Solar Shifter EX is an impressive looking indie shooter by Elder Games – available later this week on Steam through Headup Games. Here’s our review.
During our very last appointment at Gamescom this year, we saw Solar Shifter EX for the first time. Developed by one-man development studio Elder Games, it was a title we were very much looking forward to based on their previous game Meridian: New World. On the one hand because of the level of quality that Meridian showcased, and on the other hand because Solar Shifter EX was going to be a classic shoot ’em up with a modern twist that looked promising in the screenshots we had seen.
The game is being promoted as a bullet hell shooter, a genre we typically associate with a kind of on-screen madness that only really appeals to die-hard shooter fans who enjoy facing and overcoming impossible odds. The type of game that’s too frustrating to play for most of us mere mortals. We don’t fully agree that Solar Shifter EX fits into that category. Sure, there are hectic moments, but the majority of the game plays much like classic shooters like Gradius or Raiden do. There are often not more than a handful (or two) of enemies on the screen at once – and when the game bumps up this number it’s just for a little while. Providing a temporary bit of extra challenge, instead of an excuse to quit.
That’s not to say that the rest of the game is easy. Solar Shifter EX serves up plenty of challenge, and at moments you’ll find yourself trapped in a situation you can’t seem to get out of. A laser beam forces you into a corner…. and keeps coming at you. This is where your ship’s special ability comes in: the power to “shift” – essentially a way to teleport yourself to the other side of the screen and out of harm’s way. Of course – the opposite can also happen, where you end up jumping out of the proverbial frying pan and into the fire. It’s a nice twist to the gameplay, and gives you a feeling of being in control even when the odds seem overwhelming – unlike the feeling that many bullet hell shooters give you.
Solar Shifter EX looks great for a classic shoot ’em up. The engine and backdrops remind us of Meridian: New World, despite this being a very different game. Everything is rendered in 3D, which is showcased when objects appear and disappear from and into the background. At times, the extensive use of 3D is taken a little too far, for example when the camera shifts to a somewhat diagonal angle – we assume for dramatic effect. While this would no doubt look cool in a replay or cutscene, it tends to make the controls feel less tight than they should be for a game of this type. This is especially true when things turn a little more hectic and the screen becomes filled with ships, bullets and debris – while you’re shifting from one side of the screen to the next.
So while Solar Shifter EX is not a perfect game, it’s a game we enjoyed. It’s a genre we don’t see often anymore, it’s gorgeous to look at and the shifting mechanic is a nice twist. Perhaps it’s not as impressive at Meridian was because it builds on its foundations in terms of technology, but a worthwhile addition to Steam’s growing library of indie shooter games.