As a SHMUP fan through and through (the Raiden series is my favorite) I jump at the chance to play an obscure shooter I never had the chance to experience. I’ve heard of Under Defeat before, a game that was released on the Dreamcast after the system went under in 1996, but I never actually got to play it. Rising Star Games along with developer G. Rev have revived the game, turned it on its side and brought it into the HD era of gaming. But is a SHMUP about controlling a helicopter all its cracked up to be?
Under Defeat HD Deluxe takes place in an alternate WWII history where players actually control anime Nazi pilots, though it’s not very apparent from the artwork in the game you are playing “the bad guy.” You jump into the pilot seat of a helicopter and take on enemies in a traditional vertical scrolling SHMUP - but there’s a catch. By default your helicopter only shoots the direction you are facing, and because a helicopter pivots as you turn, your angle of attack changes. This means there’s a careful balance of moving, dodging and aiming in different directions, the latter of which is usually just one for a vertical scrolling shooter.
In the default control setting, simply holding the fire button locks you helicopter in the direction you are facing. Let go and moving will again rotate you in a different direction. At first I said, “Well I’ll just face forward, hold down the fire button the whole time, and play it like a normal SHMUP.” This will work to some degree, but there’s a catch. Laying OFF the fire button recharges a small ability which are gained from pick-ups that come in three varieties: vulcan, bomb, and cannon. These little options are actually a secondary turret that spawns out for a few seconds auto targeting baddies for you. There’s a cool down and then to recharge you simply lay off the fire button. Because of this, combined with the fact that enemies take quite a few shots to kill, simply shooting your helicopter isn’t going to get you very far in the game. Luckily besides the little bonus attack, you have a special attack - the standard “bomb” that can use to clear the screen of enemies.
For me though I stuck with an alternate control scheme that let me use the right analog stick for aiming, though still constrained by the confines of the helicopter’s direction. This control method just felt more responsive and natural for me, perhaps inspired by the likes of twin stick shooters.
The HD Deluxe portion of Under Defeat comes in the form of a brand new 16:9 friendly mode called New Order that uses higher resolution models and a slightly tweaked spawn pattern to make the game look and play better on your HDTV. The game definitely looks well enough and the smoke and explosion effects are particularly impressive. Fret not, the game still contains the authentic arcade mode with the appropriate aspect ratio for it and a choice of wallpaper to fill the rest of your screen. I found the arcade mode a bit easier since the camera is pulled out a bit more and you can see what’s coming, but both modes play basically the same.
The levels themselves are all pretty drab, though it’s obvious the game is trying to convey this post WWII military motif. You’ll be piloting through some pretty standard fanfare; desert, water, military base, and snow. The enemies on the other hand offer more of a variety with many different types of tanks, choppers, planes, boats, AA guns, and plenty of other military hardware. The enemies and bullets in Under Defeat HD Deluxe are simply ruthless. The patterns and movement of the bullets can be unpredictable. While one enemy might shoot the in a straight line, the tanks actually “arc” a shot at you, so it can be difficult to judge where to move if you don’t know who actually fired it. Make no mistake, this game is hard, and an annoying bug or design - i’m not sure which it is - is a 1 second pause right before you explode. It only added to the frustration factor.
On the co-op side of things you have drop-in and drop-out support for a player two. There are two different characters you can choose from, but aside from aesthetics, they seem to play and handle identically. When a second player joins it takes a credit for the game’s credit pool, and while you can adjust the number of lives available from the start, you can’t adjust the number of credits. Previous SHMUPs have given you extra credits after so many hours of play - but after 5 hours (split on two systems) I’ve yet to earn an extra. Co-Op doesn’t seem to scale the difficulty at all, so it’s definitely an easier go around, and a nice touch is that 1 second pause I mentioned earlier doesn’t exist here.
Packed with the soundtrack, which I didn’t care for, as well as concept art, galleries, and some other bonus content Under Defeat HD Deluxe is a pretty solid package. Sadly though I just didn’t find the combat that satisfying - it only made me want to dig out my copy of the Raiden Collection. I understand there’s quite the cult following for the series and I’m sure they are going to love what’s offered here, but for me I just left a bit unsatisfied.
The Co-Optimus review of Under Defeat HD Deluxe is based on the PlayStation 3 version of the game which was supplied by the publisher for review purposes.
The Co-Op Experience: Team up locally through the game using a shared credit pool.
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.