Inside Pulse 12

Review: Dux (Sega Dreamcast)

Dux
Publisher: Hucast
Developer: HUCAST.net & KonTechs Ltd.
Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Release Date: 06/17/2009


Not only is this the last Dreamcast game released for the nearly ten year old system and a birthday present from our Publisher to me for my venerable 32nd year on this planet, but it’s also my 300th professional video game review for the Inside Pulse family of websites. Milestones all around involving this game.

It may surprise many of you to hear that the Dreamcast still has games being released for it, but long time readers of my work should know otherwise. Late in 2008 I reviewed Wind and Water Puzzle Battles, which was the only “major” release for the Dreamcast that year. In 2007, three amazing shooters were released for the Dreamcast: Triggerheart Exelica , Last Hope and Karous. For those of you who are sadly Dreamcast deficient, you can get two of these three games for next gen systems. Triggerheart Exelica was ported to Xbox Live in 2008 and it is worth every penny to download. Meanwhile Milestone brought over Karous along with two other Dreamcast shooters and bundled them as the Ultimate Shooting Collection for the Nintendo Wii.

It’s still hard to believe in August of 2009 that I’m reviewing a game for a system that came out in September of 1999. So, only a few days shy of the Dreamcast’s tenth anniversary here in North America, it’s time to take a look at Dux. With both the shoot ’em up genre and the Sega Dreamcast itself being little more than niche interests for gamers these days, how does Dux manage to hold up?

Let’s Review

1. Modes

Dux is pretty straight forward. It’s a six stage side scrolling shooter where you start with six lives and have three continues. That’s it. You kill things or they kill you. Repeat until your continues are up or you are dead. There are no bonus features, unlockables, mini-games or anything like that. It’s a basic shooter.

Now the lack of extras besides “arcade” mode might disappoint a lot of gamers, but those are also the gamers that won’t be dropping thirty dollars on a brand new Dreamcast game in 2009 to begin with. For those of us who love shooters and the Dreamcast you will be happy to know there is one variant in the game. You can change the game from a horizontal scrolling shooter to a vertically scrolling one. Although on paper this sounds like a mediocre change, let me assure you that the game feels like an entirely different one when you do this. Although the levels are exactly the same, it really does take a different mindset to play a horizontal scroller than it does a vertical one. This makes the game feel almost like two titles in one, and I had a blast experiencing both versions.

So yeah, this is a bare bones release, but what is actually contained on the disc is a delicious treat for all Shoot ‘Em Up fans.

Modes Rating: Mediocre

2. Graphics

Oh my god is this thing beautiful, and it’s in high definition to boot. How shameful is it that a game for a ten year old system can be prettier than a lot of games I’ve seen on the PS3 or 360. Games of this genre released for current systems include Soldner X, Gradius: Rebirth and Raiden IV, and none of them compare to the amazing use of colour, sprites and background visuals that Dux offers. This thing is up there with Gradius V as the best looking shooter I have ever played, and even then Dux wins by a hair.

Enemy designs are quite original, even if the first boss feels like I’ve fought him before in multiple other shooters. Even the shots fired can be pretty unique. There was MANY a time where I died because I thought something was a background object and it was actually a shot. Stupid flower cannons. Of course, there were also times where I dodged something only to have it be a background object too, so there you go. Dux is visually impressive and is one of the best looking games I’ve played all year, especially in terms of colours, level design and glitz, but at times, people new to the game will have trouble telling what can kill them and what can’t. The only way around this is trial and error.

In terms of vibrancy, brilliance, use of colours, and just plain old stunning visuals, Dux is the best looking game I’ve played all year. I’m not sure if that means we never truly tapped the Dreamcast’s graphic potential or if that’s a condemnation of today’s modern “dull and muted” visuals that has become the trend for A-list games. Either way, I’ll take Dux‘s beauty any day.

Graphics Rating: Unparalleled

3. Sound

There’s really not a lot to say about the music or the sound effects here in Dux. Both are perfectly serviceable, but there’s nothing really impressive or even memorable about either. There is a limited amount of variance to the music and eventually you don’t even notice it’s playing. The same can be said for the sound effects. It basically boils down to a limited array of noises for the different weapons, a general exploding noise for yourself, a general exploding noise for enemy vessels and a general exploding noise for bosses.

It’s odd that while the visuals are almost impossible for what I thought possible on the Dreamcast, especially when I look at other shooters for the system, that the sound is so… humdrum. It’s just there in the background, and honestly, if you randomly muted the game on and off while I was playing it, I probably wouldn’t even notice.

Sound Rating: Mediocre

4. Control and Gameplay

Dux is a very odd game. Although you can definitely tell it is heavily inspired by the R-Type series, right down to the ability to gain, retract and launch a power pod, it also adds the “Bullet Eater” aspect that was introduced with the Dreamcast era of shooters, most noticeably with Ikaruga. You can normally soak up bullets with your pod that hovers in front of or behind your ship, but by collecting “obvious energy” your energy bar, when you hit the R trigger, you will activate Hyper Soaking, which will protect your ship from all normal bullets, but not lasers or collisions. When the obvious energy bar is depleted, things go back to normal. You can keep the bar from running out by collecting more obvious energy or soaking up a ton of bullets. I’ll admit it’s actually much harder to play a bullet eater game when it is a side-scroller rather than a vertical scroller. I’m not sure why that is, but it was hard to remember this wasn’t a straight up R-Type clone for the first few tries with this game. It’s nice to see the mix of the genres, but I really wish Hucast gave you the option to change what buttons to what. It’s very annoying to use the trigger where there are two other face buttons left unmapped. It gets worse with the realization there is lag between hitting the trigger and getting the Hyper Soaking to actually activate. I found this out several times, much to my peril. It would have been nice if this lag had been fixed because, as any long time shooter fan can tell you, even a millisecond can feel like an eternity in one of these games, as your reflexes need to be THAT quick.

Other than the bullet eater aspect, the game does indeed play like a rather standard R-Type game. You can use either the analog stick or D pad to control your fighter, but like any good shooter fan will tell you, stick to the D-Pad for a better sense of control of your ship. Y button is your main shot, though holding it down does not trigger constant fire like in most games. Instead holding it down builds up a charge for your hyper cannon. I wish these had been two separate buttons, as I guess I’ve gotten used to just being able to hold down a button for constant fire. Still, this gameplay decision is in line with the R-Type franchise, but again, this is another reason I would like to have had the ability to map buttons to my own preference. Finally you have the A button to dash your pod forward to smash enemies. Press it again to have it come back to you.

Aside from the Hyper Soaking lag, everything is pretty solid and well done. Your plane maneuvers exceptionally well and a large chunk of the game is dodging obstacles instead of just blowing up everything on the screen, which is nice throwback I haven’t seen in a lot of shooters. I think the last good one that made use of that aspect was Castle Shikigami III.

Power ups include dropping bombs, upgrades to your pod for added protection, horizontal rockets to supplement your main shot, bouncing lasers and the X-ray, which is a criss-crossing bouncing laser. The X-Ray is meant to be your best weapon, but really, you’re better off without it because it’s far too hard to use either this or the bounce when you’re swarmed by enemies. Because of the unpredictability, you may be killed by something you could have easily taken out with your normal gun. After a while you can adjust, but there will still be times where the irony of your upgraded weapon being less protective than your generic one will irritate you.

Overall, Dux is a well designed shooter. Sure, there is room for improvement and there are some questionable gameplay choices, but what’s here is certainly playable AND a lot of fun, and that’s what counts.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Enjoyable

5. Replayability

Although there are only the six stages of the main game and nothing else, you do have only three continues, and with six lives per continue, you’re looking at 18 chances to get through this thing. Odds are you’re going to have to play this game quite a few times to actually beat it. The game is pretty free handed with extra lives though, which helps a bit, but if you’re one of those people that likes a challenge or who can’t put a game down until they’ve finished it, this is for you.

Besides the challenge and the ability to play the game vertically, there is one other reason to keep coming back, and that’s the old school attempt to beat your own high score. Dux is filled with all sorts of tricks, ranging from chaining shots to finding special areas on certain bad guys you can shoot to earn more points. If you’re one of those gamers that used to light up when seeing your initials next to the top score of a game in your local arcade, this aspect of Dux will no doubt appeal to you as well.

There’s not a lot in Dux to keep a gamer coming back for more, even compared to a lot of other shooters, on the Dreamcast or otherwise. However, the game is one to pop in to show your friends that the DC is still on life support rather than dead, and that in itself should be rewarding to fans of the pre “Ruined by Sammy” Sega.

Replayability Rating: Decent

6. Balance

I won’t deny that Dux is a hard game, but most of that difficulty is artificial. Once you remember that you have the bullet eating option even though this is a side scroller, you’ll find the game’s real challenge comes from figuring out what can kill you and what can’t. There were countless times I was sure something was a background object, but no, it killed me. Or times when I tried to dodge something that turned out to be fluff, and dodged right into something that could kill me. Then there were the times when I thought I was far enough from a wall or object to not die because it appeared so on the screen, but the game decided to make my ship explode instead. Ah well. Some obvious pixel and collision detection issues abound.

Aside from these issues, which vary from minor to major depending on how anal you are about your shooters, Dux offers a decent amount of challenge thanks to some interesting opponents. Take, for example, these particular ships that are harmless until you shoot them. Once you blow them up, their fiery wreckage shoots at you in a diagonal arc that neither your pod nor bullet eating can save you from. You just have to dodge. There are also these large enemies that will try and kamikaze you or block you like a wall that homes in on where you want to go, meaning you have to shoot through it in time or collide and go boom. There are also some very large enemies where you can only shoot parts of them off, once again meaning you will need to dodge, dodge dodge.

I really liked the emphasis on dodging over bullet induced genocide, as that’s what the shoot ’em up genre has devolved into as of late. This really tested my reflexes and that’s why I got into the genre as a small child, going as far back as River Raid. This really made Dux stand out in my mind and gave me new challenges to look forward to on each level.

Still, flowers will kill you and floating grey box-asteroid thingies won’t. Just remember that.

Balance Rating: Enjoyable

7. Originality

To call Dux the love child of Karous and R-Type isn’t that far off. It really has taken the most memorable aspects of both games and put them into a single shooter. However, that’s not to say the game smacks of originality. A lot of the time I felt that this was just another entry into the R-Type franchise, albeit with prettier graphics and interesting new non-Bydo enemies.

In a way, Dux is basically Last Hope 2, which was another Dreamcast shooter heavily based on R-Type that was also developed and published by Hucast. Both games were fun, both brought some new mechanics to the table for a side-scroller, and both were quite fun. However, innovative and original they are not.

Dux is definitely a fine addition to your Dreamcast library, especially as the majority of the games for the system are vertical shooters. Having a side-scroller is a change of pace, but at the end of the day, Dux may be one of the prettiest Dreamcast games ever released, but it’s nothing that reinvents the wheel or even tries to.

Originality Rating: Poor

8. Addictiveness

Dux was a lot of fun. Despite some gameplay issues and the fact IREM could probably sue Hucast if they wanted to, it really stood out as one of the better shooters I’ve played in the past two years. Even when the game exasperated me in those first attempts at playing the game due to crazy objects accounting as the source of my demise, I couldn’t put the controller down. I played for about four hours straight the first night, which is a long time to play a shooter. It was the thrill of having a brand new Dreamcast game combined with getting to experience a new shooter than very few other gamers ever will. As the staff here at Diehard GameFAN can tell you, unless it’s on the 360, I make sure I review every shooter that comes our way. I love this genre, and the games for it are so limited when compared to the 8 and 16 bit era that I need my fix.

The bottom line is that Dux is a lot of fun even in spite of its issues. It’s new and yet it feels familiar. If this is the last ever game for Sega’s last ever system, then I feel this is a worthy way to end the saga of the Dreamcast.

Addictiveness Rating: Good

9. Appeal Factor

Well, I know this is a game Widro, Bebito and myself are all going to get, but beyond that I’m not really sure who the audience is. The target demographic is going to be gamers who still have their Dreamcasts that love shooters or rare, low print published titles and that are willing to fork out around thirty dollars for a bare bones game. That’s not a very large audience. Even then, people will spend most of their time of the internet talking about how cool it is Dreamcast games are still being published and how Sega was awesome and how they miss it as a hardware provider and oh wait, THEY JUST KEEP TALKING WITHOUT BUYING THE GAME. Well not here at Diehard GameFAN. Here’s your review. Here’s you affirmation the game is both fun and good. Now go buy it and support the other Dreamcast games scheduled to come out in 2009 like Dalforce and Rush Rush Rally Racing.

This is a game for what used to be called hardcore gamers. No, not the current horrible use of the term that seems to refer to people that care about graphics over gameplay, or who need gore and tits in order to enjoy a game, or people who are complete assholes across the internet to anyone who doesn’t share their exact same view on everything in existence. No, this is for the real hardcore gamers. The people who paid a little more for a rare game so it could be enjoyed with friends who couldn’t afford it, not to keep it on a shelf and brag about their collection size. The gamers who enjoyed trying something new from a smaller or unknown publisher rather than clinging to sequel after sequel from a churned out and burned out franchise. The gamers who played because they wanted to improve their reflexes and skills rather than compare trophies or achievements. The gamers who were passionate about gaming because developers put their heart and souls into a title, and you could feel it through your screen and the RF switch let it intermingle with your console of choice.

Dux is a labour of love, and for people who have only been gaming for the past console generation or two, it’s worth your time to find a friend with a Dreamcast (or buy one from a pawn shop or Ebay) and play this to understand exactly what that means. It’s got a low print run and it’s on a commercially dead system, but it’s still better than half the crap we get for the current console generation, and that’s a pretty damning statement that reflects the greed and sloppiness our industry currently wallows in.

Okay, cranky old man rant over.

Appeal Factor Rating: Bad

10. Miscellaneous

There are no extras or hidden things in the game. It doesn’t come with an art book or any swag. It’s just a Dreamcast game in an oversized case, and it’s a lot of fun. I’ve paid close attention to the independent DC scene for the past six years since I returned to the States, and even if the other games supposedly set to release in 2009 get delayed or never come to pass, Dux is a great way to say “Happy 10th Birthday” to Sega’s last scream.

It’s great to have another high quality shooter here in 2009. It’s great to have another quality Dreamcast game out. It’s great to see another independent publisher making something for the sake of making it rather than simply to rush out a badly developed project to score as much money as they can off the unaware and gullible. I’d love to see Dux make some sort of sales blip this year, or even get paid lip service by Sega since it’s come out so close to the tenth anniversary of the Dreamcast’s North American launch. Neither will happen, but I can dream.

SEGA!

Miscellaneous Rating: Unparalleled

The Scores
Modes: Mediocre
Graphics: Unparalleled
Sound: Mediocre
Control and Gameplay: Enjoyable
Replayability: Decent
Balance: Enjoyable
Originality: Poor
Addictiveness: Good
Appeal Factor: Bad
Miscellaneous: Unparalleled
FINAL SCORE: ENJOYABLE GAME!

Short Attention Span Summary
Yes, you’re reading this correctly. It is 2009 and there’s a new game out for the Sega Dreamcast, just in time for its tenth anniversary on 9/9/09. Ever better, Dux is awesome. Sporting graphics that seem almost too good for the system, Dux proves to be a fun and visually stunning side-scrolling shooter, reminding one of both R-Type and Karous. There are a few sticking points, like a bit of lag when you’re activating Hyper Soaking or the inability to remap the button configuration to one that suits the DC controller better, but for the most part, Dux is well worth your thirty dollars and is not only one of the best shooters I’ve played in 2009, but one of the prettiest games regardless of genre with regards to colour use and vibrancy. Best of all, this won’t be the only Dreamcast game released in 2009, meaning Sega’s last system should have a very happy birthday indeed. Whether you’re a shooter fan, a Dreamcast fan, or just a gaming fan in general, the release of Dux is something to celebrate.

One last note, If you’ve got fifty bucks, you can go over to redspotgames.com and pick up the Dux and Wind and Water Puzzle Battles bundle, giving you the last two Dreamcast games to be released for a pretty nice sum.