Soldner-X 2: Final Prototype Review
Yes, I’m perfectly aware that I gave Soldner-X 2: Final Prototype an 8.4 when it debuted on PlayStation 3 back in 2010. I’m also aware that the recently released Vita iteration is basically the same game. Hence, you’re probably wondering: Why does it score a full point lower? Okay, this may be difficult to explain but in all honesty, time hasn’t treated this game well. It’s still remarkably flashy, silky smooth, and lots of fun, but it’s as if the last five years have only served to amplify the previously minor drawbacks. Now it just feels a bit more repetitive, a tad more challenging, and just a little too retro (if there is such a thing). Not enough new and too much of the expected, I suppose.
Sony’s portable has always been capable of producing beautiful visuals and Soldner-X 2 is no exception. This is a bright-lights extravaganza complete with excellent frame rate and special effects. It’s a bombastic arcade set-piece with ceaseless movement and explosions. In brief, you can’t really say anything against the graphical presentation, aside from one increasingly obvious fact: Despite its sheen, it’s starting to look somewhat outdated. I was actually surprised at how little these visuals impressed me, especially considering how pleased I was with them back in 2010. Perhaps it just goes to show that time – and technology – moves exceedingly fast in this industry.
Same goes for the audio: We get a relentless soundtrack that pushes us through each level, with special tracks tossed in for those bitterly tough boss fights. It works and it’s a fitting homage to the golden age of sidescrolling arcade shooters. The sound effects take center-stage, filling the Vita’s small yet highly effective speakers with a myriad of interstellar shoot-‘em-up goodness. As is the case with the gameplay, however, one senses a lot of repetition in all aspects of the sound. And if you happen to get stuck on a particularly tough level, you’ll soon grow tired of that driving music, and even the crisp effects start to feel tiresome. “Tired” is perhaps the best description of Soldner-X 2, actually.
Which isn’t to say the game isn’t fun. I would never say that. If you’re specifically seeking an old-school sidescrolling arcade shooter with a lot of flair and panache, it’s right here. There’s a story but I mean, who really cares? This is all about testing your reflexes and twitchy strategic skills against an oncoming horde of enemies. It involves simply holding down the fire button and avoiding anything fired your way, which was always a simple concept but extremely difficult to master. I’d say the Soldner games were a little more accessible than some of the old-fashioned shooters we once played in the arcades, but it’s still substantially harder than most titles today. And yeah, one could argue that it’s one-dimensional but that’s the way video games used to be.
I don’t want to make it sound overly simplistic, though, because there are certain gameplay elements that spice up the experience. For instance, instead of getting just one default ship, you have the option of three different ships. You have to unlock the third one but at least that gives you something to shoot for (get it?). On top of which, you have different guns on board your ship, and you can switch between them on the fly, giving you more variety right off the bat. As you progress, you’ll find a standard assortment of power-ups and other goodies, including health, bombs, and various boosts for your weaponry. The game runs well on the Vita and the analog sticks are a godsend for such a title; I don’t even want to imagine playing it with just the d-pad.
There are ten stages in all (an extra three thanks to the included Last Chapter DLC) and each level offers a mini-boss and a final boss. Obviously, these provide you with a significant and even steep challenge, so you have to prepare accordingly. The design of these bosses is especially appealing, as the eye-popping attention to detail shines brightly on Vita. They also compel you to attack strategically; in other words, you have to shoot certain parts of the boss first in order to expose other vulnerable parts. Again, it’s pretty standard arcade shooter stuff, but this game offers a bit more in the way of boss variety than in the olden days. There’s no doubt that you have to remain on your toes if you wish to be successful.
One downside that remains is that if you’re good, and you’re not interested in conquering the levels on higher difficulties, you can finish the entire game in only one or two hours. That was a problem from the get-go and it hasn’t changed. Furthermore, as I said above, there’s just something about this version that seems more repetitive and less inspired. It could be that we’re closing in on five years since the date of the initial launch, or it could be that with all the retro games popping up recently, we’re starting to get tired of the “back in time” jaunts. Hey, I’m all for nostalgia – and I often fall prey to its rosy, escapist-oriented charms – but you have to admit when you’re feeling unimpressed and a trifle bored.
Yes, you’ve got some extra challenges, and those three ships offer some diversity. But really, you know what the game is all about from the start, and there’s not much to surprise you throughout the experience. Perhaps I was okay with that when I played the PS3 version but here, I feel the passage of time when playing on the Vita, and it dulls the entertainment. It just feels like it gets repetitive that much faster and the opportunities for growth and innovation – not capitalized on – are even more obvious. It can be a blast for certain hardcore niche gamers who want to up their score, take on the next big challenge, and boast to their friends about beating the game on higher difficulties. That’s one thing. But for most people, I think it’ll be a “yeah, it’s fun but I’m over it” reaction.
Soldner-X 2: Final Prototype on PlayStation Vita is a solid, entertaining experience that simply lacks freshness. As it’s very much the same game from 2010 and doesn’t offer much besides the extra stages via the Final Chapter DLC, there isn’t much to get excited about. The control is really good with those dual analog sticks, the presentation is vibrant and viscerally satisfying, and the nicely paced gameplay keeps you coming back for more. It just doesn’t withstand the test of time as well as I’d hoped it would, and I think it’s partly due to “retro exhaustion” on my part. It’s nice to take a trip back in time every now and then but sometimes, these old-style games feel like too much of a grind. Guess I qualify as a “new-age gamer” now. ;)
The Good: Great visual presentation on the Vita. Dual analog sticks make for a responsive, pleasant gameplay experience. Well-paced with some variety in the levels. Boss fights are appropriately challenging and relatively interesting.
The Bad: Seems even more repetitive than before. Not enough extra content. After nearly 5 years, the whole thing feels dated and underwhelming.
The Ugly: “Oh, it’s too pretty to be ‘ugly’ but it’s tough when a game starts to show its age.”
3/31/2015 Ben Dutka