Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Score Rush Extended (PS4)

Years ago, back when "The Inferno" was a fledgling indie gaming blog I crossed paths with two of XBLIG's most interesting, and unique shmup (shoot 'em ups) creators. Those creators being Matthew Doucette, and Jason A. Doucette of Xona Games. I was privileged enough to be able to review a couple of their retro inspired shmup titles including that of "Score Rush", and was able to try to best their high scores that were set before the game's launch. Being an old time arcade fanatic, and shmup enthusiast I greatly enjoyed the simplicity, and challenge of said games. They stayed true to what made the genre so attractive, and in doing so made those who could gain the highest scores in the leaderboards more noteworthy. In this day, and age that challenge seeking side of the gaming community is lost to the casual crowd though. Long gone are those multitudes of gamers seeking to achieve the highest scores possible within the shmup genre. Regardless of this loss of interest shmups continue to be created, and continue to thrive within the gaming culture.

As a quote included in "Score Rush Extended" so rightfully says shmups are the one genre that has withstood the tests of time. Players only pick them up for short bursts of fun, but return to them often over spans of years just to be able to make themselves known as top score leaders. Shmups, as they were are all about short lived gaming sessions, and long lasting replay value. They are also a genre of games that are somewhat misunderstood by the modern-day gamer. The casual direction the gamers of today have been steered in is basically negating any admiration of games that offer up a proper challenge. It's sad to see, but like the quote also said the genre has done alright for itself, and continues onward in games like, "Score Rush Extended".

Like it's root release "Score Rush Extended" comes back to the gamer with it's bright neon visuals, screen filling bullet hell spray, heavy metal soundtrack, and frantic fast paced action intact for the new generation of gamers to enjoy. It can be played in a variety of different ways including solo, co-op, and competitively via team based leaderboards. This can be done with up to four players, locally. Returning to the forefront of in-game gameplay is the signature 'Score Rush' mode in which you'll be shooting lesser enemy ships and bosses while dodging screen filling bullet hell. That mode returns as well as a "Boss Rush" mode which will pit you against the several bosses of the game. As usual both modes also come with unlockable difficulty settings which include the even more challenging "Extreme", and "Godlike". These are unlocked after you fully complete the previous difficulty setting, supposing you can.All modes will definitely test your mettle as a dedicated shmup player.

When it comes to the core gameplay it's all about the ship, and said ship's survival as an shmup is. At your disposal is a geometrically shaped ship with a tiny inner hitbox that can be piloted in it's singular form, or in a "Dual" form which features two conjoined ships firing simultaneously. The controls for said ship/s are what we refer to as "Dual Thumbstick" meaning that the left thumbstick controls ship movement while the right thumbstick controls the ship's bullet spray. Having dual thumbstick controls allows the player to focus more on the bullet hell, and enemies while focusing less on added functions. Also at your disposal is "P" labeled power-ups which have two functions. First, and foremost these power-ups (marked by "P") will boost the strength of the bullet spray your ship is firing. Secondly, once you max out the "P" power-ups any similar power-up that you collect afterwards will clear the screen of bullet hell. It's a tactic that will come in handy when you are out of nukes. Speaking of nukes each playthrough gifts your ship three nukes, or bombs which will clear the screen of bullet hell, and lesser enemies should you find yourself surrounded without means for escape. Lastly you'll find a secondary power-up labeled with an "O" which will give your ship/s a trail of orbs (Think "Snake") that also fire in a similar way as your ship/s.

Another notable ship function includes the ability to slow the ship down. This is done by pressing, and/or holding "R1". It is a feature meant mainly for navigating your ship safely through tight bullet hell spray patterns without moving too quickly into said patterns. You have to understand that it only takes one hit to the ship's inner hitbox from bullet hell spray, or direct contact with an enemy ship to instantly destroy one of your ships. In the solo playthrough you have a total of 3 ships while in the dual playthrough that number is doubled due to the conjoined nature of the two ships you are piloting. Choosing to play either "Solo", or "Dual" is done in the main menu system by tweaking the "Duality" setting to either choice. In order to play with multiple local players all players will need to access the game separately via their own dashboard menus, and will have to join in after player one selects the appropriate number of joining players at the screen following the "Play" option. This is done by pressing "R1/L1" in the "Play" menu to cycle through the player number options. Just as the duality can be set at the main menu so too can the "Mode" of play. You have a choice of two modes including the previously mentioned "Score Rush/Attack", and "Boss Rush". Either mode can be selected, and played with the "Solo", or "Dual" ship options. Each mode also has a "Normal", "Extreme", and "Godlike" difficulty setting which can be selected by cycling through them using left or right on the DPad once they are unlocked.

Further options can be selected in the "Help & Options' menu. These options include "Music Volume", "Sound Volume", "Vibration", "Color", "Glow", "Flashing", and "HUD Disappear". The volume, and vibration settings are pretty much self-explanatory, but the "Color", "Glow", and "Flashing" a little less so. The color, glow, and flashing settings are basically in place to make the game more visually pleasing to the gamers' eyes. In the way of "Color" options you can keep bullet hell multi-colored, change it to a single color, or even change it to a dual color. The "Glow" setting also helps the bullet hell to be more visually tolerable by changing the outline of the bullet hell to a glowing, black, or non-existent state. The "Flashing" setting on the other hand can be tweaked to static or flashing to increase or reduce the intensity of the bullet hell's surrounding effects. Lastly the "HUD Disappear" option is in place to limit the potential screen clutter that is score. You can set it to 'Always', 'Never' or 'Score Only'.

For those of you wondering about leaderboards they are both global, and local. Each mode, and each duality contains it's own respective leaderboard. Leaderboards are also sub-divided by difficulty setting, and further by player count/orientation. When it comes to the local 4 player playthroughs things are gauged in a team fashion. Both on the competitive, and co-op side of the spectrum. Your team based efforts will be uploaded to the game's global team leaderboards, and it is here you can compete for rankings with other online players across the globe. I will be honest in saying I was not able to properly do a multiplayer playthrough though, so my knowledge of the experience is very limited. I do know that there is player revival enabled in co-op play, however.

Video & Audio ...

Sensory overload is the first thing that comes to mind when I think about describing "Score Rush Extended" gameplay. It's definitely not a game meant for gamers with epilepsy, or those who have a family history of seizures. The neon colors, the screen filling bullet hell spray, the explosions, and the visuals in general are vividly intense. Keeping track of your ship/s in the maelstrom of bullet spray can definitely put a strain on the eyes even for gamer like me who can tolerate such flashy games. As such I think it's a game best played in short sessions in a well lit room by players who can handle the visual intensity. 

In the way of soundtrack offerings "Score Rush Extended" seems to have a single looping track. There is no option for track selection at all. The music is definitely more of a contemporary metal, and is definitely akin to the heavy metal instrumentals offered up in Japan. I think "Dragon Music" is the composer for this game's soundtrack just like they were back on the Xbox 360 version. The music, to me seems fitting as "Score Rush Extended" is a Japan best seller. 

The Verdict ...

I was a fan of this game back when it was an XBLIG exclusive, and I find that I'm still a fan in it's current state. The only problem I have, if any lies not with the game itself but with the complex multiplayer situation that is caused by the PS4's local multiplayer setup. It is a real hassle just to be able to game with friends, locally. You have to have your local team login via PS4's complicated controller initiation process, and follow-up with each player taking turns signing into their dashboard versions of the game. With that having been said though I think the single player portion of the game more than makes up for that problem. I've mostly been a single player myself, and "Score Rush Extended" is still very enjoyable to play in that regard. Just heed my warning about the seizure possibility, and you'll be alright. Throwing the verdict out there like there's no tomorrow I'll strongly suggest buying this indie if you can tolerate the visuals, especially if you like good replay value as well as a proper score based challenge. 

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