By Josh Speer / December 7th, 2017
|Release Date||December 7th, 2017|
|Age Rating||E for Everyone – Fantasy Violence|
Author’s Note: Though I did back this project, it was for the Steam version of the game, not this review copy.
I’ve played a lot of SHMUPs in my time. Maybe I’m just a relic of the past, but I grew up with this genre and have fond memories of it dominating my early adolescence. So when I saw a Kickstarter about a split screen SHMUP with the gimmick of jumping between them effortlessly, I was hooked. That game was Dimension Drive, developed by 2Awesome Studio. While I enjoyed playing the early access portions of the game on Steam, I find it preferable to play the polished final version. So when I was offered an opportunity to review the Switch version of Dimension Drive, I was stoked. The question is, did the game live up to my expectations?
The first thing you will realize about Dimension Drive is that it’s far more cinematic than any other SHMUP you’ve ever played. Plot points are doled out in comic book styled cutscenes, and I rather enjoyed these, and felt they lent a bit more definition to the plot of the game than fans of the genre typically get. You play as Jackelyne Tywood AKA Jack as she sets off against the violent Ashajul empire. Armed with nothing but her AI companion V.E.R.A. and her state of the art Manticore ship, she sets off to fight this encroaching army. The catch? Besides the Ashajul fleet, Jack is the only person with a ship armed with the titular Dimension Drive, which lets her jump between dimensions to fight. In game this is represented via a split screen, with your ship capable of jumping back and forth between the two effortlessly.
There is a catch, and that’s your firepower. While you technically have unlimited ammo, the meter it draws from is finite. The primary way to refill it is to jump into the other dimension and wait a minute while the bar slowly fills back up. This isn’t an issue when things are calm, but when you’re frantically warping back and forth it can become challenging to wait for long. Thankfully, the game does make things a bit easier the farther you get, as your ship unlocks new maneuvers that greatly expand your flexibility. At the start, all you can do is fire your weapon and warp with the Dimension Drive, but later on you get the ability to Reverse and fire on things behind you, as well as Drift through enemy bullets and debris.
While I liked the ability to warp between screens, I found that it never quite became purely intuitive, though it does get easier with practice. Mostly that’s because it’s very difficult to watch both screens at the same time with sufficient attention. I’d put it like this — it’s kind of like trying to pat your head and rub your belly at the same time, in that it slows down your reaction time while you concentrate. This isn’t problematic during open ended combat sequences, but it becomes a bit of a problem when avoiding debris and parts of the stage, which requires twitch reflexes. There is also rather unforgiving collision detection, where you can’t even scratch something for a few seconds. If you hit something even a little, you explode. Later levels are very cramped and require pinpoint reflexes to survive.
It’s not all negative though, because when the game is really clicking, it’s incredibly fun. You’ll feel a surge of power leaping back and forth, wading through bullets and jumping at the last possible second to avoid attack. The bosses in particular are very challenging (in a good way). Or at least the pure boss fights are, which brings me to a minor complaint. There are three types of boss encounters in the game — standard boss fights where you go mano a mano with a mechanical monster; trap fights where you don’t fight a boss per se, but instead a series of lasers and moving parts; and the dreaded race sequences, where you’re racing to avoid oncoming destruction, and have to activate switches perfectly to survive. I would venture that 90% of my deaths came from the latter, and it was very frustrating to race against the clock, as my panic often resulted in stupid deaths. This was exacerbated more due to how all the weapon controls are mapped to the right Joy-con, meaning I would sometimes get overly excited and warp into a meteor or flip around instead of shifting through something. I get 2Awesome Studio was going for a more cinematic feeling, but I could have done without these high octane sequences.
One area that Dimension Drive innovates very successfully is with replayability. Each stage has four Data Cubes, three visible and one hidden. By finding all four in a given stage, you’ll unlock backstory to the events behind the game. Better yet, by finding a certain amount of total Data Cubes, you will unlock new weapons for your Manitcore, such as the Flak Shotgun and the Pulse Cannon. Each weapon has a different range and specialty, such as the Pulse Cannon firing to the side of your ship. This offers great incentive to replay levels and find everything, since doing so makes you more powerful and teaches you more about the universe of Dimension Drive.
While the plot gets more focus in Dimension Drive than in most SHMUPs, I do feel I didn’t really know enough about Jack. Though aspects of her history are explained, I never felt I really knew who she was. Much like jumping into a TV show a couple of seasons in, we see her as a fully formed person without knowing why she’s the way she is. The skippable cutscenes do a good job of establishing what is happening without clarifying the deeper motivations. Having said that, I can’t really complain, since any focus on character is unusual in the genre. I just found myself wishing the plot was a bit more nuanced and well formed.
Visually, I was charmed by Dimension Drive. Though graphically it’s nothing game changing, it’s also very solid. The comic book art is lush and vibrant, and the ship designs are menacing and alien. Though the split screen backgrounds were different, sometimes my eyes would glaze over trying to look at two screens simultaneously. Part of me wishes the different screens were totally different complimentary colors, so that your eye could immediately tell which side of the screen you were on without fail. As for the music, it’s never pulse pounding, but it also doesn’t wear out its welcome. Though I wish it was a bit more memorable, some tunes did fondly remind me of the Mega Man X series.
All in all, I enjoyed my time with Dimension Drive. It took me 6 and 1/2 hours to beat all 13 levels, which is pretty good for a SHMUP. What’s nice is after you beat the game, you unlock Mirror Mode, which when combined with the Data Cubes, offers solid replayability. For $12.99, you get a pretty great adventure in Dimension Drive. I’m happy to finally play the polished end result of 2Awesome Studio’s hard work. They’ve managed to offer some innovation in a genre that typically rests on its laurels. While the game isn’t perfect, it’s solid and fun, and shows a lot of heart. Here’s hoping this isn’t the last adventure we get from the talented indie studio. I have a feeling there’s a lot more story for Jack and V.E.R.A. to tell, especially after that cliffhanger ending…
Review Copy Provided by Developer
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