by Henry Stockdale
reviewed on PC
Shoot Them All
There was a time when Shoot-Em-Ups (SHMUPs) represented the pinnacle of arcade gaming, with classics like Space Invaders dominating the battle for people’s money across the 1980s. Whilst their popularity declined in the early 90s, SHMUPs retained a niche fanbase and titles such as Ikaruga, Geometry Wars, Touhou Project and more kept the genre alive. Now KaleidoGames have brought us Vortex Attack EX, a remake of their own Vortex Attack from four years ago. Built within a new engine, EX provides general quality improvements whilst also expanding on difficulty modes and stage types. It never reaches the lofty heights of its predecessors but proves to be a competent shooter.
After the surprise appearance of alien war machines from energy vortexes and millions killed in the first onslaught, humanity is in disarray. Following the capture of an enemy war machine, scientists discover that a new energy form, Lumergy, powers these machines and allows them to track where the aliens will emerge. Discovering Lumergy also possesses the power to destroy vortexes and so humanity sets out to stop this invasion. The story is minimal but EX uses it only as a backdrop for why gameplay is structured as it is.
Unlike many recent SHMUPs, EX isn’t a scrolling bullet hell game and works as a multidirectional shooter, set across a single screen. You can play alone or as a 3-player team in local multiplayer and EX’s campaign comes in two forms. First is “Metal”, the original campaign of 50 levels and whilst this seems like a lot, the early levels can be beaten in under a minute but become more frantic as you progress. Alternatively, you can opt to choose the new one, “Neon”. It’s not just a graphical update, though EX certainly benefits from it, as Neon is a more intense experience with new stage types, also changing the difficulty and number of stages.
Enemy ships emerge from a new vortex as you start the level, attacking with red bullets that you must dodge or take damage. Vortexes contain a red sphere within that shrinks as you gather more Lumergy, which appear as white triangles, so you must collect enough by destroying enemies using your ship’s guns or bombs. However, if you aren’t quick enough it’ll regrow, so you need to maintain the assault.
Enemies will drop power-ups, providing force fields, extra health and rapid-fire improvements but ones in red will provide the opposite effect, so proceed with caution. Ships regenerate a small amount of health after level completion but if you run out, there’s 3 credits for continues. But if they run out, it’s game over. You’ll be given score bonuses for time spent, enemies destroyed alongside Lumergy blocks collected and these scores are uploaded to online scoreboards, providing a competitive element to EX.
Mother of All Ships
After destroying several vortexes, you’ll reach the end of the sector, where an alien mothership awaits with a captured spaceship. These serve as the campaign boss fights and once they’re defeated, will move you onto the next sector with a newly unlocked ship. There are 11 available in total, containing differing health bars, bomb capacity, movement speed, rapid-fire ability, bullet power and more.
The local multiplayer proves to be one of EX’s strongest features and KaleidoGames have laid down the groundwork for an enjoyable title. However, its execution leaves much to be desired. Despite the promised 18 types of stages, they lack variety outside of boss fights and gameplay feels repetitive in long bursts. Enemies certainly differ but there aren’t any distinguishable differences otherwise.
Some game-breaking glitches were also discovered and whilst I’ve been unable to pinpoint why this happened, one occasion bizarrely saw EX load up a tutorial movie instead of starting the campaign. Another saw me enter a new sector and no enemies spawned, forcing you to restart the game. Whilst each problem only happened once, they occurred in quick succession and shows EX would’ve benefited from further quality testing.
Visuals and Sound
Bringing in a “neo-retro” soundtrack that would feel at home in an 80’s arcade, EX is unfortunately let down by its visuals. Especially the Metal campaign feels uninspired, generic and brings little design variety outside of the playable ships. It’s certainly boosted by the Neon campaign, however, utilising a new graphical approach reminiscent of Geometry Wars. Developers have also included 16 visual filters such as black & white, psychedelic and more. These can be unlocked via multiple campaign play-throughs, which is a clear way to increase replayability.
A Retro Throwback
KaleidoGames have made a good effort with Vortex Attack EX. It never fully captures the spirit of its predecessors, with levels ending far too quickly whilst also lacking variety. But at the core is a fun shooter that certainly improves on the original. If you already bought Vortex Attack, Neon Campaign isn’t enough to justify the upgrade alone but for players seeking a new Shoot-Em-Up, EX provides a decent alternative.
Neon Campaign provides a good challenge, Visual filters make for a great addition, Evokes arcade nostalgia
Levels are short and lack variety, Needs further quality testing, Repetitive