I’ll be upfront with this: when it comes to shmups, I tend to believe that if you’ve played one of them, you’ve played them all, so it takes something addictive to get me into playing them. They always seem to have the same premise: fly around, shoot everything, maybe get a special, and then call it good.
Disclosure: This review was written using a press copy of the game.
Super Galaxy Squadron EX surely scratched that itch in a fun and interesting way, and left me pleasantly surprised.
The year is 2438. It has been eleven years since the First Ceti War, an event that raised tensions between humans and the alien Ceti. Since the end of the war, humanity has been preparing for another attack by pulling the fourteen best pilots with the fourteen best ships into an elite squadron known as the Super Galaxy Squadron.
You play as these pilots as you fight back against a recent attack by the Ceti, blasting through six levels as well as additional modes.
The game itself is a revamped, not-bullet-hell remake of the original Super Galaxy Squad that was released last year. The proceeds to the original Super Galaxy Squadron went to Child’s Play, and they were able to write a check for 10,000 to the cause.
If you’ve ever played a shmup, you shouldn’t have an issue here. You fly your ship around on a screen, shooting at targets and avoiding getting hit.
Now, as I’m a filthy casual when it comes to shmups (and have way too many eyesight problems), I played the game on the Casual setting, which gave me a nice health gauge and checkpoints immediately before the bosses, making the game much more enjoyable for me.
As you play through the levels, you gain power ups, power up your special attack, and destroy everything that moves.
At the get-go-the game is a hoot. It’s got everything to make you nostalgic for the old shmups that started the franchise as well as everything that makes new ones great.
As an added bonus to getting this game, you get access to the original game, which is a bit harder (in my opinion), but not as pretty. You can surely see the differences between the two games, and it’s worth playing both if only to see how much as changed in one year. Technically, you’re getting two games for the price of one; how can you beat that?
There are also multiple gameplay modes to bring you back to playing each time. Not only do you have the six levels of story mode, but there Endless modes to give you a bit of a challenge. At the moment, you only have Zen (which is relatively slow paced and easy to play), but there’s another one that is clearly marked “Coming Soon!”. Yes, I’m looking forward to it.
The artwork for this version is top-notch, especially when compared to the original. The art team really stepped it up a notch, as you have more details on EVERYTHING in this version; nice backgrounds, a ship-like HUD to track what you need to know (health, Hyper gauge, etc), better ships, and more. It’s worth it just to see all the pretty colors.
Of course, you’re not going to play it for the colors, which is where the gameplay elements come in.
The game is pretty forgiving, as the ship is bigger than your hit box, so you can really navigate between the attacks without worrying too much of getting hit. Of course, when you do get hit, you only lose a bit of health and a recoverable power-up (at least in Casual mode), which means you should avoid it as much as possible.
Just because the game is forgiving doesn’t mean that it’s going to be easy. Even on Casual, I’m struggling with the fourth level as it is harder than I expected. As the only checkpoints you get in Casual are immediately before the boss, you have to make it through the level first, which is often harder than the bosses themselves!
One of the cool perks of this game: the multiple characters. Each one will emphasize a play style, whether it’s moving fast or just getting as much ammo up on the screen as possible. There are fourteen characters, each one plays differently, and you are able to choose your character at the beginning of each level if you move fast enough. This is an excellent choice when you are having a hard time with a level and want to see if a different approach will work (protip: it often does).
In between each level, we get some voice narration and an image to help promote what you are doing and why you are doing it. These images range from sector maps to landscapes, which look nice and change up the pace between levels.
If you compare the above to the previous version of the game, it’s a solid improvement. Excellent work!
The last major selling point of this game: it’s a shmup you can beat in one sitting. They tout it in their description, but it is true. I hit Stage 4 (and kept getting killed in it), played the Zen version for a bit, and tried a level in the classic version in under 60 minutes. I’m sure if I stayed focused, I would have beaten the game and saw the end of the story, but I was too transfixed by trying ALL THE THINGS (and putting in quite a bit more time in doing so) for you to do that. Maybe I’ll give it a whirl some morning before work.
I’ve yet to play a game I’ve 100% liked. Super Galaxy Squadron EX will not avoid that fate, sadly, but my critiques are not enough to worry about too much.
First major concern is, oddly enough, with the hit box. I can’t tell you how much time I put in until I finally grasped where I needed to be hit to actually BE hit. This makes it a bit more challenging as each ship is differently shaped (but has a similar hit box), and the hit box must be over a power up in order to get it. For anyone who’s played some other shmups, this can put you in a state of constant paranoia as your ship isn’t entirely fragile, but the entire ship can’t pick things up.
The second is the soundtrack. It’s great, it’s tinny 8-bit nostalgia. . .but it gets grating after a while. The music doesn’t change much/at all between levels, so you are literally listening to the same song for the entire time you are playing the game. It’s a bit disheartening, as I was hoping for more after firing it up.
As a bit of nitpicking: we don’t see a multiplayer option. Not every shmup can have it, of course (especially one like this where your bullets are flying EVERYWHERE), but the only real multiplayer joy you have is comparing scores. I’m not one for measuring contests, so it loses a bit of appeal in my book.
One final kicker: some people may not be happy with the length. I personally am okay with a more casual game that I don’t need to work on for months (thanks to my schedule and my other hobbies), but an hour seems a bit short of a game. The other modes help get the most out of it, but it still feels a bit short.
I’m giving Super Galaxy Squad EX 4.5 buns.
The gameplay is solid, doesn’t feel clunky, and the game doesn’t lag (or rely on lag) when there’s insanity on the screen. The game relies on tried and true methods with some solid approaches that, while may not be new, are still welcomed.
Super Galaxy Squadron EX is, in my opinion, well worth the money. Not only does the company move to do great things for others, but they made a solid addition to the game line of shmups that does the progenitors of the game type proud.
You can snag Super Galaxy Squadron EX for $9.99 on Steam, and you can pick up the soundtrack DLC for $1.99. The EX version was just released on February 18th, and is worth the pricetag! Check it out now!
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