvering techniques. You'll also learn how to do execution style killings which are required for replenishing your health. There is no other way. While armor enhancements and munitions can be scavenged, health kits do not exist in this game. 

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Explosions and destructible environments
    Weak Points: Shallow character that wants everyone dead; wonky controls; dumb AI that likes to run into a stream of bullets and doesn't take cover from them; lag; beat it in three hours
    Moral Warnings: Murdering innocent people who sometimes run away praying the Lord's Prayer; graphic executions; encourages killing cops and soldiers; lots of cursing with the F word and blaspheming with it as well 

    Before I dove into the first mission I had to choose my difficulty and adjust to the game's controls. There are three difficulty levels (Easy, Hard, Extreme) and your choice is locked in without the ability to change it mid-game. I started off by playing on the Hard difficulty and noticed the difficulty increase substantially in the second level. 

    Hatred is a top down 3D twin-stick shooter that relies on covering and dodging techniques as well as having a strong offensive. You can't just run into a police station spraying bullets without taking cover and expect to survive. (You're required to "cleanse" the police station BTW.) Logically, I thought a controller would be the best way to play a twin-stick shooter. Sadly, I couldn't aim to save my life (pun intended) with my Xbox 360 controller. I wound up using my keyboard and mouse instead. Despite being awkward at times, it worked for the most part. 

    Like many PC games the WASD keys are used for moving around while the mouse is used for aiming and firing. The G key throws grenades and molotovs while the F key activates a power kick which knocks down doors and people. If you're ever low on ammo or health, you can finish people off by kicking them down and executing them with a press of the Q key. 

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

    Game Score - 54%
    Gameplay - 5/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 44%
    Violence - 0/10
    Language - 0/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 2/10

    The executions are random and graphic. The color palette in this game is mostly black and white with the exception of fire, TVs, signs, cop lights, and red objects including blood. During an execution sequence you'll get to see a close up view of a person being slain by a point blank shot to the head, stabbed to death, having their head stomped or neck broken. Blood typically sprays out during the process. If you'd rather not see the executions, you can disable them in the options menu.

    Lots of lives have to be taken to progress in this game. Fortunately children (and animals) are nowhere to be found in the levels. Some of the side quests are silly including taking out the hunters, crashing a party, a phone launch, a political rally, and a gun show. Many of these events are well populated and the artificial intelligence isn't the brightest when it comes to avoiding bullets. In fact many run directly into them. The police officers and soldiers seldom took cover as well. 

    While shooting at people, they said some interesting things. Some people would start cussing up a storm while others started praying the Lord's Prayer. A few people even stopped to ask if I was crazy. The language in this game is harsh and uses many derogatory terms and F-bombs. There is plenty of F-bomb laced blaspheming as well. 

    As if the Adult Only rating wasn't obvious enough, Hatred should not be played anywhere near children. Adults may want to question their purchase since the story is shallow and the gameplay is repetitive. Hatred can be beaten in a few hours and I see little reason to go back and play it on a harder difficulty. I'd rather leave my most recent "Wuss" Steam achievement, (despite beating the game on Hard), instead of firing it up against to kill two more cops to unlock the "Cop Killer" achievement. I think our police force needs more respect than this game has given them. There are better twin-stick shooter games available that offer more exciting gameplay than hype. 

     

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Hyperspace Invaders II: Pixel Edition
    Developed by: Entity Media Lab
    Published by: Black Shell Media
    Release date: September 4, 2015
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Bullet Heck
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $4.99

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

    Hyperspace Invaders II: Pixel Edition is a music driven shoot ‘em up game that is intense with the confusing yet pretty clutter of pixel aliens and their bullets that you have to avoid.  Your character has an auto-firing gun that gets more powerful with each alien soul you collect.  Some aliens will drop a yellow power-up that temporarily gives you side-firing abilities.

    With the on screen chaos, it’s sometimes hard to tell what is safe to touch and what you need to avoid.  If you do detect imminent danger, you can fire a laser beam that destroys enemy gunfire while reducing the power of your main weapon.  It’s a tough sacrifice so you’ll want to use it sparingly.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Intense music based shoot’em up game
    Weak Points: Not many songs/levels; this game should not be played by or near those with epilepsy
    Moral Warnings: You’re shooting aliens in self defense

    There are a wide variety of enemies and bosses to eliminate.  Sometimes they’re in Galaga formation, but most of the time they arrive in swarms and spray bullets in many different directions.  The bosses are larger than your standard foes and they have a thin red health bar on the top of the screen. 

    Your weapon’s power level and max combos are indicated on the left-hand side while the song/level completion rate is shown on the bottom right-hand side.  Including the tutorial level, there are twelve songs/levels in total.  A Steam achievement is earned for fully completing each level.  This is easier said than done as the levels get complex within seconds.  

    The aliens are drawn in a pixel art style and there’s a lot of eye candy mayhem that is sure to trigger epileptic seizures for those who are sensitive to them.  I was surprised that there wasn’t an epilepsy warning for this game as it surely needs one.  

    Hyperspace Invaders II: Pixel Edition
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

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

    The soundtrack consists of various electronica and techno tracks.  There’s a decent amount of variety, but none of the songs appealed to me or got stuck in my head.  The songs show their BPM and the higher it is: the harder they are to play.

    You can use a gamepad or keyboard to play this game.  The controls are super easy and you just need to be able to move with the joystick or arrow keys and fire with the space bar or button on a gamepad.  The controls are easy enough for people of all ages to master.  Aside from shooting down aliens in self-defense there’s no moral issues in this game.  

    If you like insane shoot ’em up games, then you’ll definitely want to look into Hyperspace Invaders II: Pixel Edition.  The price is a reasonable $4.99 but can be had for less on sale.  If you don’t mind flashing and flickering screens, I recommend adding it to your Steam wish list.

     

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Kick Ass Commandos
    Developed by: Anarchy Enterprises
    Published by: Anarchy Enterprises
    Release date: November 17, 2016
    Available on: Linux, Mac, Windows
    Genre: Twin-stick Shooter
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $14.99

    Thank you Anarchy Enterprises for sending us this game to review!

    Kick *ss Commandos is a 2D over-the-top twin stick shooter that lets you splatter the innards of enemy soldiers, tanks, helicopters, and alligators.  As of this review there are six mission packs with nine levels apiece.  The levels typically have to be completed sequentially, but sometimes there are multiple paths to take to get to the final boss of the mission pack.  

    There’s plenty of variety in the mission objectives. The most common theme is to rescue prisoners and make it to the extraction point with as many of them alive as possible.  You get experience for each rescued soldier, but lose a portion of it if they die.  Given that the AI isn’t the brightest, it’s nice to know that a game over screen won’t trigger if they walk straight into enemy gunfire.  Some missions have you rescue a particular commando and in those missions you have to keep them alive until the end of the level.  As a reward for keeping them in one piece, they become playable characters.

    Each commando has various attributes like health, armor, rate of fire, and damage dealt.  There’s also a valor skill that increases the health of the rescued prisoners.  As the commanders accumulate experience points, they’ll rise up in rank and earn skill points which can be used to buff their stats.  With the variety in unlockable characters, it takes dedication to stick with one character and level them up all of the way to Commando Major.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun twin-stick shooter game with over-the-top violence and silly references to movies and songs
    Weak Points: Limited controller support; dumb AI
    Moral Warnings: Violence, blood, and dismemberment; language; drug and sexual references

    For each rank earned you’ll also unlock one of the sixty-seven Steam achievements.  There are also achievements for each of the unlocked characters and bosses defeated.  Some of the memorable levels, like the one where you have to retrieve the heads of fallen comrades, have achievements too.  Steam trading cards are also available for this game.  One Steam feature I miss are the cloud saves.

    Although Steam lists this title as having full controller support, two of my controllers didn’t work right away.  The built in controller on my GPD Win and my SteelSeries Stratus XL were not detected properly.  I didn’t bother manually mapping them via the (intimidating) input options in the game’s launcher.  Instead I just used my wireless Xbox One controller which worked flawlessly.    

    Another issue worth mentioning is the noticeable slowdowns during intense action and explosive scenes.  My laptop’s Nvidia 660M with 2GB of RAM well exceeds the 256MB stated in the system requirements. 

    Kick Ass Commandos
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 66%
    Violence - 2/10
    Language - 4.5/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The pixel graphics look good and are detailed when it comes to the blood and guts, but not as much in the shower areas in the level titled “Don’t drop the soap.”  Since the game’s perspective is top-down there’s nothing to be seen.  The references to sex, movies and songs are undeniable and are often there for laughs..  When your extraction point is a helicopter, the game tells you to “Get to da choppa.” 

    I couldn’t help but hear Schwarzenegger’s accent when reading that part.  Unfortunately, there isn’t much voice acting in this game.  To compensate, the background music is top notch.  The heavy metal background music is fitting and bound to get your adrenaline pumping.  The weapon sound effects are good too.  

    In the end, Kick *ss Commandos is a well-polished twin-stick shooter that is fun to play.  It has many moral issues and the title alone should make you think twice before letting a child play this game.  If you don’t mind over-the-top violence along with sexual and drug references, this game is worth keeping an eye on.  The asking price is a reasonable $14.99 and the four difficulty levels are bound to challenge your reflexes.  I’m definitely starting to feel my age with my hands hurting after a while.  No pain, no gain, right?

     

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Laser Disco Defenders
    Developed by: Out of Bounds Games
    Published by: Excalibur
    Release date: August 2, 2016
    Available on: Vita, PS4 and PC coming soon!
    Genre: Action
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for cartoon violence
    Price: $9.99

    Thank you Excalibur Games for sending us a review code!

    Lord Monotone is threatening to saturate the universe with his bad music and it’s up to the Laser Disco Defenders to restore peace and good music to the galaxy.  Naturally, there's a pretty good disco soundtrack in the background that sets the tone nicely.  There are four members of the Disco Defenders and each of them have unique abilities and can be enhanced further depending on what clothes and apparel they are wearing.

    I typically played as Mr. Baker who is the slowest, but has the most health.  The other characters (Tommy, Donna, Liz) get proportionally faster with less health hearts as a tradeoff.  Up to five heath hearts can be active for any character you choose.  Some enemies drop them after they’re defeated.  

    If you start off with a fast, but low-health character, I recommend equipping the medallion that gives you one free hit before removing a health heart.  Other eyewear like shades or visors can net you more points or the ability to pinpoint your targets.  The spacesuit you wear determines your bullet style which can be long and precise, or multiple smaller laser beams.

    Laser Disco Defenders
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Challenging concept where your own laser beams can be deadlier than enemies and obstacles; random levels
    Weak Points: Experienced a glitch that got my character out of bounds with no way back into the game map 
    Moral Warnings: Death by lasers

    You must carefully consider your bullet types and fighting style carefully since your bullets do not disappear in this game.  In fact, they will continue to bounce around the randomly generated caverns until you, or all of the enemies, are defeated.  Besides dodging your own bullets, you have to avoid enemy fire, pointy spikes, and the lasers resulting from shattered disco balls.  Most of the deaths in this game are self-inflicted.

    Since the levels are randomly generated, no two playthroughs will ever be the same.  The concept is easy: you have to traverse though galactic caves and caverns that have Lord Monotone’s minions scattered throughout them.  The escape wormhole will not appear until all of the enemies are taken down.

    There are a decent amount of enemies to contend with including turrets, rotating laser beams, mines, and gladiators that can only be hit from the rear.  Many of the enemies will not fire at you until you’re in range so it’s not possible to pick them all off from a distance.  

    Laser Disco Defenders
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 4/5
    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

    Completing the story mode won’t take too long if you’re good at dodging bullets.  Once the main story is completed, an endless mode unlocks that has you competing against other players worldwide for the highest score.  The score is determined by how fast you can complete levels and how high of a killing multiplier you can earn in the process.  Wearing increased score shades instead of the lifesaving medallion helps too!

    Other modifying accessories can be acquired by completing various level objectives.  Some of the objectives include reaching a certain cave number or by exceeding a pre-set score value.  Whether unlocking accessories or beating other player's scores, there’s plenty of replay value in this title.

    Laser Disco Defenders is well polished and plays really well on the Vita.  I did encounter a glitch where I went out of bounds and was not able to get back inside of the cavern.  This was an isolated incident that only occurred once.  Other than that issue, my experiences playing this game have been positive despite me not being very good at it.

    Because I’m not good at this game and still enjoy playing it, I’m convinced that that this game is fun and worth picking up if you own a Vita.  If you don’t have a Vita, be on the lookout for the upcoming PS4 and PC versions.  It’s well worth the $9.99 price tag and is suitable for gamers of all ages.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Legacy of the Elder Star
    Developed By: Kickbomb Entertainment
    Released: June 7, 2016
    Available On: Windows, Mac, Linux
    Genre: Side-scrolling Shooter
    Number of Players: 1 
    Price: $14.99

    Thanks to Kickbomb Entertainment for sending us a review copy!

    The Elder Star at the center of the universe has died. A mob of countless synthetics known as the Infinite Legion has ripped out its heart and split it into four, looking to end the organic life the star supports. However, even in death, the Elder Star is not defenseless. As the universe faces its greatest threat, the long-slumbering Cosmonaut awakens, set to wage a one-robot war on the Infinite Legion to re-forge the Elder Star’s core and save all that lives.

    Legacy of the Elder Star is a side-scrolling shooter that sets itself apart through its control scheme and difficulty style. The player character, Cosmonaut, is controlled entirely through the mouse: moving the mouse moves Cosmonaut; left clicking activates your primary attack; right clicking uses your secondary attack, which uses a limited but constantly recharging ammunition meter; and clicking both at once fires your special attack, which charges as you defeat enemies. In addition, the Z, X, and space bar keys can be used in lieu of left, right, and double clicking. Perhaps best of all, the mouse wheel changes the sensitivity of your mouse, speeding up and slowing down Cosmonaut on the fly to suit your preferences. The control you have over Cosmonaut is extensive, and is central to making the game work as well as it does.

    The difficulty of Legacy of the Elder Star, rather than prepackaged modes or scaling enemies to your performance, is entirely score-based. Cosmonaut can take five hits before exploding, with extra hits granted every 20 million points, but you always continue where you left off; death only resets your score multiplier, which constantly raises the longer you stay alive. In essence, this allows you to limp through the whole story the first few times, showing you each of the five stages’ enemy layout and boss attacks – the former is randomly generated each time you play, but somewhat limited to a few sets per level. While this sets up a base that’s a bit more repetitive than other shooting games, it gives a clear focus on offense rather than defense.

    Legacy of the Elder Star
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Smooth, responsive gameplay; excellent visuals and music
    Weak Points: Some balance issues with the different weapons; a few sound effects clash with the aesthetic
    Moral Warnings: Robot-on-robot violence

    As you get more familiar with the game, the true risk-reward system shines through. You gain bonuses for defeating enemies up close, for grazing or capturing bullets, and for fulfilling special conditions like destroying 90% of all enemies or never burning out your secondary weapon. Once you get familiar with the stages and enemy types, you’ll naturally start pushing the envelope, disregarding safety in search of higher scores. Combined with the responsive controls, your score is tied to your skill and experience, and serves as a rewarding memento to your progress.

    All three attacks come in three varieties, unlocked as you play through the story mode, and have significantly different properties. You can freely mix-and-match between the weapons you have, but are locked into your choice once the game starts. While no weapon is useless, there is always one per set that is noticeably more powerful and is all but required for high scores. The third primary weapon can be charged before firing, which not only gives you the close-range bonus but captures all enemy bullets it hits. Likewise, while all secondary attacks award bonuses on kills, the final one simply has much more potential than the other two, though at the cost of being harder to master and giving no invincibility while in use. The second special weapon, a giant laser beam, seems much more useful than the other two due to its speed, uptime, and areal coverage. That’s not to say that the other weapons aren’t effective or fun to use, but don’t expect to put up huge scores with them.

    Along with the weapons, three additional game modes are unlocked as you beat the story: Practice, Challenge, and Gauntlet. Practice mode lets you choose a single story mode stage to play through. Challenge gives you a new randomly-generated level per day and limits you to a specific weapon loadout; you can play as many times as you want to put up the best score you can before the day is out. Gauntlet is a boss rush; you must destroy every boss in the game on a single life, with bonus points awarded based on how fast you beat each enemy. Both Challenge and Gauntlet offer an enjoyable break from the main story mode, and Challenge specifically tests your skill and relieves the aforementioned balance issues through its strict weapon choices.

    The game’s presentation could hardly be better. The story is functionally a footnote, but the opening and closing cutscenes lend themselves well to the game's overall style. The load times are snappy, and in-game slowdown is non-existent. The art direction is top notch, being both pleasing to look at and informative to the player: the characters stand out against the backgrounds, and important elements, such as bullets or Cosmonaut’s hitbox, are bright reds and blues that stand out against everything else. The music is very well done, with most tracks sampling the surprisingly-catchy main theme, and is one of the highlights of the whole game. 

    Legacy of the Elder Star
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 94%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 9.5/10
    Stability - 4.5/5
    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

    The only flaw lies in the sound effects, and even then only a subset of them: while the rest of the game is retro-styled but undeniably modern, the explosions and bonus point sound effects are NES-type 8-bit boops and bleeps that clash against the established aesthetic. Even then, however, they convey important messages to the player by standing out, mainly acknowledging when you’ve obtained a bonus or when a boss has moved on to its next stage, so even its only real fault is barely a problem.

    The game syncs your scores to its online leaderboards, encouraging some amount of competition. Unfortunately, there are only a few dozen other scores at most at the time of writing, and hardly anyone plays the daily Challenge mode, so most of your opposition will have to be yourself. It’s worth mentioning that there was one instance of the game not taking my score – which, of course, happened to be the best score I ever achieved – but it only happened once, and could very well have been a Steam or general internet issue.

    As a shooting game, violence is the main attraction. However, the only living beings in the game are some background foliage; all the action is contained to robots shooting robots. There is little morally objectionable in the game at all, and is safe for all ages to play.

    If you’re looking for a score attack shooting game to play, Legacy of the Elder Star is certainly worth a look. Tight controls, great design, and fantastic presentation make it worth the price of admission, even before considering the nigh-endless replayability. Accessible to both beginners and experts, and good for a quick story mode run or a longer session, Legacy of the Elder Star is a solid addition to any library.

    -Cadogan

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Mercenary Kings Reloaded 
    Developed by: Tribute Games
    Published by: Tribute Games
    Release date: February 6, 2018
    Available on: Linux, macOS, PS4, Switch, Vita, Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Shoot ‘em up
    Number of players: Up to four online
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Violence, Blood and Gore, Comic Mischief, Mild Suggestive Themes, Use of Tobacco
    Price: $19.99

    Thank you Tribute Games for sending us this title to review!

    Mercenary Kings was successfully Kickstarted in 2012 and was released on PC and PS4 in 2014. The Xbox, Vita, and Switch didn’t receive this gem until 2018. The reloaded edition adds two new characters, additional guns, and the ability to buy crafting items without having to scavenge for them in levels.

    This 2D shoot ‘em up is a mashup of Metal Slug and Monster Hunter. The story goes as follows: scientists were creating a bio-regenerating formula on a remote island when the chief engineer was kidnapped by Baron and his CLAW forces. A team with royal sounding code names were sent to rescue him. However, only your character and another survived the attempt. The deaths of your comrades are quite gruesome and portrayed vividly in pixel styled cutscenes.

    Because of the blood, dismemberment, and decapitations of enemies, Mercenary Kings earns its Teen rating. Some soldiers are seen smoking in the opening cutscene. The blood and cigarettes are expected on the battlefield; however, I was surprised by the lack of bras for the female commandos. They jiggled quite a bit as they walked.

    Mercenary Kings Reloaded
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun missions; people actively playing online
    Weak Points: It takes a few minutes to begin online co-op missions; game crashed on me when I was online
    Moral Warnings: Violence, blood, and gore as enemies are dismembered and decapitated; female characters jiggle as they walk; soldiers are seen smoking

    When you first begin the game, you get to customize your character by naming them and selecting their appearance and color scheme. The training mission will teach you the basic controls which are shooting with the Y button, reloading with the right trigger, stabbing with X (great as a backup when you don’t have time to reload), and using the left trigger to manage your inventory. The A button will allow you to roll into some tight spaces or quickly evade enemy attacks.

    As enemies are killed, they will often drop materials which can be crafted into mods, weapon, and armor enhancements. At the base, you can store items in a chest to lighten your load since your trusty backpack does have its limits. Some of the mods make health items more effective, allow for better enemy drops or increase luck. The paratrooper mod slows down your falling speed.

    By talking to the commander, you can select a mission that’s suitable for your rank. You begin as a recruit and can work your way up to a general. Each mission is timed and offers reward money upon completion. Some missions have extra objectives to complete and they’re worth doing if you have time to spare. There’s a wide variety of mission types including destroying bombs, rescuing hostages, gathering resources, killing specific enemies, or rendezvousing with allies.

    At the beginning of each level, you’ll start with three lives and when you lose them all or run out of time, the mission will fail. For every death, your reward will decrease. Missions can be replayed as many times as needed. Some levels have infirmaries which can slowly heal you. They also serve as checkpoints and your character will respawn there if they die. Rations and first aid kits can heal you faster without losing valuable time.

    Mercenary Kings Reloaded
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 76%
    Violence - 1/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 7/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Besides healing items, it’s wise to carry other handy equipment like adrenaline shots for reviving allies, grenades, bombs, C4, and riot shields. Some levels have walls just asking to be blown up so having explosives on hand is always a good idea.

    There’s a wide variety of enemies and bosses to contend with. Some of them run around and shoot aimlessly while others have daunting attacks that require timing to avoid. The heavier armored bad guys often have a weak spot to exploit and do damage to them. If you’re having trouble taking any of the CLAW forces down, you can recruit some internet help if you’re online and set your game to public. I was able to get some online action within a few minutes of going public on my game. Sadly, I did get disconnected in one of my online skirmishes.

    The fast-paced chiptune music fits the art style nicely. Each character has a catchphrase that they use; my character said “Let’s kick some CLAW!” at the beginning of each mission. The sound effects are fitting and get the job done.

    With active multiplayer and over one hundred missions to enjoy, I think that the $19.99 asking price is reasonable for this game. The price tag is the same across all platforms so it’s good to not see a “premium” price for the Switch version. The portability is great and this game runs flawlessly on the Switch.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Nex Machina: Death Machine
    Developed By: Housemarque
    Published By: Housemarque
    Released: June 20, 2017
    Available On: PS4, Windows (Steam)
    Genre: Shoot em Up (Twin Stick)
    ESRB Rating: T for Teen: Fantasy Violence, Blood
    Number of Players: 1-2
    Price: $19.99


    I give my sincere thanks to Housemarque for a game code.

    On a peaceful day in 2014, Housemarque wanted to make another game to fund their meatball supply. So they speed dialed Eugene Jarvis of Defender, Robotron, and Smash TV fame and asked him if he wanted to collaborate with them to make some sort of Frankenstein monster of a game. Obviously Jarvis said no so Housemarque was forced to take drastic measures and kidnap the man and made him work on a video game against his will. Out of this experience came Nex Machina.

    Nex Machina, influenced by Jarvis’s and Housemarque’s previous works, is a twin stick top down shooter with heavy arcade elements. It stars some sort of Mega Man looking astronaut guy or gal and the goal is to maybe save humanity from the robot menace. Well, the “story” (if you even want to call it that since the narrative is non-existent) is extremely vague; for all I know, I could be playing as the bad guy and committing genocide against a peaceful robotic civilization while they try their best to prevent their eventual demise. They really left it all up to the imagination.

    Anyways, once you start the game, it immediately throws you into the action with a 2-3 second scene of your character zooming down a freeway and landing into an area where three basic enemies suddenly want to end your life. There is no tutorial; the game without warning expects you to know what to do, which one would if they bothered to read the controls. The controls are actually very simple. Left stick is to move, right stick is to shoot in a direction. L1 is to dash and R1 is to use your sub weapon. Even if the control scheme is simple, the game itself is pretty complex and has a lot of depth to it. The player character even feels good to control as the character has very precise movement and stops on a dime. As you goes through the stages there are various power ups that you can pick up from defeated enemies or item boxes. These power ups range from giving you more consecutive dashes, to extending your weapons range, to even giving you a shield. Not only do each of these power ups give you better chances at survival by augmenting your character, they also augment your primary weapon by giving it more spread and damage. The sub-weapons range from a sword, to a rocket launcher to even a remote detonated bomb. The weapons all feel that they have a kick and weight to it such as when one uses the laser sub-weapon, the aiming and movement is slowed.

    Nex Machina: Death Machine
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Difficulty settings are much more than just inflated numbers; smooth, fast, and frantic; loads of secrets; insane amount of replay value.
    Weak Points: No online co-op; online arena lacks a bit more than expected of it.
    Moral Warnings: Mass destruction of robotic lifeforms; the humans you can optionally save can potentially die in a pretty violent fashion.

    Nex Machina has 6 main levels, with about 15 sub levels contained in each of them. Once all the enemies are destroyed, you are transferred to the next sub level. At the end of the level you face against a boss who does everything in its power to halt your progress. Within these levels there are humans to save and they can vary between 3 and 6 humans per sub level. You are not required to save the humans but the humans are essential if you want a high score. The humans resemble these fat looking people who aimlessly walk around, playing on some sort of handheld device, completely unaware of the danger that is right in front of them. It makes one think that if they are this stupid, are they truly worth saving? Going back to high score, Nex Machina is big on the score as each enemy nets you points, not dying in a sub level nets you points, finding the various secrets in the sub levels net you points, and running out of lives completely depletes your score. The enemy variety in Nex Machina is surprisingly well thought out and put together. There are enemies that simply try to rush and swarm you, there is another enemy that shoots lasers and missiles at a distance, and even one that has a giant drill that can potentially block off paths. Housemarque has masterfully blended these assortment of enemies together in a way that no one level feels the same as another.

    In terms of graphics, every enemy stands out from one another with a bright red color and shape. All enemy projectiles are a hot pink color. Your character has a bright blue aura around them. The humans are a mix of white and green. All of these features stand out as visual representation is a critical component of shoot em ups. Everything that is to be avoided is clear and noticeable. The game also took liberties with its graphics as well. Instead of enemies blowing up in a generic orange and grey explosion, the enemies actually explode in a multitude of voxels while if you die, you explode in a bright neon display. These death animations give the game a sense of uniqueness and flavor. The voxel explosion doesn’t only apply to the robots, it also applies to the destructible environments too.

    Throughout my many hours of play, I’ve never had the game at any point slow down on me, or witnessed a crash. It’s an extremely stable game as a constant frame rate and visual stability is crucial for a game such as this. The sound in this game is crisp and distinct, with a female voice announcing certain things in a sub-level such as if a special enemy spawned or if you picked up a powerup, among other things. She isn’t completely needed, and one probably wouldn’t notice if she disappeared, but it's a nice little thing to have. The enemies also have notable audio queues as you can almost tell what enemy is on a stage if it's even off screen. The soundtrack is based on synthwave, which complements the game very well with it being a futuristic setting. I liked the beats that are showcased, but in my opinion, outside of the catchy credits song, none of it really stuck out to me which for the type of game it is, that’s actually a good thing. This will lead into my next point.

    Nex Machina: Death Machine
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 92%
    Gameplay - 19/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 8/10
    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

    Nex Machina is not an easy game. It is mean, cruel, punishing and even at times unforgiving. Sure there are multiple difficulty settings, but if you only play this game on beginner, you’re doing yourself a disservice as it is not a good or clear representative of the game at all, and the fact that the game won’t even let you play the last level if you play on beginner. The game starts off easy enough, teaching you the mechanics and what it expects of you, but after the second level, the game quickly ramps up in its brutality with so much effects on the screen and so many things trying to kill you at once it can be overwhelming to the point of mental exhaustion. The game is fast paced and demands your attention 100% of the time, especially against the later bosses who throw so much pink at you, that you need precision and finesse to get through them. There are actually 5 difficulty settings with two of them being unlockable. Each difficulty setting progresses in a good rate as well. The harder settings do not only just inflate numbers, it also makes enemies faster, more aggressive, and even gives them special attributes upon death which is what I love to see in difficulty settings.

    There are some morality warnings to be noted of in this game. It is violent first of all. Many robots were harmed in the making of this game. They explode a lot, and you also explode, a lot. There is also a certain enemy that targets the humans scattered throughout the levels and the way they kill the humans is pretty graphic. If you fail to save the human in time, the robot claws away at them and blood pours on the ground, and the blood itself looks fairly realistic, which is pretty unsettling in a game filled with neon lights and voxels. Unless you’re really trying to look for it like I did one may not even notice the blood as they are simply trying to survive.

    If you’re a one-and-done kind of game player, you may want to look elsewhere for video games. Nex Machina is extremely short, clocking in just about an hour to see the credits. It is also a game for people who like and crave a challenge and I wouldn’t recommend it to casual players either as they might get too frustrated and rage quit. For people who replay games, Nex Machina has a crazy amount of replay value with its own built in achievement system called “feats”, leaderboards, the online arena, secret sub-levels on every level (as well as enemies), a local co-op mode, and even a bonus final boss for people who are tough enough to 1CC (Credit Clear) the entire game. There is just so much to come back to and every play through is just as exciting as the first. I wished there was a few more things added like an online co-op portion or that the online arena mode had some sort of survival mode but these issues are minuscule to the amount of good Nex Machina did.

    Nex Machina is easily one of the best games I have played this year and one of the best shoot em ups I have ever played in general. It's like the developers looked through the history of shoot em ups and combined all the good parts of all the popular and critically acclaimed ones and blended them into such a pristine work of art. It oozes with so much style and passion that I fell in love within the first minute, and made me go though so many emotions: anger from dying against the standard final boss, locking me out of the bonus boss, happiness from actually completing a 1CC play-through, and excitement from playing such an adrenaline pumping game. Just be wary of kids or others playing this game as the blood shown in the game is pretty realistic compared to everything else and the game possibly being too hard for the average player. If you like shoot 'em ups in any sense, you owe it to yourself to buy Nex Machina. A game like this deserves to be played.

    -Cinque Pierre

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Quad Fighter K
    Developed By: Happymeal, Inc.
    Published By: Aksys Games
    Released: May 31, 2018
    Available On: Switch
    Genre: Arcade, Shoot 'Em Up
    ESRB Rating: E for Mild Fantasy Violence
    Number of Players: Up to 4 offline
    Price: $7.99

    Thanks to Aksys Games for sending us this game!

    Quad Fighter K is a mix of classic and creativity. It takes a tired format and reshapes it to its own accord. Built off a sort of Space Invaders style, Quad Fighter K has a simple premise: get from point A to point B. It operates on a sort of up-scroller, with you and the level constantly traveling up. You're free to move vertically and horizontally on this traveling up world, as you dodge enemies and bullets. But QFK is different in the way it handles ships.

    In this game is something called a KYOGEKI system. The KYOGEKI system allows you to connect all four ships together. Each ship has its own special ability. Some fire lasers, some fire sphere like bombs that explode after traveling a short distance, some fire bullets, but each ship has its own different gun pattern. When you combine these ships together, the results can be pretty amazing. I once found a combination that fires 2 lasers from the front, and could also lay down heavy bullet fire from the right and left sides of it to keep my blind-spots clear. But there are so many other combinations there that you can try.

    There are two different modes, with two sub-modes. The two modes are KYOGEKI and Attack respectively. KYOGEKI mode follows 3 ships and a "VIP" ship. Your job is to clear all the stages while protecting the VIP ship. Every stage your VIP ship has 9 lives, while your 3 normal ships have infinite lives. If you manage to clear a stage without losing your VIP ship, on the next stage it will have its full 9 lives again.

    Attack mode allows you to play all levels without having to protect a VIP ship. However, all ships only have 5 lives. Now, let's talk about the sub-modes. Arcade lets you play a sort of story mode. You progress through each stage, getting harder as you go along. There's also Battle mode, where you choose which stage you want to play and go for the highest score. Both of these exist under the KYOGEKI or Attack mode, so in essence you can choose if you want to play them with the VIP ship or without. Personally, I found Attack mode more fun, but this is just my opinion.

    Quad Fighter K
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fast and fluid gameplay; interesting system of weapons that allow many combinations
    Weak Points: Can get a bit tedious; too many distracting effects
    Moral Warnings: Some light cartoon violence

    As you progress through the stages, you'll fight different enemies before reaching bosses. Each stage has 2 bosses, one mini-boss and a stronger boss. Each boss has different abilities and patterns. Enemies and bosses also can drop bombs that can be used to, well, blow things up. These bombs have different patterns for each one, although there are only 4 patterns that I've seen.

    The graphics in this game are a very simple and colorful callback to the NES era. With an 8-bit presence that feels nostalgic, QFK has a great assortment of sprites and effects. The animation feels incredibly fluid and well polished.

    The audio in this game reminds me a lot of the NES era as well. The music is a very upbeat 8-bit style, reminding you how limited technology was back then. The melodies are nice but a bit forgetful.

    Controls also feel very fluid, with no appreciable delay. It has simple back and forth, left and right movement, with other buttons for disengaging the KYOGEKI system (which breaks the ship into singular entities again), one to use bombs and one to shoot. Now, let's move into the cons.

    The only real issue I have with this game is some visual choices. In this game, some of the world itself can be blown up. These are just small tiles, but they can be blown up nonetheless. My issue is that every single time a tile or enemy is blown up, a distracting explosion effect is shown. The problem becomes evident when EVERYTHING starts to have an explosion. Below is a screenshot of said issue.

    Quad Fighter K
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 64%
    Gameplay - 12/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

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

    However, there is no morally improper content in this game. The violence isn't gory, there's no sexual content or language; it's a pretty clean game. One minor bug I found was this one below, where it seems the tiles weren't linking up properly and creating that black line effect you see. I only saw it once, so either I couldn't recreate this bug or I didn't notice it again.

    But, I got a bonus game with QFK. It's called Cyber Ship Nakku (which I shall call CSN), and it is simply QFK but worse in every single way. It's easy enough to get into, as you can simply find it on the main title screen. But QFK looks like a NES game, the graphics are much sharper and more colorful. CSN however, just looks like a port of a NES game. The controls are also horrid; so bad that it feels like you're piloting a ship that's skidding on ice. The hit detection is awful, with most shots not even registering on enemies. And yet again while QFK sounded like an NES game, it still had improvements. CSN still sounds like a direct port of an NES game. There's only one or two ships in this game, the second ship being controlled by a second player.

    I could go on about why this game is bad, but I don't even have the interest in doing so. I don't know why they felt putting the bonus game in was a good idea, because it entirely ruins everything that made QFK good. Thankfully, it's just a bonus game. You still have normal QFK.

    In closing, QFK is a game designed on a format from the past, with a sprinkle of originality, but feels a bit generic and overdone.

    - Remington

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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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