Nostalgia splits fairly between good and evil. A familiar sight or sound from childhood can bring back treasured memories. But sometimes it’s a foul liar, full of trickery and deceit. Most of the time our youthful, inexperienced mind will be worlds away from our current life experiences. The once good times may not have been as epic as we recall nowadays.
Films and games are exceptional examples of this.
Revisiting a once favourite childhood movie can be a jarring experience. Our once naive wonder is slowly replaced with years of critique and analysis and the movie becomes dissected under our watchful eye. We notice how certain lewd dialogue would have gone above our once innocent heads. Or the absurdity of an expensive action scene detaches us further from the immersion.
The world of video games is one that’s consistently changing upon each generation of systems. And for each period, there will be a certain amount of nostalgia recalled later on.
Password systems would be replaced by a saving system. Singular objectives would evolve into a to-do lists of goals. Checkpoints effectively wiped out any point of a live system too. In more recent times we’ve seen health packs in FPS titles give way to regenerative health.
But now and again there’ll be a game that’ll remind us of how things used to be. For better or worse
Developed and published by Last Dimension Ultionus: A Tale of Petty Revenge is certainly a giant love letter to the past. Full of vibrant pinks and blues, it begins with our heroine Serena S and her misadventures on Spacebook. No really, I’m not making that up at all! The plot is literally encompassing that brief passage and her quest to travel in space to her nemesis who besmirched her good name online.
And by golly if it moves or gets in her way, it’s up to your trigger finger to zap it asap to progress. All the way until you meet that inevitable end of level boss. Once he/she is dead, you’ll be taken to the world map. Serena will then automatically wind her way around various locations with different environment themes. Each area has its own unique collection of large and small indigenous creatures that will endlessly pursue you until you reach the final area.
Playing the game
From the get go, Ultionus is hard. It’s very difficult but not impossible. If you’re like me and in your thirties, you’ll remember how difficult a lot of platformers were back in the day. Even then I’m talking pre-Super Mario era. This game evokes an era of sluggish character motion, slow placed shooting and the dreaded infinite spawning of enemies as mentioned earlier.
As a matter of fact, the game actually starts you in outer space, in the form of a side scrolling shooter. While it isn’t bullet hell territory, it feels like enemy hell as you’re constantly assaulted against dozens of denizens. Eventually you’ll either survive or get hit by the onslaught. But in either case you’ll have to make a landing on the planet below.
Serena can’t run-and-gun like Contra could manage back in the day. At the start of the first level, you can only rely on your sidekick Balzac. But eventually you’ll come across her trusty blaster. She stands completely still while shooting from either kneeling or standing upright. Thankfully you don’t have to buy an engagement ring when committing to a jump. She is more than able to manoeuvre in mid-air and yep I can hear you older folks breathe a sigh of relief! Her movement speed and jumps are somewhat slow. If you don’t stop to shoot back, you’ll be overwhelmed by a small horde. Enemies will constantly spawn in the area too which can make it a bit of a hassle to just stay alive.
Throughout each of the levels, you can find a golden S token that unlock a secret area. In here you can find a power up for either your weapon or for Serena herself. Evenly distributed throughout the level are checkpoints. Both instances are not too difficult to find either, requiring only a modicum of exploration. You can also find heart-shaped health pick ups, albeit only rarely in the case of ‘Normal’ difficulty. Serena can only take two hits before the third one kills her. And yes before you ask, touching enemies that aren’t even firing a projectile can hurt her too.
Finally you’ll meet the boss and more often that not it’ll fill half of the screen. Yet don’t let it’s size intimidate you. Each bosses weak point is fairly easy to pinpoint and shooting that is fairly straight forward. Their motions and attacks are fairly easy to predict too. With their simplistic design, it puts more focus into staying alive long enough to kill them.
Seeing as Ultionus is a modern game reminiscent of another time, it’s best to judge it on it’s own merits, rather than compare it to platformers of yore. As I mentioned, the game is very difficult, even on so-called normal settings. Things like having to stop to shoot and the inability to outrun enemies makes for a frustrating experience. While exploring for secrets and power ups is fairly straight forward, it also means the levels themselves are fairly short with a generally linear nature. This isn’t a metroidvania title either, just a simple scrolling affair with a number of vertical platforms to navigate.
There is an occasional, albeit rare mix of run-and-gun sections throughout the adventure. They’re fairly challenging but are generally simpler than the mainstay platforming of the game.
The sluggish movement is a tad infuriating when you have to stop and shoot. Enemies do weave and bob throughout the levels in fairly predictable patterns, just like the end of level boss. So it’s generally your own fault if you keep colliding with them time after time.
‘Normal’ and ‘Hardcore’ introduces the lives system. While you are given quite a few lives at the beginning, It takes only three strikes to lose a life. Put the lives count to zero and it’s game over, as the game wipes checkpoint progress and you start the level over again. The game also has good and bad endings. It’ll take until the credits roll when you’ll find out how to achieve the better ending.
The visuals and music are certainly eye and ear pleasing without being too garish of their retro nature. The classic music comes from the excellent composer Jake Kaufman, who was also responsible for the fantastic Double Dragon Neon soundtrack. The music feels oddly soothing without being too repetitive and certainly fits in with the theme of this alien world.
It’s a fairly solid platformer that hearkens back to a simpler time, yet uses modern creative technology to create something that performs better and tighter than the games it clearly references. The difficulty can be punishing on mere normal, while on easy it feels enjoyable; challenging but overall fair and a real test of reactions and skill. The short level design and overall quantity is a little disappointing however. It would have been nice to see more areas within each level to explore, rather than stretch out the game with more levels.
The story is instantly forgettable, having only been mentioned at the start and end of the game. Apart from the opening scrawl, Serena and her nemesis are almost devoid of any personality too, but then again this is a platformer, rather than an adventure game.
3 out of 5