Habroxia 2 unusually begins with a message from its developer delivered directly to the player: ‘You worked hard to earn your money. Your time is precious. Thank you for buying and playing our game.’ From a cynical perspective, such a message could be considered overly saccharine and a little fake, bt when you consider the high level of craftsmanship that has clearly gone into the building of Hybroxia 2, along with the deep coat of polish liberally applied to its every nook and cranny, it feels genuine. This project was quite clearly a labour of love.
First off, for all those who are fans of the original Habroxia, rejoice; this sequel is superior in every conceivable way. There’s a light plot, but it’s quite rightly relegated to the sidelines, letting the gameplay do all the talking.
This is an old school pixel loving space shooter with a number of neat twists on the standard formula. One quick glance at the game reveals that levels are viewed from both a top-down and side-on perspective – often switching between the two during the course of a mission. It’s a neat trick and one that serves to keep the player guessing and the blasting shenanigans fresh. This is because each perspective fundamentally changes the gameplay and different enemy types, forcing the player to frequently vary up their tactics and weapon selection to wipe out as many foes as possible and reach some dizzyingly high scores.
My favourite addition is the branching paths, which goes some way to address one of my main issues with retro-styled shooters. Hybroxia 2 is turned into a non-linear 2D shoot ’em up, letting you spot secret paths that open up entirely new sections and face terrifying bonus bosses. As new path after new path is discovered it is clear that this is an impressively girthy game, bringing back many nostalgic memories of back when Starfox was awesome.
Despite every boss sharing their name with a Viking deity they have little else in common, each one offering a unique challenge as they use the 2D environment in innovative ways. One boss patrolled the perimeter of the screen, another teleported to different locations and a third flew off the screen entirely in order to deliver a sneaky attack from the rear. You’d think there would be a limit to designing original boss fights within a 2D shooter formula, but Lillymo Games clearly disagrees.
All that content would be for naught if the shooting itself weren’t up to standard. Fortunately Habroxia 2 delivers on that front as well. Controls are smooth and responsive, and despite the bullet hell that baddies can unleash I never had cause to doubt the game. When I dodged a laser or missile, I dodged it, and when I was hit, I was hit; the precise and immaculately delivered collision detection never gave me cause for concern.
The weaponry is delightful too. The standard blaster of your teeny tiny space craft can be upgraded to an astonishing degree. This can be achieved through gathering credits on a level and splurging your hard earned cash in the handy shop.
Recharging special weapons can be attached to forward and rear firing positions. This allows for a sprinkling of strategy: do you go with the homing missiles or a close range laser sword as your main armament? And what about for those tricksy enemies whose attack pattern takes them behind you? Perhaps a scatter shot or slow moving bomb might be best to see them off? It’s a credit to the game’s design that each special weapon is useful in its own way and fundamentally changes your play style. It also keeps revisiting levels fresh; with so many weapon combos and a noticeable change to the gameplay dynamics with each set-up, this is a shooter that can keep on giving.
Each death sees you rewarded with a few more credits to put toward your next enhancement, but Lillymo has somehow managed to ensure that grinding is almost entirely absent from the game – either through tight design work, rigorous play testing or magic, I’m not sure which. My progress through the levels was challenging, but devoid of any impossible to beat difficulty spikes that required gathering upgrades from earlier levels to pass. Instead, when I returned to earlier levels, it was for the joy of chasing new high scores and the visceral pleasure of seeing how my enhanced weaponry entirely eviscerated previously tough bosses.
If all that wasn’t enough then, just when you think the game is over, it has even more to give. A comprehensive New Game+ mode ensures a rigorous increase in the difficulty and a thorough reworking of each level, to the extent that it often feels like playing entirely new levels. Each boss is pumped up too, demanding a definitive work out of your newly gained player skills and upgraded ship. There’s also a massive Boss Rush mode and, more intriguingly, a Boost Rush mode that sends your delicate spacecraft on a precarious speed run through an obstacle strewn level.