Review: Rising Star Games have buffed up the Dreamcast shmup to a shine for the current-gen, but will you want to blast your way through UNDER DEFEAT HD: DELUXE EDITION once more?
Now I’m used to bullet-hell shmups being ridiculously challenging at first. There’s a certain expectation that you need to spend time learning enemy attack patterns, bullet directions and all that other nonsense to stand a chance of surviving. But Under Defeat seems far harder than most. Why is that?
First, there’s its unpredictability. Bullets are large, your heli is achingly slow and you’re often bombarded by multiple attack patterns at once that trying to weave a path through the sea of red aggression is impossible. Projectiles will fan out from one turret, while another will spew large bombs that explode across the area. Multiple gunships will ra-ta-ta directly down the screen to fence you in as piddly, little hovercrafts release meandering shots that blend in with all the rest and regularly catch you unawares.
Bombs are on hand to give you some breathing room in a pinch, but more often than not you’ll find yourself dying before you can even react to the bullet heading straight for your cockpit, or think you can avoid it at the last second to see it just scrape your hitbox.
Second, it’s your underwhelming “options”. These are your greatest ally against the armies of tanks, choppers and aircraft carriers attempting to turn you into scrap metal – a trio of secondary weapons each with their own benefits and downsides. You start off with the Vulcan, a machine gun turret that continually fires in whichever direction you set. But you can also pick up the Cannon, a slow-firing launcher that automatically seeks out targets and rails on them until they’re exploded heaps, and the Rocket, a missile that inflicts huge damage over a wide radius but takes a considerably long time to recharge.
You can probably already see the interplay between the three options from the descriptions alone, but just to clarify: the Vulcan is useful when up against many weak enemies, the Cannon excels at picking off awkwardly placed targets, and the Rocket is perfect for burning through bosses. Sadly, that’s about as deep as their uses go.
Understand your options, son
And while they are useful, it’s your access to them that cripples their potential. You can switch between the three of them by collecting pick-ups dropped by specific enemies, which means you’re often locked into a specific option for a significant portion of each stage, so you must choose which one you believe will be most useful depending on the upcoming threats. For some reason the bloody things seem to want to slip away just out of reach every time you get near to one too, often leading you straight into enemy fire. While that may sound like it raises a number of tense situations where you’re forced to make quick decisions between which option to collect, in reality, it’s a terribly limiting system.
Leaving that choice to the odd moment a certain enemy drops the power up means that for most of the game all you have to do is shoot things and dodge projectiles, with some minimal management of your option recharge times. And while that’s certainly a worthwhile challenge in and of itself, it does mean Under Defeat feels like a fairly shallow shooter. If only you could switch options on the fly, for example. Not only would it eliminate some of the unfair difficulty – as you would be able adapt to new threats quickly – but it would also give you something else to consider other than simply holding down the fire button until you reach the score screen.
Unlike many of its ilk, Under Defeat HD lacks that interesting mechanic or bombastic style to help it stand out. There are a couple of neat touches – like being able to angle your helicopter 45 degrees to the left or right to stay well out of fire but still deal damage – but elsewhere it’s all a standard schmup affair. All the mechs and vehicles explode satisfactorily with the new HD coating and widescreen resolution option, and you do get the drive to beat that seemingly indestructible boss or impassable stage, but it’s a thrill that fades quickly.
Under Defeat HD: Deluxe Edition, by G.rev and Rising Star Games, is available now for Xbox 360 (reviewed) and PS3.