More like bullet purgatory.
Games like Solar Shifter EX have many names. Whether you subscribe to the term shmup (short for shoot ‘em up) or bullet hell, these games have a cult following that simply will not die. Now, looking at screenshots for Solar Shifter EX doesn’t exactly evoke feelings of more common games in the genre. Its color palette is bland, the ships are more something out of current sci-fi, and there are not thousands of purple bullets onscreen at any given time. Still, the foundation is there, and it even has a gimmick to set it apart from others in the genre.
First impressions of the game left me feeling like there was not a lot of care put into things such as the narrative and quality of life design. There is a story here, but it deteriorates into a cliché invasion story long before it ever gets interesting. The way the story is presented really bothers me as well. Dialogue is tossed in before and after missions, and the quality is atrocious.
Platforms: XB1 (reviewed), PC
Price I’d Pay: $4.99
Simple things such as progression and menus are also poorly designed. Ship upgrades can be purchased between levels, but there are only vague descriptions of what they actually do. We all know this is a port of a PC game, but the laziness of the port shines through when menus simply read “Press Any Key to Continue.” It is things like this that really bother me when it comes to the open platform design we have on consoles now. Games are ported quickly, and without care simply because they can.
All of these issues could be forgiven if we have some truly inspired shmup game play though. Well…
The minute I took control of my ship, it felt off. The loose feeling of the craft really takes away from the style of game. Enemies fall down in extremely predictable patterns, so much that I could sit in one place and wipe out an entire screen at times. Also, getting hit offers zero feedback when playing. Sometimes I would die and had no idea a bullet had even hit me. Things like this really drag down the experience, especially coming off some recently released titles in the genre that nail these pivotal mechanics.
The gimmick in the game is the ability to phase around the battlefield using the X button and a direction. That rarely ever worked for me, and instead it is also mapped to the right stick, which works much better. Sadly, the mechanic is never useful for anything outside of positioning me out of an awkwardly angled attacker. The game tries to shoehorn its gimmick in by having larger ships shoot at a weird angle, but instead it just makes trying to hit them impossible at times. I don’t mind a challenge, that is what shmups are best at, but this is just poor design.
Visually the game looks nice when standing still, but in motion on Xbox One there are several frame rate issues. The game is extremely inconsistent, and it makes the finite action these games require frustrating. I am not usually a stickler for frame rates, but shmups, fighting games, and racing games all require pinpoint control, and dips in the action make that more infuriating than it should be.
Solar Shifter EX has some cool ideas and poor execution. I wanted to love it, I tried to love it, but in the end I simply left every session disappointed that it never really delivered on any of its ambitions. There are better shooters out there, heck, there are better shooters everywhere. Regardless of any love for the genre, I simply cannot recommend this game to anyone.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.