REVIEW: Quad Fighter K

Monday, August 13th, 2018

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Quad Fighter K | boxart
Title Quad Fighter K
Developer Happy Meal
Publisher Aksys Games
Release Date May 31st, 2018
Genre Shoot-em-up
Platform Nintendo Switch
Age Rating E
Official Website

Quad Fighter K is a retro 8-bit shooter currently available on the Nintendo Switch. Developed by Happy Meal and published by Aksys, this retro-style shooter is in the vein of games like Aleste or Star Soldier however with a rather weird gimmick – it emphasizes multiplayer co-op gameplay. While this adds a fairly interesting twist to the formula, if you are playing alone it doesn’t quite work as well as the developers probably intended.

When you boot up the game you are greeted to two games: Quad Fighter K and Cyber Ship Nakku. I will cover Cyber Ship Nakku later in the review but for now, let’s focus on Quad Fighter K. As the name might imply Quad Fighter K is a co-op shooter in which four ships will travel across 7 stages or Zones. You will always have 4 ships regardless of the amount of human players participating. You can designate who will be controlled by a player and who will be controlled by the computer. The main gimmick to the gameplay is that the ships can combine by bumping into each other to increase their firepower. The ships have other characteristics too such as what kind of firepower they have which will influence the attacks your ship will be able to launch.

Unfortunately, the game never really makes this clear, so it’s really up to you to discover it for yourself. Of course while having multiple ships attached to you means your firepower will increase significantly in both damage and frequency, that also means you are a bigger target and there is more room for you to take hits. One hit will destroy each ship so you want to be smart with how you combine with the other ships. Of course at any moment you can release them with the X button. Throughout the stages you will fight a variety of enemy swarms and destroying everything in a particular enemy formation can grant you a bonus. You will also be able to collect various bombs which can explode in various patterns based on the symbol on the bomb you picked up. You can even cycle through them with the L/R buttons so you can pick the right one for the current situation you find yourself in. These bombs also serve a secondary purpose where when picked up, they will trail the ship that collected them and can be used to block enemy fire. Should you take damage, you will lose them so you need to be very careful. This adds a whole new layer of strategy to this game and it’s a lot of fun to try and collect as many as you can to have what’s essentially a giant snake-like shield protecting you from enemies and bosses. Speaking of bosses, they are a lot of fun as they have you making good use of your team and bombs. Of course the bombs can make quick work of most of the bosses, but that’s only if you’ve managed to save the bombs for the boss because in the later levels especially, the enemies are fast and fierce so you will want to be using them fairly frequently and it’s easy to forget to save some for the boss. Also like many modern shoot em ups, bosses are timed. If you take too long on a particular boss fight the words “ESCAPE” will appear on screen and the boss will fly away and can potentially kill your ships on the way out, so be careful.

There are two main variations to how you can play Quad Fighter K. Attack mode is straightforward – navigate the levels and each ship has a set number of lives. If they lose them they will no longer be able to play until the surviving player scores enough points for a live extend. The more interesting mode however is Kyogeki mode. In this mode one or more of the four ships can be assigned to be a “VIP” ship. It has 9 lives and should it lose them it’s game over, so it is up to the other ships to protect it by any means necessary. To accommodate this, all the non-VIP ships have unlimited lives! However dying means you have to re-spawn in the level meaning that the VIP ship can be exposed. This ship is slow and it’s firepower is a bit lacking. What I like doing is combining with that ship and positioning it below mine, that way I can have more control…until I make a mistake and my ship gets destroyed. I have to say, I really respect this approach to the genre, it’s something fresh, unique and exciting. And the 8-bit tunes to accompany this are absolutely solid. However, for as positive of a first impression this game can leave, it has some serious issues that bring down the experience.

The first major issue is the AI. The AI controlled ships are terrible at playing this regardless of the difficulty. They waste bombs for no reason, they don’t do a great job dodging enemy fire, they combine with you at moments where it wouldn’t be convenient and overall seem to get in the way more than not. Kyogeki mode has a major flaw with the VIP ship. When a ship takes damage it is destroyed and flies back into the level with some invincibility time and can pass through any wall or environmental hazard. The VIP ship, on the other hand, only has a small invincibility period and stays on screen and can’t pass through these hazards. Early on in the game that isn’t so bad, but in the later stages when those walls and environmental hazards I mentioned become more prominent this becomes a critical and potentially game-breaking issue. Because the screen scrolls vertically, if say you were guarding the VIP ship and got destroyed right in front of a hazard that you could have otherwise avoided, the VIP ship will sit there and run right into it. Even worse the auto scrolling will ensure that it stays stuck there and it will not pass through until that hazard has completely scrolled off screen and the ship is forced to pass through with the game’s physics, which means you are losing lives as long as it’s stuck there. I’ve had playthroughs get completely ruined by this as I went from playing incredibly well to suddenly losing 4-7 lives in the matter of seconds over one mistake I made during one of the final areas of the game. I’m sorry, that is beyond punishing!

Quad Fighter K | combine

If that happens to you and you are somehow not completely discouraged from finishing it, you will be glad to know that the more you play the game the more ships you unlock, which is nice since it adds some replay value. Despite those issues, I did manage to finish it in single-player which really surprised me. Local multiplayer however is a bit better since, at least then, you can talk to your friends and work out how to tackle the challenges, but in single player you have to rely on the AI a lot and sometimes they will screw you over. If you manage to complete the game “Zone X” is unlocked which is mostly a boss rush and it’s pretty fun if you are looking for more to do with Quad fighter K. That said, if you found the two difficulties and 30 minute playthrough were to be far too easy, I challenge you to try Cyber Ship Nakku. This game is the real deal when it comes to ridiculously hard retro style shoot-em-ups. It took me about four tries to survive more than 30 seconds in it. The enemies move much faster than you and before you know it you are looking at that game over screen. Even worse your ship moves in a very weird way, almost like it’s sliding on ice. It’s almost like a sick joke. This is the kind of game you give to a friend as a dare or a drinking game and I almost feel like the developers intended it as such. I guess there is a reason it’s included as a bonus mode and not a standalone title here.

For $7.99 Quad Fighter K is an interesting title. I can appreciate the unique approach to the genre but it needs more polish. If you like old school shoot-em-ups and find this intriguing, I’d say give it a shot. Keep in mind though that the nature of the four-player gameplay makes for a chaotic playthrough that is equally as impressive as it is frustrating. It might make for a fun game to play with friends however if you plan on tackling this solo, I have nothing to say other than “Good Luck!”

Review Score

Review copy provided by the publisher

About Justin Guillou

Justin joined Operation Rainfall to share his passion and knowledge for some of the more obscure video games out there.