Bullet hell is a sub-genre of the Shoot ‘Em Up genre that focuses more on dodging enemy fire than it is about laying out your own fire. The genre is typically found on PC, but it occasionally finds its way to consoles. The latest bullet hell game to make its way to consoles is Solar Shifter Ex. Solar Shifter Ex has a unique job of trying to get console gamers on board with its unique genre, does it succeed or does it fall flat on its face? Let’s see.
The story in is Solar Shifter Ex is clearly an afterthought. Said story is about as run of the mill as you can get for a scifi game. You’ve seen all of this before; colony planets, warring alien factions attacking those colonies, mercenaries, large capital ships, etc… I didn’t walk into this game expecting some grand story, but what’s there is just so generic and boring that it lessens the game. No story would’ve been preferred like in Aegis Wing.
The story doesn’t lend itself to any fantastic environments either. You’ll be flying through a bunch of bland environments like deserts and just plain, old space. I feel like unique and interesting environments could have really boosted this game in my eyes. A little bit of visual stimulation couldn’t have hurt, but instead we’re left with a bunch of bland, forgettable environments to fight through.
Graphics and Sound
In addition to the environments being really bland, they’re nothing special to look at. The developers chose to aim for a realistic style and it just didn’t work with their budget. The graphics look like that of an early Xbox 360 game, with a dull color palette to boot. The game has a ton of imagery that could potentially be stunning, but the graphics just don’t visualize the imagery well enough.
I feel this game could’ve been so much better if its graphics had some personality to them. Maybe the developers could have opted for a really stylized game so that it could stand out, but instead they chose to make the game look as generic as possible.
The sound, however, is one of the game’s best areas. The sound effects are nothing to write home about, just being a bunch of generic scifi sounds. But the Solar Shifter‘s soundtrack is actually pretty decent, being a mix of techno and rock. It’s not a gamer changer, but it fits well with the hectic gameplay.
The gameplay is definitely where the game is at its “best”, I use “best” extremely lightly as the game has a boatload of problems.
The core of the gameplay is that of a bullet hell game; you will be fighting through waves of enemy ships as you desperately try to dodge their attacks and find a window to hit them back. One of the core features of Solar Shifter Ex is the shifting mechanic; with this mechanic you are able to teleport in four set directions on the screen. This adds a bit more depth and leniency to the gameplay as you using this feature is necessary in getting to better positions.
As usual with the genre, Solar Shifter Ex is a challenging game. It is a very trial and error game, you will die… a lot. You must memorize attack patterns and have quick reflexes to conquer this game, there is no room for slip-ups. The game has very few health pickups too, so every hit you get hurts. It can be quite intense when both you and a boss are low on health.
The gameplay is serviceable but the game has a ton of technical issues. The port job on Solar Shifter is lazy; as soon as the game started I noticed that the title screen said “Press Any Key” instead of “Press Any Button”. I knew I was in trouble if they couldn’t be bothered to change the first thing you see to a more console appropriate term, and I was right. On the first level, I decided to pause the game for a bit; as I came back, I absentmindedly pressed the B button to get back into the game. This is the case in almost every Xbox game, but Solar Shifter Ex has the B button as the “restart level” button. I was stunned as the mission restarted after I had already put some time into it. I couldn’t fathom that a developer was so out of touch with consoles, why port it to consoles if you weren’t going to do basic stuff like this!?
The problems don’t end there either. The frame rate dropped significantly during some high-action sections, resulting in my death. This is definitely not the type of game where frame rate drops can be forgiven as a consistent frame rate is necessary to the gameplay; it’s made even worse by the fact that the game is visually unimpressive.
The controls feel very sloppy too. This was not a game meant for a controller. As I said, the shifting mechanic is a key feature of the game; but it barely works with the controller, the controls aren’t responsive enough and I often found myself teleporting into an enemy’s laser.
Solar Shifter Ex is a very generic game, made worse by a poor port job. There is really nothing of value here; the story and graphics are incredibly bland, while the gameplay could’ve been decent if it wasn’t for the technical issues. I’m not sure who this game was meant for. It won’t attract anyone new to the bullet hell genre and fans of the genre have much better games to play. After all is said and done, Solar Shifter Ex is just another indie game that will be forgotten in a week.