Inside Pulse 12

Review: Last Hope: Pink Bullets (Sega Dreamcast)

Last Hope: Pink Bullets
Publisher: NG:Dev.Team
Developer: NG:Dev.Team
Genre: Shoot ’em Up
Release Date: 09/09/2009

That’s right kids – there’s a second new Dreamcast game released this year! Last Hope: Pink Bullets is a remix of 2007’s Last Hope, that was released for the Sega Dreamcast and my Beloved Neo*Geo. Both Chuck Platt and myself were big fans of the original, but on the whole, most Dreamcast fans felt the game was too hard. Too hard for a side scrolling shooter. That should tell you something.

After reviewing Dux in August, Rene Hellwig (no relation to the Ultimate Warrior) offered to send us a review copy of Pink Bullets. I didn’t really have to think too hard about that one. Once it arrived (in a shiny pink case no less), I ripped open the package and played it for several hours straight, breaking only to pop in the original version for comparison’s sake.

So how is Last Hope: Pink Bullets? Is it worth your thirty Euros, or is Dux the better of the two Dreamcast games released this year?

Let’s Review

1. Modes/Story

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of either of these in Last Hope: Pink Bullets. There’s no actual story in the game. You’ll have to read the manual for any inkling other than, “You’re a dude in a space ship. Kill or be killed.” However, the story parts of the manual are in Japanese, so good luck with that.

What I can tell you is that you are NOT a dude, but a dudette named Vanessa Gaiden who is flying the Z-42 Warpstar. So the plot is “You’re a young lady in a space ship. Kill or be killed.” Also, it’s six stages long.

There are no other modes besides the straight up run through the six stages. You have five continues to get through the game. It’s single player only, so you can’t play with your friends. It’s basically boils down to Last Hope: Pink Bullets being a very expensive no-frills game for a dead system. However, one has to remember this is a labour of love by an independent European dev team making a game for the Dreamcast. Under those circumstances, what’s here is pretty impressive and it’s a shooter I’d rather play than say, Giga Wing.

There’s not a lot of variety here, but what’s here is solid.

Modes/Story Rating: Poor

2. Graphics

Like all games meant for the Neo*Geo first and the Sega Dreamcast second, Last Hope: Pink Bullets doesn’t take full advantage of the graphical capabilities of Sega’s last system. You can see this in all of SNK’s titles that were on both systems, from any of The King of Fighters franchise down to Fatal Fury: Mark of the Wolves. Just compare this game to Dux and the difference in graphics is amazing. Dux looks good enough to be a PS3 or Xbox 360 game, while Last Hope: Pink Bullets looks like a game from the mid 1990s, which was the peak of my beloved Neo*Geo.

There are two big issues with the visuals. The first is that the game is noticeably pixilated. It’s not a smooth or clean as a game developed primarily for the Dreamcast. What’s here is certainly fine, but much in the same way one of my KoF games is fine while Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 was stunning. The second is that much like the first game, it’s sometimes hard to tell what is background visuals and what you can run into and be killed by. Now, the problem is nowhere as severe as the original version of Last Hope, which is one of the reasons the enemy fire has been turned to bright pink in the remake, but it still persists, and there will be times when you will try to avoid something only to realize it was background or where suddenly you will blow up and not have the slightest idea as to why.

I really enjoyed the enemy designs and especially the stage bosses, but at the end of the day, there is only so much you can do with a games visuals, when you’re trying to make it compatible to both the Neo*Geo and Sega Dreamcast. What’s here is decent, but if you’re a graphics whore, you’ll definitely want to go for Dux.

Graphics Rating: Decent

3. Sound

I really enjoyed the soundtrack for LH:PB. It’s very catchy and it’s one of the best scores I’ve heard for a shooter in years. If you’ve played the original, then you know what I’m talking about. I really wish that we had an LE soundtrack for this as we did with Dux.

It’s not just the music that that helps make the game; the special effects and voice acting are just as excellent. Yes, you read that right: there’s voice acting. Now granted, it’s not much, but it’s still a treat to hear a posh British woman’s voice saying “cluster bombs” or the like. You also have a myriad of effect noises for each weapon that you or your enemies use. Everything in LH:PB sounds great and audiophiles will take great joy from listening to the game. Just remember you have to WATCH what you’re doing too. If you spend too much time paying attention to the score, you’ll end up dead.

Sound Rating: Good

4. Control and Gameplay

At first glance, Last Hope looks like R-Type clone with the little pod at the front of your fighter, but looks can be deceiving. You see, in R-Type you deploy and retract the pod for extra firepower. In Last Hope, the pod stays within the general vicinity of your fighter, but it absorbs enemy fire power and you can move it in a 360 degree arc around your ship. The right trigger rotates it clockwise and the left trigger rotates it counter clockwise. At first it can be a bit of a distraction trying to control the pod and your fighter, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll find it to be a really innovative and fun addition to the shoot ’em up genre. For example you can swing the pod back and forth to absorb enemy fire power and treat it like a movable shield. It’s definitely a life saver at time and it’s much easier to manage and control than your pod in R-Type.

You also have two different standards guns. The first is your autofire regular bullet and the second is your charge beam. Hold down A until the charge is full and the charge beam will go across the screen, passing through everything in your way. You can even hold down A while also holding down X for autofire and manage both guns at once. However, if you’re new to Last Hope, I wouldn’t advise doing this AND monkeying around with the pod at the same time. That’s two buttons, two triggers and steering to all take into account at once. Once you’ve mastered one, move on to the other.

Other than that, everything is pretty standard. It’s a side-scrolling shooter with some new tactical elements that really change how you approach a game from this genre. For those of you who played the original, there are a few changes in your favour. The pod can now destroy enemies, giving you some extra firepower, and the scoring system has changed, but to be honest, I never paid attention to how it worked in the first one and I was trying to survive the damn stages!

Last Hope: Pink Bullets is a fun shooter that still plays almost exactly the same as the original version, but the changes that have been made are not only instantly apparent, but really make the game more fun, if only because you’re not dying nearly as much from things you didn’t think could kill you.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Good

5. Replayability

With only one mode, and five credits, you’re going to have to play this game A LOT to get good enough to beat it. I think the first time I popped in the original I could only get to the Stage Three End Boss before being done with all my lives. This time around, because so much of the game is the same, I made it to the end of Stage Five, and was eventually able to beat the game after a few hours. It’s all memorization coupled with the fact it’s MUCH easier to tell what can kill you.

Unless you’re a big shooter fan though, there’s not a lot of reason to come back to this one. It’s always going to be the same experience; the only difference will be mastering the score multipliers and that’s something I’m personally not interested. I’ll keep coming back because this is one of my favourite genres, but Dux will be spending a lot more time in my Dreamcast than this LH:PB. Perhaps it’s because I own both versions of this game now while Dux is still relatively fresh, but Hellwig’s newest game definitely outclasses the remake of his 2007 title in nearly every way.

Replayability Rating: Mediocre

6. Balance

The original Last Hope earned its reputation as being crazy hard. Almost too hard depending on who you asked. I do think it’s one of the hardest shooters I’ve ever played, but it wasn’t like SNK Boss Syndrome for six straight stages. Last Hope: Pink Bullets IS noticeably easier. I was able to beat this after just a few playthroughs. The game also features five difficulty settings, color changes to bullets and backgrounds for better visibility and there’s instant respawn. These things all make a pretty big difference and ensure that the game is more accessible to the average player instead of those that live, eat, and breathe shooters.

All of the changes implemented in LH:PB are for the best, although there were a few times when I respawned in such a place that I also instantly died. I believe it was stage two or three in one of my first playthroughs on this. There will be walls closing in behind you. At one point I was killed by something in front of me I couldn’t see very well and I respawned on top of the wall and well, I died immediately. This was the only time it happened, but it shows that the game could have used a bit of tweaking regarding the respawn in this particular area.

Overall, Last Hope: Pink Bullets is a vastly superior game to the original in terms of balance issues and the game is a lot more fun to play because of it. It’s rare you see a developer take the time to deal with nearly every issue gamers brought up about their product and then fix them. Fans of the original that just couldn’t get very far will want to pick this up to see what a difference a few little changes make.

Balance Rating: Good

7. Originality

Aside from the rotating pod, this is a pretty standard run of the mill side scrolling shooter. It’s got bullet eating elements which are usually only found in vertical shooters, but two deviations from the norm do not an outside the box title make.

I really enjoyed my time with both versions of Last Hope, and the rotating pod is the most original thing I’ve seen in this genre since Trigger Heart Excella‘s “catch and release” gameplay (of course both came out the same year so…) and although neither of these changes are genre changing, both really helped to make 2007 a year where my Dreamcast got its biggest work out since Segagaga was released.

As a remake, the score wouldn’t be very high here to begin with, and most of the changes made here are for balancing issues rather than making the game feel new or different. Yes, it’s “just” a remix, but it’s a remix of a low print run title that 99% of you reading this never got to play originally, so it’ll be brand new to you. Sure it’s pretty generic, but the one thing the game does outside the box, it does so well it totally changes how you view the genre.

Originality Rating: Poor

8. Addictiveness

Even with the updated graphics and balance issues, I found myself preferring Dux from beginning to end. As Dux is basically Last Hope 2 but with amazing graphics and the ability to play the game as a vertical shooter as well as in the default side-scrolling mode, Last Hope: Pink Bullets kind of pales in comparison.

I enjoyed my time with LH:PB and I played it for several hours straight when I first got it, but since then I’ve only picked it up on rare occasions and even then it was all too brief. It’s a fun game, but as I’ve already beaten the original version, PB was more just to appreciate the improvements and compare/contrast between the two. It’s a fun game, and the difficulty changes certainly make it more inviting to the average game, but with a lack of modes and variety, it might be hard for people to stay interested in this.

Addictiveness Rating: Decent

9. Appeal Factor

How many gamers do you know would pay forty dollars for a no-frills game for a Sega Dreamcast. Hell, how many of today’s current gamers still actively use their Dreamcast on a regular basis. Not many. It’s a damn shame, but it’s also the truth. The fact the game costs more than a PSP or NDS title and nearly as much as a current generation console’s game will no doubt throw a lot of gamers off.

Really, Last Hope: Pink Bullets is going to appeal to a very small niche of gamers. Gamers that like shooters, still have and use their Sega Dreamcast, and who are willing to pay a little extra to support small developers or gamers for dead systems. I happen to fall under that niche, if I looked at our staff here at Diehard GameFAN, I’d probably be the only one that would save for Chuck and D.J.

If you own a Dreamcast, it’s certainly worth considering buying this game to experience the last shooter released for the Sega Dreamcast (Rush Rush Rally Racing and a puzzle game named Irides are also scheduled for a 2009 release. Go Dreamcast!), but then you’d be buying it for bragging rights or just to have it in your collection rather than experiencing and that’s the wrong reason in my book. Pick this up because you love your Dreamcast, love shooters, or because you want to support the Dreamcast homebrew or indie developers scene. You won’t be sorry, even if there’s all too few of you out there.

Appeal Factor Rating: Bad

10. Miscellaneous

Whenever I hear of a new Dreamcast game being released, it always brings a smile to my face. Whenever I get to play it, that smile transforms into a grin. To see one of these titles get a remix and/or a second release is not only a wonderful sign for NG:Dev.Team/HuCast’s success as an independent publisher, but with FOUR games being released for the Dreamcast this year, it’s also a wonderful sign that the system is going to be around for another year or three in terms of new releases.

Last Hope: Pink Bullets is a pricey purchase, but fans of Sega before Sammy ruined them, fans of the shooter genre, or fans of homebrew in general can all pick this up knowing money was well spent. If you already have the original Last Hope, this is probably only worth a purchase if you loved the original and want to see the changes made. I’m happy with the end result and I definitely think it’s an improvement over the original in every way, but I can’t deny that the game is only for a small cross-section of gaming.

Either way, hats off to NG:Dev.Team for remixing Last Hope and giving us one more worthy addition to the Dreamcast library.

Miscellaneous Rating: Good

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

Short Attention Span Summary
Although Last Hope: Pink Bullets is a remix of the original 2007 title, the changes implemented here make this game superior in every way. The visuals are clearer, enemy fire no longer blends in with the background, and the game’s sliding difficulty rate makes the game accessible to everyone instead of just those who exclusively play side-scrolling shooters. As the game began as a Neo*Geo title, the graphics aren’t anywhere close to the level of what we saw in Dux, the other Dreamcast game this year, but Last Hope: Pink Bullets’s gameplay and soundtrack make up for it. Is it worth forty dollars to buy a no-frills game made by an independent publisher for a dead system? It all depends on what kind of a gamer you are. I say if you have a Dreamcast and money to burn, get Dux instead, but as the money will be going to the same dev team, either way, you’re supporting the true passion and creativity of this industry.