By Mento 0 Comments
Today's game is more of a morbid curiosity pick than something on my backlog I've been meaning to break into. I still want to do a handful of these "what the hell is this?" May Madness games this month, because I like highlighting games that I (and presumably others) have little to no prior knowledge thereof. I'll get into more detail about this particular one after the header, naturally.
The other thing I wanted to talk about before I start today's update (this is starting to become like my Livejournal, huh?) is a new in-depth and totally ridiculous (in a good way) feature from Hardcore Gaming 101 on Arcades within video games. Like Steve Ramirez and Matt Kessler's recurring fascination with every fictitious vending machine they came across in their Fear Gauntlet series (never forget!), the HG101 article hopes to include every notable instance of an Arcade machine appearing within a video game, with additional details regarding whether those machines were playable or not and whether the developers went with fictional titles or the real thing (as was the case with Shenmue and its in-game version of Super Hang-On). Might be worth keeping an eye on as it continues to be updated.
(I actually could've sworn that I heard some wiki folk talking about a "games within games" concept page. I forget if they ever followed through with it, but I can't find the page - though that might just mean I have no idea what they called it...)
Ultionus: A Tale of Petty Revenge
Now I know what you're thinking: that I was drawn to Ultionus: A Tale of Petty Revenge by its pneumatic, scantily-clad and hardly progressive female protagonist. Well, yes and no. The game would appear to wear its Metroid aspirations on its sleeve, but it's hardly a Metroid game in the sense that we tend to consider them. Rather, it feels more like it was based on every Metroid-aping also-ran from that period that didn't realize the secret appeal of Gunpei Yokoi's 1986 sci-fi adventure was its non-linear map and exploration, as opposed to a kick-ass space heroine blowing everything up (which, I'll admit, is still a big part of why Metroid is a lot of fun). Metroid-ish NES games like Space Hunter, Layla (which I think was the chief inspiration) and The Guardian Legend. That's not to denigrate Ultionus as another Metroid copycat, of course, because it feels like the game is in on the joke.
Ultionus also looks incredible. People frequently rave about high quality pixel art in Indie games, largely because there's so much of it to choose from, and Ultionus looks like one of the prettiest Genesis games that never existed. The music, too, is fantastic: another earworm-y chiptune symphony from WayForward/Yacht Club Games' own Jake "virt" Kaufman. The actual gameplay, though, is considerably more old-school, and not necessarily in a way that is complimentary with what I appreciate about the classics. The heroine, Serena, moves across a 2D stage with a limited arsenal of guns and traversal upgrades that she either buys or finds across the levels. She's limited to shooting directly horizontally, or slightly up at an angle, and can also jump. That's about the extent of the gameplay; it's very much a throwback to the sort of Metal Slug/Contra run-and-guns that were popular to a generation of gamers who preferred their games tough and relentless. That same breed of obstinate spirit that presently follows Touhou and the rest of the bullet hell shoot 'em ups and worshiped the ground Treasure stood on.
Which is where I start to complain that the game's too hard and potentially invite abuse telling me that I should go to a daycare center and crawl inside the ball pit until my boo-boos heal. It actually hasn't gotten too bad where I'm at - around the middle of the game - with a balance of health points and extra lives that is actually quite reasonable: Each checkpoint fully restores Serena's health (she can take three hits before dying) and extra lives are plentiful and lying all over the place, though they don't respawn after deaths. Ideally, the player will get a hang of each stage's dangers and the location of these extra lives and find a way to the boss with a moderate stock of extra (wo)mans. The tricky part is fighting and taking down the wonderfully large bosses with whatever lives you have left, as death comes quickly and easily against those things and the game will force you to start the stage over from the beginning if all lives are lost. It's exceedingly fair even on Normal, though I barely scraped through an encounter with a giant crab and can't imagine I'll be having an easier time moving forward.
Still, there's plenty to recommend here for anyone who's seen a screenshot (which I imagine will be everyone skimming this blog, since I added a few) and knows precisely what to expect. However, it might still be a little lacking in variety, and boy howdy is it a shame that the protagonist moves like molasses on a January (unless there's a power-up that speeds her up?) because agility and maneuverability are often the best defense in busy shooters like these. I'll try some more tomorrow and see how I still feel about it.