I’m a big fan of old-school shoot ‘em ups (or SHMUPs as friends call them), for some reason especially vertical ones. Arcade CAVE shooters like the DonPachi and Mushime-Sama titles and classic 80s era fare like Tiger Heli are pure joy to me so I was looking forward to reviewing Solar Shifter EX. So how does it fare?
As a budget indie title you have to make some concessions for production values but the game doesn’t give a great first impression, the menus and initial screens are clunky and feel unfinished. Once into the game however, things do improve somewhat, at least visually.
The game’s scenery, especially the planet surfaces, look really good and the look of the game is nice if a little generic.The game doesn’t perform that well however, things judder and jostle about onscreen as the framerate fluctuates which is a bit off-putting and actually leads into the controls.
Solar Shifter EX controls quite badly, a SHMUP lives and dies based on its controls and Solar Shifter EX just feels wrong. Your ship doesn’t have very fine movement, the lightest of inputs make it jump too far which in a game about avoiding enemy barrages isn’t ideal. Combined with the fluctuating framerate it leads to a muddy feeling response which just makes positioning yourself really frustrating really quickly.
What about the game itself? Every SHMUP has a gimmick, the black and white bullet and shield mechanic from Ikaruga, the unique weapon system of Radiant Silvergun, even just quirky scoring systems. Solar Shifter EX’s twist is that you can ‘shift’ around the screen to dodge enemy fire, this consists of holding X and pressing a direction causing you to warp to that area of the screen. (You can also tap the right-stick to accomplish this)
This shifting comes into play mostly on bosses, they tend to fire beam lasers that pan around the screen forcing you to shift over them to avoid death. It also is useful for positioning in general and for getting out of the way of the mostly undodgeable bullet barrages that come your way.
In most SHMUPs, especially those of the Bullet Hell (or danmaku) variety, you get a ramp up in difficulty to ease you into them (unless you are a sadist and move straight to ‘I want to see a screen full of bullets’ difficulty). Enemy firing patterns teach you how to move and how to react by being fair and following rules you can learn, usually firing AT you or leading you in some way, so when you DO see a screen full of bullets you are ready and don’t just die in a glorious fireball (eventually).
Not so with Solar Shifter EX, the waves of enemies don’t fire AT you, they just follow a routine, firing in a specific way. How is this different to other games? Well they ramp up the difficulty by making them fire so fast that you are unlikely to dodge them. It’s done this way to encourage use of the shift mechanic but it feels unfair and poorly designed and the game’s controls are so bad you inevitably just die.
The quirky camera angle doesn’t help with this either as you aren’t quite sure where you are lined up, it’s not a traditional straight down view, it’s slightly angled (similar to Taito’s Ray Storm), this is made even worse when the game pulls the camera down almost behind your ship and you are expected to now know where to position yourself whilst the game shows off pretty cityscapes.
The game also has atrocious load times, which you endure every time you die. These add up and combine with the poor controls to create a very frustrating experience. Unfortunately there isn’t much choice when it comes to SHMUPs on Xbox One but you’d be better off putting the money towards Raiden V.
Solar Shifter EX (Reviewed on Xbox One)
Minor enjoyable interactions, but on the whole is underwhelming.
A generic, bland but functional SHMUP whose technical issues make it unenjoyable and tedious to actually play.