Shmups are supposed to be fast, hectic and challenging, even to the point of feeling almost impossible at times. Solar Shifter EX is none of these. At first glance, it looks shiny and new with a cool teleportation mechanic. I couldn’t help but think I had something fun in my hands. It doesn’t take long to realize that almost none of the mechanics in this game really matter. The most important thing is to just stay still. Even when the gun fire seems to be in full chaos mode and you think you should have to be teleporting in every direction to just barely be staying alive, all you have to remember is: stand still. Find one good spot, stay mostly still and keep holding fire… you’ll be just fine.
Throughout the game, there is a little bit of story written on the loading screens and even some of it through spoken dialogue, however, none of which adds any feeling or weight to the game. In between stages you can level up your weapons with credits you collected from your dead enemies, but don’t expect anything cool here as you get nothing more than the generic main and secondary weapons. You also get to mix stuff up a bit by playing as a different ship (yawn), however no explanation is given as to why this temporary and (sadly) short lived ship swap happens. But it does, so there’s that.
Here’s what I liked:
Endless lives – In most games of this genre, it is one life per stage and some of the hard core ones have even set it to only a handful of lives per play through. Solar Shifter EX takes a different approach. If you want to just blast your way through everything Rambo-style and hope for the best, go for it. You can die as many times as you want or need to in order to get through each of these stages.
Checkpoints – These are not put in many shmups, it just comes with the territory since difficulty is normally a selling point. Solar Shifter EX however has not gone this route and has chosen to put checkpoints into each level. There is no marker as to when you have crossed one or any clue as to when or if another one is coming, but they are still there none the less.
Easy to play – Solar Shifter EX definitely is easy to approach and play. All the buttons are mapped out well. The teleport is especially well thought out as you can just trust your judgment as to where you will appear or hold the X button and it will show you exactly where each one of your teleport directions will land you.
Here’s what I didn’t like:
Music – The music was in no way connected to the on screen action or even level positioning. Each track is just on a endless loop, leading to very anti climactic battles. The music doesn’t even change during a boss battle. The could have at least bothered to speed it up or something!
Upgrading your ship – This is bleak and lackluster to say the least. Your ship has two guns literally named primary and secondary that are “upgradable” meaning you can spend money and the game will tell you it upgraded it. It’s honestly hard to tell though as there is no in game representation that it’s better beyond the outline of the icon becoming green so you know it’s at max. Ship upgrades that give more health, shields or even a simple credit (money) magnet would have been appreciated.
Nothing challenging – In the beginning you are taught how you can use two different methods to teleport around the screen to avoid enemy fire and stay alive. Though this method is rarely and I do mean rarely needed to stay alive. Instead each level is simply about memorizing enemy patterns and where the best place to just sit and fire is. Once that is figured out, you will simply slowly move to your left or right until the end of the wave. The next wave will start, and you will do it all over again and again and again.
Solar Shifter EX is a shiny, yet boring entry into the shmup library. It offers a slightly unique mechanic in the form of teleportation that could have made for amazing gameplay, however, the game never really takes advantage of it. I kept hoping all the way through that it would finally break out of its shell and become the full blown bullet survival mayhem that I wanted it to be. It felt multiple times like it would. I’d think to myself, “This is it! This is finally the moment.” Each time I was let down, leaving Solar Shift EX feeling like nothing more than a bad knockoff of a fun genre.
Score: Limited Appeal
Solar EX was developed by Elder Games and Published by Headup Games on Xbox One. It was released 08/25/2016 for $9.99. A copy was provided for review purposes