Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Soldner-X 2: Final Prototype & Last Chapter DLC (PS VITA)

Taking on it's own unique lore within a futuristic timeline of war ridden events, eastasiasoft's "Soldner-X 2: Final Prototype" aims to capture the audience's attention with hardcore Gradius style shoot 'em up action. If you are not familiar with Gradius, or the Soldner-X franchise they are two side scrolling score based shooters that basically have you piloting an upgradeable spaceship while blasting other enemy ships out of the sky amidst screen filling bullet hell spray. Unlike Gradius though, Soldner-X and it's "Final Prototype" follow-up features groundbreaking HD visuals in the form of rotating, and milti-layered moving background environments as well as eye catching ship designs that are anything, but generic. One thing in particular that sets the Soldner-X series apart from other side-scrolling shmups is the fact that the immersive audio soundtrack that accompanies it makes you feel as if you are a part of the action. In fact the female announcer this time around talks to you as if you are an actual Soldner-X pilot fighting the good fight in a universe being threatened by the oppressive D'aarg. There are plenty of bullets to dodge, and bosses to fight as you make your way through stage after stage racking up that high score while completing your mission as a designated Soldner-X fighter jet pilot. Just know that it will take some serious skill to make it to the top of the rankings, and some serious skill to also save the universe without losing all of your ship stock!

Without beating around the bush, and spoiling plot material I will tell you that this latest Soldner-X port does harbor a short story of it's own told through animated art panels, text dialogue, and spoken English voice-overs. All you really need to know from me is that you are a Soldner-X pilot of the EDF (Earth Defense Force), and that you have been given the go ahead by the union president to fight off the D'aarg, and reclaim all that was lost to them. Past the given plot pieces, and initial credits you will be greeted with a main menu that will start off by authenticating your PSN ID, and game. Once this process is done you can tweak the options (Difficulty, Ship Stock, Sound ...) if you like, and begin the multiple stage campaign playthrough that is at the top of the main menu listing.

Prior to the 3D cinematic intro regarding the ships flight through space, and the side-scrolling combat thereafter you will be able to select from one of three different Soldner-X ships (one of which is unlocked through gameplay) that differ in both appearance, and shot type. Choosing which ship best suits your play style is best done on a trial basis as it will give you some hands-on experience with each one. Just be aware that each ship has three different types of shots that are gained in order through power-up pick-ups. Aside from the shot types that are used for multiple strategies in dealing with the various types of enemies you will find that gameplay is also geared towards combined score chains. As you pilot your ship of choice through the various stage specific environments you will be shooting down waves of ships, and individual ships that will drop rings (Think 'Sonic the Hedgehog'). These rings must be collected to keep a score chain going which will result in the dropping of additional score point power-ups. Chains are kept going according to a timer of sorts that depletes the longer you go without picking up rings. Once the chain is broken (after the announced "Chain Low" voice-over) you will have to begin your score chain over again. The key to gaining a high score is of course to keep the chain going as long as possible.

Another thing to keep in mind aside from chain scores is that your stage by stage performance which includes the eradication of lesser enemies, and end stage bosses will result in a final grade (G - S 'Ultimate') that takes in account different in-game variables (ship stock, chains, secret keys, ...). As such avoiding getting hit by bullet hell spray, and avoiding running into environmental hazards, or ships is a crucial part in how your grade, and score will turn out for each stage. The fact that your ship stock is limited to begin with also makes the goal of piloting a perfect playthrough an important one.

To sway the balance of power in gameplay your Soldner-X ship of choice will be able to pick up various types of power-ups that improve upon ship speed, shot power, and assistance. Each power-up is of course indicated by a different color, and symbol accordingly, and is dropped randomly from downed enemy ships or bosses. All of this information is disclosed through item breakdown screens during, and throughout your initial playthrough. As far as powering up different shots goes it is a little more complicated than most straightforward power-up collecting, and actually lies with the ability to switch between them. When a red/orange power-up with a "P" symbol on it appears onscreen you'll have to switch to the desired shot type (R1), and fly over the power-up in order to gain that power upgrade. There are two types of power power-ups that will change as you get closer to full power status. Initially they'll be solid red/orange with a white "P" symbol in the middle, and finally red/orange with a white center, and a red/orange letter. While you do have the option to switch shot types after initially picking up the shot type power-up (in order) you will find that any one of them are capable of taking down enemies. It all goes back to what I said earlier about personal preference, and discovering which shot type is best for your play style though.

In the way of assistance you will also find in place power-ups that are of the traditional satellite (orbiting) type. These power-ups which add a limited fleet of smaller ships that fly alongside you will add extra shots to your main ship's shot. It's a way to make the taking down of enemies easier, and definitely helps when the screen is filled with multiple enemies. The catch is that whenever you get hit while in company of these smaller orbiting vessels (aka, Chasers) they will be lost one by one until there are no more. The fact that they fly so close to your main Soldner-X spacecraft does make navigating through bullet hell spray somewhat difficult in a visual sense at times.

At your further disposal is also a set of limited use attacks that clear the screen of enemies in a similar way as most shmup bombs do. One of these screen filling blasts, which is known as a "Shockwave " has to be picked up like any power-up as it is in fact a power-up that drops only ever so often. The other is one that builds up to the point of usage through the continued collection of power type power-ups. I think I actually goofed up earlier in saying that the white centered red/orange power-up was a power power-up. It is what you get after maxing out your shot type with power-ups, and acts as a filler for your "Limited" attack. As far as the "Limited" attack goes you can clear an entire screen with it's flashing blast which is definitely not seizure friendly. The previously mentioned "Shockwave" attack only reaches outward from the ship in a limited area.

As far as stage progression goes you will have the choice of starting off on stage one, or any stage the you unlock through playthroughs, and the gathering of secret keys (yellow power-ups). As you play through each stage shooting things, and racking up your high score along with it's coinciding grade you will eventual come to a stage ending boss that must be defeated in order to continue. Like any video game boss fight the bosses in "Soldner-X 2: Final Prototype" require a specific strategy to beat. Thankfully eastasiasoft's developer has incorporated an announcer that clues you in as to what you need to be doing, and when. Once you beat the boss you will progress according to the number of secret key power-ups you have obtained for each stage. Each stage houses 5 yellow secret key power-ups that must be obtained in order to be able to play through the entirety of the game, and see the true ending. At first your initial playthrough will be short lived, and will skip over the list of locked and unlocked stages, but as your continue to go back, and play through the campaign while collecting the secret keys more stages will open up to you. This is but one way in which Final Prototype includes replay value. In fact there's a separate mode within the main menu system known as, "Challenges" that will put your skills to the ultimate test.

In the "Challenges" menu, or mode you will find the challenges that you have unlocked through campaign gameplay. These challenges which include objective (survivor, defense ...) stage playthroughs with set rules will have you taking on various tasks to obtain extra ship stock, initially available shot types, trophies, and other stuff that pertain to in-game power-up collecting. It's an excellent way to maximize your scoring potential in that it gives you more firepower, and ship stock to work with when doing a campaign playthrough. One last thing I should mention is that "Soldner-X2: Final Prototype" is also compatible with the PS3 "Last Chapter" DLC that opens up more stages, and challenge mode challenges. The PS Vita port is "Cross-buy" meaning that if you own the PS3 version you can download it to the PS Vita for free, and if you buy the PS Vita version you can download the game to the PS3 for free. As far as the additional "Last Chapter" DLC goes it is also free, and is listed on the PS Vita PSN store.

The Verdict ...

Soldner-X 2: Final Prototype is a visually impressive shmup the likes of which PS Vita owners rarely get to see. Despite being scaled down for the handheld gaming device it looks, and performs well. It's as if the game was built solely for the PS Vita. Having played the previous PS3 series offering of "Soldner-X: Himmelssturmer" I can attest to the quality of the Soldner-X games, and was not surprised in the slightest to find that this latest installment was even greater than I remember Himmelssturmer being. The only thing I should warn you about is that the visual nature of the game is not good for gamers who have a history of seizures. The background movement can definitely mess with the eyes if you focus on it instead of the ships that are onscreen. The added fact that the "Limited" attack flashes like it does further poses an issue for people who are prone to having seizures. Aside from that I definitely think the game is worth it, especially if you aim to buy the PS Vita port. Do not miss out if you are into high score games as this version keeps track of your scores on a global, and local leaderboard. It's perfect for all the high score hounds out there!

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