Darius. R-Type. Gradius. Turrican. These are widely regarded as the classics that have defined the shoot-em-ep genre (often referred to as shmup) for years. They prioritize tight gameplay, massive bosses, and nonstop action over all else, becoming some of the most enjoyable titles during their heyday. Locomalito’s latest creation, Super Hydorah, was inspired in some way by each of these titles with the hopes of bringing the feel of classic shmups to the modern era. Super Hydorah not only succeeds in its creator’s main goal, it exceeds the classics it was based on in every conceivable way.
Story takes a backseat during Super Hydorah’s campaign, however it certainly does its job in setting up the plot and actually goes above and beyond other titles in the genre. The evil Meropticon has declared war on the army of the Omios Star, and it’s up to the player to pilot their ship to victory. Voice acting is supported during the few lines of dialogue there are, which is certainly nice to see. The plot actually ends up evolving during the course of the game, unraveling something far more sinister than what’s introduced at the start.
The first thing the player will notice is how smooth it feels to control the protagonist’s ship. Locomalito has fine tuned the ship’s flight mechanics to ridiculous levels, meaning that the player is able to move in extremely precise patterns and directions. Experiencing this level of control will make it difficult to return to the classics, as they feel much more rigid in comparison. On Xbox One, shooting is as simple as holding down the A button while the B button fires your super weapon. Ammo for the super weapon is scarce, however its attack can be devastating depending on which one is selected before the level is started.
Beating each stage awards the player with a new primary fire, secondary fire, or super weapon. Each of these can be mixed and matched to the player’s desire in order to create the ship that best suits the situation. Super Hydorah has branching paths and extra stages, meaning gamers will sometimes have to go out of their way in order to try their hand at getting a new power-up. This added sense of freedom creates some much needed variety within this genre, especially for players that are having a particularly difficult time with one stage.
Speaking of difficulty, Super Hydorah is easily one of the most brutally difficult games released this year. The stages get absolutely punishing near the end of the game, especially when trying to go for 100% completion. The game demands perfection from the player and requires a mastery of its mechanics in order to see the ending. Each stage is broken up into a series of checkpoints that the player will return to if they die (and since this game has one-hit deaths, this will happen quite often). Every death the player accumulates results in them losing a life, and once all three lives are gone, that’s game over. While Super Hydorah will still allows players to continue after getting a game over, it returns them all the way back to the beginning of the stage.
Some gamers will certainly find this frustrating, however it works well in the case of this title. The levels are relatively short and it won’t be too long before most players will be memorizing patterns and weaving through bullets. The feeling of clearing a challenging stage is euphoric, especially when it awards you with a much-needed weapon. Even though the difficulty may seem extreme, it is never cheap or unfair. Highly skilled players will be able to clear anything this game will throw at them, which is a trademark of exceptional game design.
The best thing about Super Hydorah is the amount of passion put into the final product. Games in this genre often repeat stage aesthetics, enemy types, and boss ideas. Locomalito has injected this title with an unbelievable amount of variety. Stages almost never repeat enemy and boss designs, meaning that players will constantly be encountering surprises throughout the entire adventure. Gorgeous sprite work pervades the experience and each stage looks like it could belong to an entirely different game. This is the new standard for the genre; everything else pales in comparison.
Gryzor87 has once again created an amazing soundtrack to accompany each stage. The music is varied, catchy, and atmospheric, with a few of the standout tracks appearing in some of the later stages and bonus levels. This is easily some of his best work and will undoubtedly garner complimentary comments from anyone in a room where the game is being played.
Super Hydorah also includes a cooperative two player mode (couch coop, of course) and a silly robot chase mode. The former is simply the main game except with two players. Double the damage means double the clear time on bosses, however it’s easy to get mixed up in all the activity on screen. Because the health of the bosses are identical to the single player mode, gamers that tackle the adventure with a partner will definitely have an easier time. The robot chase mode has players working together to wrangle aliens with a beam. It’s fun for a few minutes, however it certainly isn’t the game’s biggest draw.
The only minor complaints that could be said about this title come in the form of its checkpoint system. Some of the checkpoints feel a bit unbalanced in terms of length, as some will feel excruciatingly long or surprisingly short. It never hampers the experience too much and most likely won’t affect anyone’s enjoyment of the game. Balancing the cooperative mode would have been nice as well, as the first half of the game can feel quite easy with two people.
Locomalito has once again created an unforgettable experience that stands head and shoulders above the competition. With incredible level design, perfect controls, and an astounding attention to detail, it’s not ridiculous to call this the greatest shmup ever made. One man has set the standard for a genre through passion and a deep understanding of what makes a game enjoyable. The difficulty may be off putting for some, however classically trained gamers will see this as a breath of fresh air. Super Hydorah is an easy recommendation for anyone looking to return to the shmup genre and is one of the greatest games of the year.