I can remember coming home from elementary school, going straight to my friend’s house, turning on his NES, and playing Life Force (without the Konami code) with him until I heard his parents asking each other, “So, uh, is the Love kid staying for dinner?” The horizontal/vertical scrolling shooter has been a genre of video games that has managed to linger on through the years. While some of the more recent entries, like Ikaruga, have certainly spiced things up and introduced the genre to a whole new generation, what happened to those simpler games where you had just a few weapons, a few lives, and enemies that didn’t spray the screen with more bullets than an action sequence in “Shoot ‘Em Up?” Söldner-X: Himmelsstürmer was, to me, a return to those days when I would get hand cramps from clutching a rectangular controller with intense determination.
The premise of Söldner-X follows the tried and true formula: there’s an invading alien force, you are our last hope, so jump in to the latest experimental space ship and kick some alien tail. The graphics, which end up striking a nice balance between modern and mid-90s arcade, are pretty; the weapons are more-or-less shooter standard fare with the added twist that your two basic weapons have a kind of cool down meter that slowly drains as you use the weapon: and you only have two lives and one continue to complete all 16 stages. Fortunately, there’s a health bar so it’s not a one-shot kill scenario. One added feature that’s pretty interesting is a kind of chain system for killing enemies. Essentially, as you kill enemies a bar along the bottom begins to fill up. Kill enough enemies and you’re prompted to switch to a new weapon and repeat the process of filling the bar. By completing two of these chains, you’re rewarded with a power-up, such as health or rapid fire. As you complete more chains, the power-ups get better, but the trade-off is that the number of chains needed to complete increases. While this chain system can add a new dynamic to the gameplay, there is nothing greatly gained by it, since the enemies drop power-ups as well, so it becomes more of an optional feature that you can choose to use or ignore.
For the co-op mode, just about everything is shared between the two players. The chain system turns into a kind of tag-team event, with each person timing when he or she switches weapons so the chains get completed quicker and you get more power-ups. This timing actually works out really well as a shared cool down meter means that if both players are using the same weapon, it overheats more quickly and you’re without a means to cut through the oncoming mass of enemies. But there are instances using the same weapon has its benefits, such as against the bosses. This dynamic ends up striking a delicate balance between concentrating your firepower and ensuring your mutual survival. Speaking of survival, while the weapon swapping timing dynamic, in addition to the usual “you cover bottom, I’ll cover top” mechanics of a shooter, lends to a great co-op experience, it is slightly marred by a shared health bar. In addition to being able to tackle a seemingly insurmountable challenge as a team, one of the best parts about playing a game co-op, for me, is knowing that should you fall, it’s not immediately game over. There’s someone else there to keep fighting until the next extra life or the next checkpoint. Tying both players to each other in such a way dampens that experience and turns an exciting moment from “just keep going!” to “just don’t get us killed!”
Taken by itself, Söldner-X is just another entry in the 2D side-scrolling genre; a decent throwback to the shooters of old, but nothing outstanding that makes it an amazing game. However, that same throwback feeling, when combined with the co-op, makes it worth playing. When my friend came over to play the game with me this past weekend, the first words out of his mouth were “this is like the SNES days.” That’s when it all came back. Here I was, with my friend, sitting on the couch, clutching the controller as if I could fuse with it to cause my ship to move quick or shoot faster, and loving every minute of it.
The Co-Op Experience: A traditional side scrolling shooter with co-op play. The game features beautiful weather effects, giant boss fights and 12 different stages to battle in.
Co-Optimus game reviews focus on the cooperative experience of a game, our final score graphic represents this experience along with an average score for the game overall. For an explanation of our scores please check our Review Score Explanation Guide.