By Josh Speer / March 20th, 2018
|Developer||Locomalito, Gryzor87, Abylight Studios|
|Release Date||December 13th, 2017|
|Platform||Steam, PS4, XBox One, Vita|
|Age Rating||T for Teen – Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood|
While I may not be the very best at SHMUPs, I’m a big fan of them, and have beaten several. In fact, probably the most recent one I tackled was Dimension Drive, a unique crowdfunded SHMUP with a creative hook but difficulties with regard to maneuverability. Despite my issues with that title, I had fond feelings about it. But the game being reviewed today is Super Hydorah, another tribute to retro by the talented folks at Abylight Studios, Locomalito and Gryzor87. I was a avid fan of Cursed Castilla EX, and was very curious to see their take on space shooters. The question is, did it meet the expectations borne out by my time with Castilla EX?
No SHMUP is known for its plot, and accordingly there’s a standard one in Super Hydorah. The Meroptian menace is threatening the entire system, and it’s up to you to put a stop to them. The whole “one ship against thousands” is a common genre trope, and while they do a few things to mix this one up, it plays out pretty much like you would expect. Hop from area to area, laying a swathe of destruction and defeating massive bosses. They mix things up by providing unlockable weapons, sub weapons and missiles obtained by defeating bosses, which can be swapped around at your discretion before you start any level. This is a novel and appreciated tool, and helps Hydorah stand out a bit from the pack.
Another way Super Hydorah plays with expectations is the non-linear level layout. That’s a fancy way for saying you’re often forced to make a choice between which path to take through a stage, though there are several with only one clear way forward. The issue I take with this design choice is it often led to me being hit by bullets fired by unseen foes right before the camera panned, bringing them into view. Echoing that non-linear layout is the level select screen, which features branching paths that you can return to at your discretion. This is cool in theory, but in practice it’s a bit frustrating for one reason – it’s unclear which levels are harder than others, and sometimes a stage will be almost impossible to beat until you return to it with more weapons unlocked. One I have particular disdain for is an early one called Forgotten Lab. This stage has foes with shields that cannot be destroyed which hunt you, hordes of leaping frog-like enemies, laser turrets that pop out of the ceiling to blast you and a centipede boss that still gives me nightmares. This is just one example of how tricky the branching stage select can be, most of all because the game gives you little indication which stages are the truly difficult ones.
One area that Super Hydorah does very well are the diverse and challenging boss fights. Pretty early on, they’ll challenge you to your utmost, and they only get more powerful the farther you get. Some bosses serve more as mid-bosses, such as the robotic spider in the Underground Base stage, while others are massive threats, like the hideous boss in Charybdis. Regardless, every boss will give you a run for your money, as is to be expected in a SHMUP game. Only by memorizing their patterns and fighting them off with the ideal setup will you have a chance. I only have two real complaints with regard to the difficulty of bosses. The first is that many bosses are gated by multi section stages, such as the huge Galactic Inferno stage, and if you die, you’re forced to continue the level from the very beginning. That issue would have been mitigated if the game had mid level checkpoints that you could continue from instead. My other problem, which is more minor, is that it’s not always clear if you’re inflicting damage to a boss weak point. I truly wish they flashed red like in many SHMUPs.
On the issue of aesthetic design, I have no complaints. The art style looks like it could have been taken from a SNES classic, full of detailed, tiny shapes, ranging from living flowers to drone belching machines. There’s a ton of visual flair, and I do appreciate that much attention to detail. Most compelling are the massive bosses, which are all larger than life and truly different, ranging from a sentient mass of corrupted flesh to a huge drone that scuttles on the ceiling. The music, likewise, is fantastic, though a bit different than you’d expect from most SHMUPs. Some tracks are pretty standard, but there’s also a vein of horror that pops up in some stages, notably the great creepy tunes in Verminest. The sound effects that play also work well to keep you immersed in the action. Special note goes to the corny yet delightful voice acting that pops up in a couple stages. Taken together, the aesthetics of the game are a highlight.
While there’s a lot of good ideas on display for Super Hydorah, I found a whole host of issues with the execution of them. I’ll try to avoid nitpicks, such as how destroying certain structures deduct your points, and will instead focus on the truly game breaking problems. First off, the game simply demands too much maneuverability in very cramped locations. Often I died simply because I ran into a structure that popped up unexpectedly like in the Underground Base stage. It’s expected to have to weave between shots and foes in this genre, but this game takes it to the limit and then blasts past it. I noted earlier the artistic attention to detail, but the downside is often the game will hurl tons of foes at you simultaneously. The problem is, they don’t just come at you from the top, bottom and front, they will often fly at you from your exposed back. This was especially difficult to deal with, since only one weapon I found could fire backwards, and only when you fully charged it up using power ups. Speaking of which, the power ups cycle between options too slowly for some stages, so you are forced to choose between missiles, shields and speeding up, which is beyond brutal. This often resulted in me never having usable missiles or being fast enough, as I usually prioritized the shield, since it would protect me from one attack. Lastly, I truly hate how, even when you’ve destroyed a boss, bullets they’ve fired don’t disappear upon their death, and are capable of destroying you.
I will admit that I was simply unable to beat Super Hydorah for this review. Some may think I gave up too quickly, but I easily put in 8-10 hours and countless continues in my attempt to beat a 2 hour game and probably got through 80-90% of it. While reasonably priced at $19.99, I can’t recommend this to any besides truly hardcore fans of the SHMUP genre. I appreciate what Locomalito and Gryzor87 were attempting here. There’s a lot of good in this game and it is a fond nod to the genre, but sadly the good is hidden behind hardcore game design and frustrating decisions. Ultimately, I was more of a fan of Cursed Castilla EX. That said, I appreciated the opportunity to tackle Super Hydorah, and will look forward to the next game by this team.
Review Copy Provided by Publisher
Abylight StudiosGryzor87LocomalitooprainfallReviewSuper HydorahVita