What is there to say about SHMUPS that hasn't already been said? The concept is very straight-forward. You control a ship of some sort, you fly on a designated path, and you shoot stuff along the way leading up to an often bizarre boss. S
öldner-X 2: Final Prototype looks to add a little bit of flair to the standard SHMUP formula. I gave this PSN exclusive the local co-op treatment to see just how well it stands up, or doesn't, to the competition.
Firing up the game put a smile on my face; not only does Söldner-X 2 have beautiful ships to choose from and catchy music, but it has a lore. A story starts as soon as you start up the game, and it tells the tale of an intergalactic war. Not only that, but it gives you specific goals, and the story even continues through the game. You'll hear a radio crackle to life periodically with suggestions about being careful, taunts when you take too much damage, and warnings about upcoming bosses. Instead of the standard strange boss for no apparent reason, these bosses have a bit more backing - and a voice. Most of them will taunt you directly threatening to crush you, others will become frustrated while you take out the giant Gundam-looking ship and its shields.
Bosses also vary from mech suits, to vehicles, to other machines of destruction. During your trip through various levels, you'll also run into a world of little ships. Some of them are similar to yours, while others resemble mechanical squid or something that fits their environment. Travel through the sky, through space, and under water. One bonus to this game is the health bar. Instead of an instant death when you hit an obstacle, you simply lose a bit of life depending on what you hit. Killing enemies with one of three different ships (each with a different class of weapon) will unlock various power-ups, health bonuses, and even additional little helper-ships called "Chasers."
Chasers are an excellent help to players, covering more area with each attack as they shoot at the same time your main ship does. The chasers, however, are the only power-up that is not shared between co-op players. Power-ups, health increase, your health bar, and firepower bonuses are all shared by co-op players. While this seems like a pain, it seems to make a lot of sense with this game. Covering each other and sharing Chasers becomes an especially co-op event, and the game became much more manageable with a second player.
One great feature for Söldner-X 2 is the saved progress, even though the campaign was only about 4 hours long. Every time you play, you unlock a level on the main menu. So, if you get swept away in some household chores or anything else that takes you away, you can pick up in the level you left off in. I've never seen a SHMUP do this before. It made finishing the campaign an enjoyable affair, and I didn't memorize the first level while barely touching the fifth.
Variety in features is great and all, but what about the aesthetics? I mentioned the music is catchy, and the ships were beautiful, but what about everything else? The sound effects were enjoyable, from the guy telling you what kind of power-up you just picked up, to the laser blasts. Then there is a lot of variety in the visuals for each level. Each area seemed to have a theme; outer space, alien world, under water, and mechanical were the themes that stuck out to me the most. With those themes enemy ships matched the environment, but that was nothing compared to the beauty of the HD land itself. Söldner-X 2 made full use of its HD capabilities, and the environments are rich, the ships (enemy and your own) are well designed, and everything just seems to fit this game perfectly.
A complaint I've most commonly heard about the first Söldner-X title is that it was incredibly difficult. The developers seem to have taken this aspect into account and toned in back a bit. Sure, we died periodically, but it wasn't unmanageably hard in single player or co-op. They also didn't ignore the hardcore SHMUP fans, adding a lengthy Challenge mode. This is where things were difficult; survive for a certain amount of time, collect certain items, etc. Unlike the enjoyable story, these were actually quite unforgiving.
Aside from the challenges being difficult, the game seems to forget its pace sometimes just to mess with you. At one point, we had a warning that said "Watch out for the floating islands" but before the radio voice finished saying it, we were hit by a wall of floating islands with not nearly enough time to react to any of them. This design flaw happened two or three times, sometimes ending in devastation, sometimes ending in my sister and I joking about walls of floating islands.
As an added bonus to this review of the game, we want to give you the opportunity to play for yourself. Leave a comment detailing your favorite Shoot 'Em Up, from R-type to Shoot 1UP, and you'll be entered to win one of two free game codes for PSN version of Soldner X-2. The games can be from any console, and any era. Leave your comment by this Saturday before it gets lost in the E3 fiasco.