The twin stick shooter appears to be experiencing yet another renaissance of late, thanks in part to Lucid Games’ excellent, Geometry Wars: Dimensions, which seems to make it a case of history repeating itself after Bizarre’s Retro: Evolved sparked interest in the genre at the beginning of the last console generation. Yet, whilst the grandfather of this particular genus is undoubtedly Williams’ Robotron: 2084, few games have ever been quite as open about their love for this arcade classic as Puppygames, and their latest effort, Ultratron. Originally developed for PC - console ports have been handled by Carbon – Ultratron is set in a world in which humankind has been eradicated, and one sole surviving robot is left to face wave after wave of enemies hell-bent on its destruction, and that is where you, the player, rather neatly fit in.
Ultimately, what Puppygames have created is a bit of a strange beast initially, played out upon a solitary screen, players battle through waves of enemies until the inevitable – though perhaps underpowered - boss shows up, these are all grouped together in tens, with forty levels in total to be bested and played again in the search of new high scores. When just starting off, however, despite the simplicity of it, there just seems to be too much being thrown at you; too many enemies, too many projectiles, too many collectibles and far too much on-screen text. Thankfully though, once both the game, and with it, the player, has hit its stride, thing starts to run a whole lot smoother, and Ultratron begins to become a rather enjoyable experience. Though in the final stretch of the game’s campaign, there is literally so much on screen that it does become difficult to follow, even for the initiated, but once again, Puppygames have you covered, as some of the visual effects can be turned off in the options screen, making things considerably less cluttered as a result.
To break up the routine of combatting the required number of waves before taking on the boss, Puppygames have added in a couple of extra stages, one of which offers the greatest challenge out of anything featured within the whole game. Dodge Stages see enemies move quickly across the screen, leaving the player to try and avoid them if at all possible, weapons systems are still activated throughout, but higher scores and rewards are offered to those who complete the challenge as it was intended, by simply skirting the mechanical assailants. Assault Stages see tons of opponents emerge from the periphery of the screen, firing constant streams of plasma in the player’s direction, in these sections in particular, the screen does become overly cluttered, and owing to the colour scheme, it can become quite difficult to identify exactly what’s what. Spideroid Stages are much more relaxed affairs, with spider shaped droids whizzing from one side to the other, it’s up to the player to decimate each of these and earn a substantial points boost, along with a vital injection of cash, which leads me rather nicely to one of Ultratron’s best features.
When destroying enemies, players don’t simply earn points, but can collect coins dropped by their vanquished foes to earn cash, which can be spent in the rather well stocked upgrade shop. Players can choose to unlock or enhance a number of abilities, including Pets (AI sidekicks), their firepower, movement speed, distance at which pickups can be sucked in and a whole lot more. Undoubtedly, the main keys for survival come in the form of the robot’s shield and smartbomb supplies, both of which must be replenished here, which gives the whole thing something of a tactical feel, with players left weighing up the decision to invest in additional armaments, or the capability to take another hit, which means that each playthrough is not always the same, adding replay value to a game that already has it in abundance.
Ultratron, like its arcade brethren, is a rather unforgiving game, but again, like Robotron: 2084 before it, it is uncannily addictive, with each game being inevitably followed by that “just one more”, though that is never quite the case, is it? It may certainly have its issues, and it’s certainly not as good as Geometry Wars, but there’s still plenty of room for it on both Xbox One and PS4, with buyers on Sony’s machine greeted to not just one, but three copies of the game with every purchase, with one unlocking on each platform (PS3, PS4 and PS Vita), and there’s even the option for cross-saving between the three. Additionally, there’s also touchpad support included for those that actually like that sort of thing. With local co-op play included as well, it becomes rather hard to not recommend Ultratron, it may lack a bit of polish, but there’s still oodles of gaming to be found here, and what more can one ask for at just £7.99?