Soldner-X 2: Final Prototype is the epitome of 2D scrolling shoot ’em up gaming, cloning the classic R-Type and improving on it in every respect. If you played Soldner-X: Himmelsturmer last year, you may be nervous about this purchase. I was too, but don’t be: Eastasiasoft have taken everything that was good about the first game and fixed everything that was bad. The result is a slick, polished and highly playable 2D shooter.
Set across seven luscious levels (of which only five are accessible at the start), the aim is of course simple: shoot everything, avoid bullets and collect power-ups. Each level takes about ten minutes to complete including the final boss, and if that was all there was to it, it would become quickly boring. Fortunately, Soldner-X 2 is a dream for those who like challenge stages and unlockables.
Let’s start with the gameplay first. Your ship has two weapons to start with, plus one extra which can be unlocked, or swapped out for weapons collected by power-ups. By taking out the baddies you collect chain rings which boost your chain bar. If you can manage to fill this within a certain time, a power-up is released in addition to those which spawn when you kill enemies. Conserving bullets and taking down opponents quickly extends the time you are allowed to fill this bar.
There are, as you might imagine, tons of different types of power-ups to collect. Chasers add mini-ships which follow you and shoot at the enemies; regular power-ups increase the firepower of your currently selected weapon, and to a lesser extent those of your other weapons. Shockwaves and so-called limit attacks can be acquired which do massive damage to everything on the screen, plus plenty of other goodies.
Dotted around the stages are various secret keys. Collect 4 out of 5 on each level to unlock additional stages. Collect all 35 for a silver trophy.
Difficulty-wise, Soldner-X 2 strikes gold. The game can be as easy or as difficult as you like, which is in stark contrast to the rather tricky affair that was the original game. Two difficulty levels are unlocked at first: Beginner is dead easy, you will be able to complete the whole game without losing a ship, and Normal is not that challenging either. Later difficulty levels up the ante considerably once you’ve unlocked them. The real masterstroke though is that the game features dynamic difficulty, relative to the base difficulty level you’ve selected. You have a rank, either S (the best) or A-G, which goes up and down and is indicated in the corner of the screen along with your trending as you play. The more efficient you are, the more enemies and bullets are thrown at you. Perform poorly and the difficulty will be cranked down.
This may sound like a recipe for disaster, but it is perfectly balanced – never making the game too easy or too hard, again, relative to the difficulty you originally selected. You can also start the game from any stage, and the game thoughtfully provides you with a bunch of power-ups at the start commensurate to how far into the stages you have selected. This also makes hunting down those secret keys less of a chore.
Allow your health to drop below a certain amount and Beserker Mode is activated; much like in the original game this reduces the damage you take but increases your damage output. Survive long enough to pick up some health and normal gameplay will resume.
A tutorial system has been added which is less intrusive than the original game – but a little too unintrusive in fact. The top-left of the screen blinks to tell you to press triangle when a new tutorial is available, but if you don’t press it within a few seconds you’ll miss it altogether. Some of the tutorials are somewhat important to understanding the finer points of the gameplay mechanics, required to get the most out of the game. Fortunately, they are all available for re-reading in the options menu, which is also accessible during the game’s pause screen.
Soldner-X 2 includes two-player offline co-op which works seamlessly, with all power-ups shared except chasers. This does however mean that if your buddy picks up a naff weapon, your tertiary weapon slot acquires it too at the expense of what you previously had equipped.
The graphics are crisp and smooth, with excellent use of colour making this the most beautiful-looking 2D shooter on the PS3 to date. Boss designs are adequate but not breathtaking, and the music is the typical kind of mellow background dance noise you’d expect from any self-respecting 2D shooter. There is plenty of variety in enemies, however many of the backgrounds are quite dark so some of the levels can feel slightly samey – though there are many differences between them.
Onto the unlockables then. Soldner-X 2 features a challenge mode with a large number of tasks to complete, ranging from collecting 999 chain rings on a stage, to maxing out a weapon’s power in a certain time, to finishing a level without missing more than 3 enemies, or without killing any enemies except the boss. Some of these challenges are fairly simple and can be attempted on any difficulty level; others are punishingly difficult. Trophies are awarded for some of the challenges and you will be able to rack up more than in the original game because they are better balanced. It is really in the challenge mode where most of the fun and replayability of this game lies.
Since many people looking for classic shooter action will have already purchased the first game, I’d like to touch on some of the differences. First of all, the ill-thought out gameplay mechanic which causes your chain bar to be reset when you switch weapon has been scrapped. Your health slowly regenerates if you perform certain tasks, which it doesn’t in the first game. Issues with the backgrounds being too bright and easy to confuse with enemies have been resolved, with a much better contrast between foreground and background in the new game. The cheesy cut scenes between levels have been removed, and the difficulty can now be made much more forgiving if you are just in it to see what comes next. I also like the radio chatter during boss fights where your ground controller lets you know which parts you’re supposed to be attacking. Finally, the vast amount of unlockables: ships, stages, weapons, ‘specials’, challenges and difficulty levels, plus trophy collecting, give Soldner-X 2 far more replayability than its predecessor.
Online leaderboards are present and correct, but a pain to scroll through; there is no online play.
- Addictive, massive replayability due to tons of unlockables
- Difficulty can be made as hard or easy as you want
- Good variety, good graphics
- Seamless offline co-op
- Only 7 stages, so you’ll be replaying the same areas over and over
There are quite a few single-stick shooters on the PSN store now. In my opinion, this is the best of the bunch. It has been well-designed, balanced and tuned to perfection, and is a big improvement on the original. If you have been thinking of buying the bundle, I would recommend you save a few pounds and just go for this game as it will hold your attention much longer than Himmelsturmer.