With an existence spanning nearly forty years, the shoot ‘em up game (or shmup) has a well-deserved place in the pantheon of gaming. But its status was earned by more than just tenacious longevity. Shooters are one of the most engrossing types of gaming around, demanding a heightened level of concentration from players. Watch a veteran gamer pilot a lone ship against a cavalcade of foes and you’re likely to observe a player in a near trance-like state, with survival hinging on both visual acuity and the ability to remain unruffled.
One of the virtues of any respectable shmup is a refined sense of discovery. While the first couple of plays offer a sample of environments, enemy patterns, attack methods, and power-ups, subsequent sessions begin to reveal nuance. Invest enough time with a particular title and you’ll appreciate a shooter’s inner workings. For many shoot ‘em ups of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, it wasn’t too difficult- with games like Blazing Lazers, Gradius, Space Megaforce and Raiden revealing their intricacies to players willing to invest a reasonable amount of time.
As with most genres, the shmup grew increasingly complicated in the ensuring years. With the release of 1995’s DonPachi, a new niche emerged, which would later be christened the ‘bullet hell shooter’. Named for the onslaught of blooming, firework-like projectiles which would bloom on-screen, these shmups required an advanced level of knowledge and dexterity, as demonstrated when terms such as hitbox, slaloming, and sweep attack emerged in the gaming lexicon. Likely in cyclical fashion, shoot ‘em ups became scarcer as they grew in difficulty.
2010’s Söldner-X 2: Final Prototype was one of the few recent titles to democratize the genre, offering a PlayStation 3 shooter that adeptly scales from accessible to confounding antagonistic. Originally released to mixed reviews, the title has received a proficient PS Vita port, giving the accessible, approachable game a another chance at victory.
Likewise, players can expect plenty of second shots as well. Final Prototype includes a component called the Play Rank System, which offers an adaptive level of challenge. If the game senses you’re struggling, then the number of enemies and projectiles is reduced, while the effect of incoming damage is lessened. Pleasingly, the system is largely transparent to the player. While I tried to take advantage of the system, purposefully making a number of small, but not disastrous errors- the game didn’t seem to become significantly easier. However, when the portable was handled over to a friend who wasn’t as proficient with shooters, he managed to hold his own and avoid frustration, this demonstrating the scalability. As such, it seems like developer SideQuest Studios has incorporated some clever coding in the game.
For both newcomers and more seasoned shmuppies, Söldner-X 2 does a lot of things right. Unlike the genre’s conventional one-hit kills, the game allows pilots to amass injury without their craft exploding. In fact, once players take a certain amount of damage, they’ll enter Bezerker mode, where they’ll find their firepower and defenses augmented to provide a fighting chance against the incessant assault of regular rivals as well as the belligerent bosses who punctuate each stage.
Level design can be commended for not only adding aesthetic variety, but endowing environments with variance, whether through a mid-stage asteroid field, plunging icicles, or a journey through the inside of a colossal space craft. Similarly, weapon variety is remarkably skillful. When players first start the game they’ll have a selection of two ships, each with three different offensive systems that can be changed on the fly, via the shoulder buttons. Gamers will have to experiment to find out what kind of weapons work best against each type of enemy using an assortment of interesting munitions. From tentacle-like lasers that home in on foes to a shotgun spray of acid blue bubbles, Final Prototype’s arsenal is as diverse as it is fun to use.
For achievers, keeping the chain meter high will be a top priority. By eliminating enemies and picking up the Sonic the Hedgehog-like clusters of rings that emerge from fallen foes, players can prevent the gauge from dropping. The successful completion of a chain combo also releases a power-up, which can do things like advance the score multiple, add health, giving a weapon boost, or release an option.
Play the game on the easiest setting, and the five stage trek can be completed in about an hour, not including any time spent reading through the game’s optional tutorial screens. In effect, this is largely a warm-up for Söldner-X 2’s elevated challenges, which include collecting hidden keys to unlock additional two additional stages, ships, and weapons, as well as earning a spot on the online leaderboard.
Pleasingly, Final Prototype’s journey to the PS Vita is a faultless port. Loading times are swift and disguised by attractive cinematic sequences, while the game keeps an unwavering sixty frame-per-second delivery throughout the duration of its campaign. For players who bought the console iteration, Söldner-X 2 on the Vita is a free download via a cross-buy promotion, which is generous gesture from EastAsiaStudios considering the quality of the adaptation. Whether you overlooked the title the first time or just haven’t played game in a few years, Söldner-X 2: Final Prototype undoubtedly deserves a second shot.
Söldner-X 2: Final Prototype was reviewed on the PS Vita with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: PS Vita, previously on PlayStation 3
Developer: SideQuest Studios
Release date: March 17th, 2015
Price: $9.99 base game, $4.99 The Last Chapter DLC, $12.99 for the combo. Cross-buy with PlayStation 3 iteration.