Friday, August 26, 2016

Solar Shifter EX Review (XONE)

Solar Shifter EX is a fresh new take on the classic vertical scrolling shoot-em-up that twists the genre a bit with some interesting ideas.  What kind of new ideas?  Well, for starters, staying perfectly still rather than dodging all over the place like in other shmups is a key gameplay tactic here.  For all the good new ideas Solar Shifter EX brings to the table, however, it is hamstrung by some core issues that make it just not all that much fun to play.  See all of the details here in our full review.  

Game Details

  • Publisher: Headup Games
  • Developer: Elder Games
  • ESRB Rating: “E” for Everyone
  • Genre: Shoot-em-up
  • Pros: Great graphics and sound; interesting twist on genre
  • Cons: Extreme difficulty; load times; camera movement; hard to see what’s going on
  • MSRP: $10

Solar Shifter EX’s story is a sci-fi romp about an alien race that is going to destroy the Sun, so the last vestiges of mankind are fighting each other as well as the aliens to try to escape the solar system before the sun blows up. 

You control a special space ship that has the power to instantly shift position around the battlefield.  From a gameplay perspective, this allows you to dodge out of the line of fire or even through solid lasers in order to avoid getting hit.  Using the right analog stick lets you shift precisely where you want to, which is highly recommended over the other control method which uses the “X” button and left stick but isn’t nearly as accurate. 

In addition to the shift mechanic, Solar Shifter EX also has another trick up its sleeve that separates it from other shmups.  Mainly that it really doesn’t play like a normal shoot-em-up.  Instead of having to dodge around to avoid enemy fire – which usually gets you killed here – you have to find safe zones where the enemy fire can’t hit you.  Each enemy encounter, regardless of how many enemies and bullets are onscreen, has some safe zone where you can just sit perfectly still and hold the fire button to kill everything.  You can sit still for, literally, 10-15 seconds at a time and never get touched by a bullet once you find the safe zone.  Not only are you safe, but the enemy patterns are done in such a way that they’ll almost all fly right in front of you so you can kill them all while not moving.  As long as you’re holding the fire button, after that 10-15 seconds all the enemies should be dead and you move on to the next encounter where you re-position and do it all over again.

This makes Solar Shifter EX almost impossible to play if you try to play it like a normal shmup.  You die early and often if you try to dodge around too much.  Instead it is more like a puzzle game where you find that hole in the enemy fire in each battle so you can move on to the next one.  This gives the game a totally different feel and can be a lot of fun once you get into the rhythm of things.

Finding that rhythm can be a challenge, though, because even if you know how you’re supposed to be playing it, Solar Shifter EX is extremely, brutally, crazy difficult.  The game has checkpoints a few times per level, which eases the pain a little bit, but it all boils down to a lot of trial and error and dying until you figure out the pattern in each series of encounters and can make it to the next checkpoint.  This wouldn’t be so bad if the game didn’t have to load every time you die, but every death is accompanied by a loading screen.  Sure, the load time is only 8-10 seconds long, but when you have to do it over and over and over and over it gets very annoying, very quickly. 

Part of what make Solar Shifter EX so difficult is that it can be hard to see what is going on through the swarm of enemies and effects onscreen.  Everything sort of blends together and you can’t distinguish bullets from the background and you die a lot.  I’m also not a fan of how the camera pans around and zooms in and out to make the game more cinematic.  These camera shifts make the game harder to play because it is even harder to see. 

With that said, however, Solar Shifter EX does actually have very nice presentation overall.  The game looks good and has nice special effects and the levels set out in space are stunning.  The sound is also pretty fantastic with great sci-fi sound effects and a truly awesome soundtrack.

Honestly, Solar Shifter EX is a tough game to really put a definitive verdict on.  It does a lot of really cool stuff that sets it apart from other shmups and has some decent level variety (like getting to play as a few different alien ships!), but the extreme difficulty and load times really wear on you after a while.  It’s a game that is like 40% fun and 60% controller-throwing, obscenity-filled frustration.  I’m no stranger to shmups and their difficulty, but I’m telling you Solar Shifter EX will really push your buttons like little else I’ve played in the genre.  Genre fans will appreciate the things it does differently, but it is still hard to fully recommend Solar Shifter EX.  At just $10, though, it isn’t a huge investment and you might enjoy it as long as you know what you’re getting into.   
Disclosure: A review code was provided by the publisher.