Gaming has come a long way over the past 30 years, with the evolution from 2D platforming games to 3D open world blockbusters; it’s fair to say that the industry has become a monument of advancement in both technological and story-telling fields. That said, it’s easy to forget your ‘roots’ when you’ve come such a long way and, as it stands, “Solar Shifter EX” is a reminder of just how far things have come. Whether or not that’s a good thing though…I can’t really tell.

Solar Shifter Ex is the product of Headup Games, a company responsible for a vast amount of ‘retro’ styled titles – it’s 2016, they’re definitely classed as retro – all with varying degrees of success. Solar Shifter EX is a 3D scrolling shooter game, where you take command of ‘The Phase Shifter’ and try to fight back against an alien race hell bent on your total destruction. The story isn’t exactly going to win any awards for its originality, but hey, I wasn’t expecting much.

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The best way to describe Solar Shifter EX is actually quite simple. Take Space Invaders, feed it steroids and voila, Solar Shifter EX! That’s not even an exaggeration either, there were moments in this game where I literally mashed A to fire my weapon, closed my eyes, wiggled my analogue stick and prayed for the best – FYI not the best tactic for this game. As you progress through the very first mission, you quickly realise that this game is absolute chaos in motion; there are times when this is an absolutely brilliant feature and it feels really cool to topple hundreds of enemies at a time. Then again, there were other times when this became excessively repetitive and frustrating, and you racked your brain for some way in which to get past the seemingly endless horde of enemies.

This style of gameplay is reminiscent of many a tower-arcade game ‘back in the day’ – although I’m not in fact old enough to remember ‘the day’ – where your solitary in-game representative is assailed from all sides and it’s up to you to dodge as much of the incoming fire as is possible, in order to reach the end-level boss. Now, the one thing that Solar Shifter EX retains from this style of games is the difficulty level. This is no bad thing, as games should always strive to challenge their player-base, but believe me when I tell you, there will be times when you scream “THIS GAME IS ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE” at the screen. The plethora of enemies rushing to introduce you to your maker, coupled with the exceptionally scant and infrequent health in this game, make it unbelievably easy to die. And die you will, again, and again, and again. Thank god there’s no “game over” screen.

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At first glance you could easily pass this game off as a bog standard 3D scrolling shooter game with nothing much to it beyond what the genre dictates. However, there are moments when the camera shifts and the player is treated to a more ‘panoramic’ view of the battlefield, and it’s in these moments that the game gives you a glimpse of its true potential. In fact, it was in these moments, that I found myself fondly reminiscing about a different game which shares many characteristics with Solar Shifter EX – Lylat Wars for the Nintendo 64. Bear with me on this, but in the brief moments when this game took full advantage of its 3D capabilities, and the enemies swirled around you whilst dramatic events took place in the background, I couldn’t help being reminded of the hours and hours of joyful playtime I had as Fox McCloud, piloting his Arwing to rid the galaxy of Andross’ goons. That’s where the similarities start and stop for Solar Shifter EX however, but it was still a nice moment to be reminded of one of my childhood favourite games.

The whole niche for this game centres on your ship’s ability to ‘phase’ out of difficult situations. I didn’t discover this however, until level two. Despite reading the exceptionally brief tutorial – Left Stick to move and A to shoot – there was no mention of your ship’s ability, much to my amazement when I accidentally started phasing all over the place when things got intense, midway through the second level. If this was such an integral part of the game, then surely it’d be worth a mention at some point? This function is immensely useful, especially when enemies are introduced which sport one-hit-kill lasers on their ships. As if this game wasn’t hard enough with its unending stream of enemies and lack of health, there are also enemies who can kill you with a single hit. Harsh man, harsh.

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Each mission is then capped with a ‘boss fight’ at the end. This usually includes a ship which contains all of your enemies’ firepower combined in one vehicle to provide a deep challenge for the player. These genuinely come across as a satisfying, if somewhat random, way to end the level as by defeating them you definitely do have a sense of overcoming overwhelming odds in your little ship. Defeating the level boss then takes you to a sort of ‘mid-level’ section, where you can add upgrades to your ship to prepare for the next level. By upgrades, I mean make your gun that bit bigger. That’s basically what you get as you start out. Although the secondary weapon is a welcome sight as you try to mash your way through the first level.

Now this is only a relatively small game in terms of Gamerscore. There are only 12 achievements included with the whole game, and 4 of those achievements are given for taking no damage in a level, at all. Now, if you have this achievement then please get in touch with us, because you are a god among men. It is physically impossible not to take any damage on this game. Having said this, the achievements aren’t exactly stingy with the amount of Gamerscore they give out. Completing the game will give you a healthy 100G, whilst fully upgrading your ship gives you a nice 150Gs, which I see as fair reward for such a testing game.

All in all, I’d say Solar Shifter EX isn’t a bad little game if you’re bored and wanting to kill a little time whilst you wait for that big AAA title you’ve been looking forward to all year. A solid little game, in every sense of the word, one which hides a plethora of challenges, and has a very impressive array of original ship designs.  Solar Shifter EX is worth it, if only for the useful boost to your Gamerscore.

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