Dreamcast d?j? vu
If you told me I’d be playing a brand new Dreamcast game in 2014, back when the system saw its demise in 2002, I’d probably have said you were crazy.
It was at that point that Sega moved on to become a software-only developer in most of the world. But as it turns out, they actually continued to support the system in their home country for an additional five years, primarily with quick and easy ports from arcade games built on the NAOMI board (the Dreamcast’s arcade counterpart). Titles such as Puyo Puyo Fever and Trigger Heart Exelica kept the system relevant, for the arcade aficionado at least. But even Sega eventually left their fabled console past behind.
In Sega’s absence, an indie scene has embraced the all but forgotten console and churned out more than a dozen titles since 2007. The latest, Redux: Dark Matters, is a blast from the past that harkens back to the console’s glory days.
Redux: Dark Matters (Dreamcast [reviewed], iOS, PC)
Developer: Hucast Games
Publisher: Hucast Games
Released: January 27, 2014 (Dreamcast) / TBA (PC, iOS)
As 2D side-scrolling shoot ‘em up, Redux: Dark Matters rekindles fond memories of the R-Type series, thanks to its visuals and gameplay. Slow and methodical, the game relies on memorization and powerful weapons over the reflex driven “bullet-hell” style shooter that seems to be all the rage today. It also implores a difficulty that requires plenty of skill and dedication to master.
Stretched over seven stages, Redux: Dark Matters offers two difficulties paired with two distinct ships. On normal difficulty, the ship is most akin to R-Type’s Arrowhead. As you collect power-ups, you not only build its shot, but also its shield. The shield sits in front of the ship similar to the pod from the R-Type series; the difference being that it’s a stationary means of defense only and not an additional tool for destruction.
The key to success is in building your ship into a flying fortress of defense and offensive while avoiding death, as it only takes one shot to take you out. Once you run out of lives, it’s back to the beginning of the stage stripped of all power, which makes the game extremely challenging to complete. And because the levels build in difficulty (though I found stage 3 to be a major roadblock in having a successful run), finishing the game is near impossible without sufficient firepower. Redux: Dark Matters is clearly a game built for the 1cc (one credit clear).
This becomes even more apparent on the title’s harder difficulty: veteran, where your ship lacks any kind of shield, making reflexes and pattern memorization essential. This mode kicked my ass repeatedly and is definitely something I want to master down the road, but it does give the game a different vibe; something fans of the Gradius series may enjoy more.
Whether playing on normal or veteran, Redux: Dark Matters captures the essence of the Dreamcast exceptionally well. The visuals signify a time when the shoot ‘em up was at its pinnacle: colors are muted and gloomy, the visuals a muddied remembrance of a time before high-definition graphics. Although you might feel like someone wiped a layer of vaseline over the screen if you’re using a standard composite hook-up, owners of the Dreamcast’s VGA output shouldn’t feel nearly as left in the past thanks to a nice resolution boost.
All that said, Redux: Dark Matters doesn’t quite live up to the predecessors it most resembles original charm. It’s still a solid release for shoot ‘em up fans looking for a new age nostalgic feeling, but it also comes with a price of admission that’s tough to swallow in a day where indie games have moved on to the more lucrative PC and mobile scene. Unless you’re the most diehard of Dreamcast fans, or shoot ‘em ups in general, do yourself a favor and wait for Dark Matters to see some love on a more modern piece of hardware.