With many developers taking different genres and smashing them together in the vain hope they’d strike gold, it’s baffling that nobody has really tried to infuse sidescrolling shooters with Diablo-style looting up until now. This is an area that Drifting Lands is looking to tap into, but its success can only be judged from the sum of all its parts. Sadly it doesn’t quite hit the mark.
From the off, the story is a bit bland. You take on the role of a pilot for a colony of mercenaries that’s under siege from an overpowering army. Perhaps it’s the rather static presentation that does little to improve the rather dull script despite some nice artwork. Yes you do meet characters that aren’t as they seem, but it doesn’t cover much ground that hasn’t been covered before. As for the music, what’s there is generally enjoyable, but as will become a reoccurring theme here, it is heard way too much.
On the surface, there’s a metric ton of missions to play, meaning there’s plenty of opportunity to rack up loot. With around ten chapters, it’s certainly got a lot of play time to accumulate, but the problem with Drifting Lands is that there’s a lot of repetition. Enemy layouts transfer between stages, invoking more than just a sense of déjà vu.
That said, there are some really nifty designs for the ships and they’re certainly distinct. You’ll soon learn what kind of attacks they’re able to use and how to react accordingly when you see them. While backgrounds are nice, they’re recycled perhaps a little too much, yet this is more a problem with the game’s structure than anything else.
Sidescrolling shooters tend to have a little more to the level design than just the waves of ships. Gradius for example tends to begin levels with a few waves of enemies, but then changes things up with… oh you know… land? It’s somewhat ironic that a game called Drifting Lands would be devoid of any land-based obstacles. To me, this is a very unusual oversight as it would have led to much more diverse level design.
The fact of the matter is the sheer amount of levels is what ruins Drifting Lands. Sidescrolling shooters are intrinsically designed, but they purposefully have few levels in order to encourage replay value. With more levels than is absolutely necessary, the challenge is how to design each level to feel unique in order to prevent reusing content. Drifting Lands sadly uses everything a bit too much.
This is a shame because I liked the concept of making ships using loot obtained from the missions. Once a mission is over, each item can then be deposited into your limited inventory space. You can use credits to buy more slots, but a couple of slots is generally enough, as you’ll either sell loot or turn them into blueprints of slightly weaker versions of the weapon.
Loot generally affects your ships and what type of weapons they have, how much damage you can take, and movement speed. Skills are also available for your pilot and can be swapped in and out in the hub. Much like the guns there’s a large variety of moves, which does help in making the combat a little more varied.
With the side missions, there are occasionally some that require you to use loot gathered and drop it off. You’ll probably make the mistake of not storing it in your hold once, but it’s a nice idea to have the item based quests where things you’ve gathered mean more than just being stuff to equip.
Sadly, a rather major flaw in Drifting Lands’ level design really brings down a game that is mostly well crafted. Looting has all the well-thought out tropes that similar games have in spades. It’s just a shame that each level is essentially a miniature horde mode rather than featuring proper level design, and that the number of levels could have been cut drastically to make for a more coherent experience. These hang-ups sadly prevent me from recommending Drifting Lands for diehard fans of the genre, but it’s otherwise an alright effort.