REVIEW: Wolflame

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Wolflame | Title Screen
Title Wolflame
Developer Astro Port
Publisher Nyu Media
Release Date April 21, 2016
Genre Top Down Vertical Arcade Shooter
Platform PC Steam
Age Rating All Ages
Official Website

This game is such an old school design that I briefly considered whether I was sloughing off my homework assignment in order to play, and I felt I was back in high school playing an arcade game at the bowling alley. While that is mostly to the game’s credit, it can work against it in some ways, but it was largely a very enjoyable experience. What is the game’s story? Your guess is as good as mine, so you won’t be even seeing a section for story in this review. Because there is frankly none, there are no opening screens or ending CG scenes, nothing. You launch your ship, and 10 levels later, you land the ship. And in some ways that is refreshing in and of itself. I play a lot of shooters, as you can tell with my reviews for Deathsmiles and Stardust Galaxy Warriors, and while I generally prefer a story in my game, it’s nice to have one so straightforward as well.

Wolflame | Launch

Consider how long it will be until you land, you best have a bladder of steel.

Since there is no story to speak of, let’s jump right into the mechanics. Stylistically this reminded me the most of one of my favorite arcade games, 1941. Even having the two drone ships on your sides matches that title. One interesting change here is that you can never upgrade your main vessel’s shots, you can only ever upgrade the drones on the side. But a nice touch is that you can upgrade each drone independently. And when the upgrades drop, other than bomb upgrades, they show an arrow pointing to which drone they will be upgrading. This allows you to have two different shot selections or both the same. I found that for the higher difficulty levels I normally wanted two different shots. So this was a change that affected my gameplay greatly. There are three types of shots; a spread bullet with minor homing missiles (red upgrade), a powerful linear laser (green upgrade), and a homing blue spread laser (blue upgrade). The upgrades will transition between those colors and can be upgraded to level 5 each. Another change to that classic formula is that when you pick up an upgrade of a different bullet type, you maintain the levels that you had previously gained. In other words, if you had the red power-up at level 2 and then pick up a blue, you will end up with a blue level 3.

Wolflame | Upgrades

A little hard to see through that mass of bullets, but there are two upgrades there.

There are no different ships, so your shot selection is where your own playstyle can be best expressed. Personally for Easy and Normal difficulties I preferred the blue homing lasers. But with Hard and Insane I preferred the green laser and bullet combo. But because you have no choice of ship, you only ever have one bomb type. And, to be honest, your bombs kind of suck. Realistically they are only to get you out of trouble, not to actually kill much of anything. Even on the easiest difficulty you will typically not be able to bomb spam a boss. The bombs have a very limited range and their active invulnerability frames are pretty poor for a typical shooter. They weren’t totally useless, but I would say that the bombs in this game are some of the worst of any shooter that I’ve played. So don’t rely on them for anything but getting you out of a tight spot, and even then you need to get used to the short timeframe and the fact that you still can’t actually touch any solid object, they will only stop bullets and lasers.

Wolflame | Boss Fight

This boss is undergoing a mid-life crisis, his wife must not be too fond of his ship choice.

One other calling card of this sub-genre of game is fully intact in this title, and that’s the fact that bosses are usually the easiest part of the game. Perhaps that may seem a bit disjointed, but when you play enough of these titles you get used to it. The bosses have pretty predictable behaviors, and even though they can be challenging on the higher difficulties, you can just learn their patterns and avoid accordingly. During the stage leading up to them you will typically have many more shots coming at you from many more directions. The tanks in this game are particularly nefarious on the higher difficulty levels, because their laser shots are actually quite fast. That is why I typically wanted a green laser and a spread shot combo for Hard and Insane, the green laser was for bosses and the spread shot was to get there in the first place. The screen could get quite crowded with shots coming at you from all different directions, especially if you were not strafing horizontally to take out the enemies to the side of you as you approached.

Wolflame | Get Shot

Life flashing before your eyes in this moment.

And that brings up my only major complaint for this title. Look at how large your ship is on that screen. That can be considered a good thing for quality and immersion, however, not so much in this case. All of that ship profile is active collision frame. In other words, any bullet or solid object touches any part of that, and you are dead. This eschews the modern convention (especially in the bullet hell sub-genre) of having a smaller damage profile than your displayed ship size. This allows for an artistic ship design, but not making it impact the play quality. Now, there is something to be said for being this old school and not doing that. But the result of that decision does make this game unnecessarily difficult at times. One modern concession that they did make is that you can continue from where you left off instead of going back to the beginning of the stage. However, this can also work against you in serious ways. You will respawn right before the boss you died on, and typically only have one upgrade for you before you re-engage the boss. Sometimes (very rarely), you will get a red cross upgrade that will restore your previous bullet upgrades, but this happened so seldom it’s barely worth mentioning. It made me wish many times that I had a choice of where I continued, so I could go back to the beginning of the level instead of right at the part I died on. This lead to entire restarts during Hard and Insane, because I was at a part that I needed to have upgrades in order to survive. And, as I said before, the bombs were barely useful at all.

Wolflame | Epic Moment

And you thought that you were terrestrially bound.

I do not consider that much to complain about, really. These games are meant to be difficult, and this title decided to go very old school. In that effort they definitely succeeded, and that makes me want to check out more from the Japanese indie developer Astro Port. The moment when you strap rocket boosters on and exit the atmosphere to take the battle to space was especially epic. And fighting in the atmosphere of a planet felt like a payoff that lasted for three levels instead of just one moment. The replay value you have for this game is trying for a High Score and with the four different difficulty levels; Easy, Normal, Hard, and Insane. Shot selection you can always try a new type, but there are only 6 different combinations, so you can just try them all in a single playthrough. The 10 levels can take anywhere from 1 hour to 3 hours to beat, according to how many times you will have to continue. And 10 levels is actually pretty hefty for a classic game of this type, so you are getting your money’s worth, especially given that this is only $5.99 MSRP. If you enjoy those classic arcade style top-down shooters, there is really no reason to pass this one up. It runs great and I had zero bugs, the graphic style is nice, and the music is okay (but nothing to write home about). So jump on in and shoot down some bad… aliens? I’m guessing here on who you are fighting. Either way, if it bleeds, it can die.

Review Score

Review Copy Provided By Publisher

About William Haderlie

Born in the 1970's, I've been an avid participant for much of video game history. A lifetime of being the sort of supergeek entrenched in the sciences and mathematics has not curbed my appreciation for the artistry of video games, cinema, and especially literature.