As we shine our spotlight on another selection of indie games, we check out Ultracore and Radical Rabbit Stew.
Recently released for the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch, Ultracore was originally scheduled to come out for the Commodore Amiga way back in 1994, with a Sega Genesis version also in development at the time. And although it’s hardly the only title to be cancelled shortly before its release, this one stands out because it was developed by Digital Illusions, which later turned into DICE – developers of the Battlefield series and the recent Star Wars Battlefront games. As a piece of gaming history, its background story alone makes Ultracore worthy of our attention.
The game itself is a 2D run and gun game not too unlike others we saw in the early to mid nineties. Most people probably know about the Metal Slug games, but I also remember playing games like Abuse, Midnight Resistance and of course the Turrican series – (games with) home computer releases that feel more like Ultracore than the arcade-centered Metal Slug series does.
Surprisingly, for a game from the home computer era where computers often had less than a megabyte of memory, Ultracore’s levels are very big. There are only five levels, but they’re all packed with bad guys, extra weapons, secret passageways and multiple routes to explore. The core gameplay dynamic is to basically shoot everything that moves, and modern day twin stick controls are a welcome addition. The gunplay is a lot of fun, with quick movement and reactions often being the key to not losing too much health in the process.
It’s fairly standard stuff if you were around for games of the early nineties, and a welcome return if you’re nostalgic for the genre like I am. Ultracore does feature two bits of gameplay design that hinder it though, one being an outdated save game system. Rather than give you the ability to save in between levels (or anywhere), you get a level code that lets you commence at the start of a new level the next time you play. Although I remember using these, I haven’t had to write down level codes for many years and wasn’t exactly missing the added trouble.
The other aspect I wasn’t a fan of is more integral to the gameplay experience, and had to do with frustrating instant deaths that relate to platforming sections that feature in the game. Here, the controls can feel clunky and dated, and making a jump doesn’t just mean falling down and starting again – it often means hitting an electrified floor and instant death. With the combat so well-balanced and fun, these moments bring unwelcome frustration as you quickly lose life after life on these sections.
Nevertheless, Ultracore is a nice retro nod to an era many have fond memories of – and a rare choice on the PlayStation 4 (on which we tested). Now who’s going to make a remake, reboot or sequel to Abuse?
Radical Rabbit Stew
An action puzzler with retro-inspired visuals from the 16-bit era, Radical Rabbit Stew provides a fun and mostly fast-paced experience while it lasts – as its campaign is on the short side. We checked out the PS4 version of this game, developed by Pugstorm and published by Sold Out.
As with many classic arcade games, there’s a minimalist story involved that is told through a few stills and text, and it involves a couple of ‘space chefs’ being kidnapped by an army of evil bunnies. It’s silly and doesn’t really factor into the gameplay at all, but it justifies why you, as a chef’s assistant/cleaning boy, are chasing down bunnies and knocking them into pots.
Most of the levels are typical grid-based affairs that are not uncommon in arcade puzzle games, with early levels being quite small and later ones spanning slightly more than a single screen. The campaign is divided into three game worlds, in which you tackle levels in a linear fashion and face off against bosses at regular intervals.
To help you knock bunnies (though I suppose they’re rabbits?) into pots, you’re armed with a wooden spoon than can knock them sideways – with things like springs often doing the rest for you as they’re blasted around the screen, through rocks and end up in a stew that shoots up into the sky. Many levels also have blue coins in them, which require you to solve the level in a specific way to give you a chance to get to them. Collecting them is optional, but does add a tiny bit of replay value to an otherwise short campaign.
Although the trophy list indicates there are ways to beat the game in less than one hour, my initial playthrough lasted just over two hours. During this, you gradually unlock new abilities as well, which mixes up the gameplay. One early example is a big metal spoon, which isn’t just used to knock about bigger rabbits but can also be used to launch yourself across the level using the springs that are often situated at strategic spots.
After completing the campaign, you can also engage in a bit of competitive multiplayer action locally, which isn’t puzzle-heavy but involves knocking as many rabbits into the big pot of stew as possible. It’s a lot of fun to play, though ultimately feels more like a minigame than anything else. If you have more affinity with the main campaign, then the included level editor will definitely be interesting to play around with – it’s easy to use though I understand that designing puzzles isn’t exactly everyone’s forte. The main single player mode is the star attraction here, and although it’s quite short it – along with the multiplayer – is sure to provide a few evenings of fun.