Soldner-X 2: The Last Chapter (Sony PS3)

Soldner-X 2: The Last Chapter
Developer: SideQuest Studios
Publisher: EastAsiaSoft
Genre: Side Scrolling Shooter
Release Date: 11/02/2010

I’m going to be honest. I didn’t care for the first title in this franchise. I can’t explain why, but it didn’t feel like a real shooter to me. It felt like a German knock-off of a Japanese shooter, or a Western company trying to emulate the Japanese shooter style. It just felt off somehow.

So when I heard that a sequel was coming, I wasn’t exactly enthused about it. But after seeing some videos on Youtube that held promise, I bought it the day of release, and I’m glad I did, because Soldner X 2: Final Prototype is the best old school side-scrolling shooter of this generation.

But that’s not to say it was perfect. The one glaring flaw with the game was that you paid full price for it, but you didn’t get to play it all out of the box, so to speak. The last three levels were locked and could only be unlocked by getting all twenty-four of the “hidden keys” in the previous levels, which was no easy task. And if you finished the four levels that were unlocked without unlocking the last three, you got a lackluster ending that resolved nothing in the way of the game’s already thin storyline.

So here we are now, a month or two from the game’s release, and already we have a DLC expansion pack for a DLC game that came gimped to begin with. Boy, those guys at Sidequest Studios work FAST, huh?

For those who loved the core game but felt slighted because they weren’t able to unlock the other levels, this expansion could be worth the additional expense. It offers an additional weapon, three new levels that don’t have to be unlocked, additional challenge missions to test your trigger mettle, and a much more satisfying ending should you be quick-fingered enough to make it to the end.

And it’s no cake walk, let me tell you (not unless you play it on the easiest setting, anyway.). As good as the environments and boss fights in the core game are, these levels are even better. There are numerous occasions that don’t even involve bosses or mini-bosses where the screen is quite literally filled with bullets. This is some straight up retro bullet hell action that will challenge all but perhaps the most die hard of Ikuraga fans, or maybe Genesis owners who felt Hellfire and Gaiares were walks in the park.

This expansion really ups the ante on the epic side of the scale. The bosses are bigger, have more battle modes, and are far more challenging. One of the levels involves taking out a sort of space carrier that’s several screens big and covered from stem to stern in rocket launchers, enemy spawn points, and laser blasters. And THEN you get to fight a boss! (For those of you familiar with the bliss of Gunstar Heroes, think of the space level, but crank it up several hundred notches, and you’ll get the picture.) It’s by no means nothing we haven’t seen in shooters before it, but it’s done on such a grander visual scale. After beating the expansion I went back and played this level several more times just to better appreciate everything that’s going on at once.

Like the core game, the expansion has crisp, beautiful visuals that have an old-school style, but still look fresh, and all in glorious 1080p. If you have any old school gamers who are still on the fence about getting a PS3, this is one game they have to see.

The music is your typical shooter electronica, but is some of the best I’ve heard in years. While not quite as memorable as some of the classic tunes from the 16 bit era (to this day I can still hum tracks from Thunder Force 3 and Arrow Flash) it’s still a cut above other shooters in this generation. And as with the core game, the voice acting is very well done and can even be helpful during the boss fights.

The controls are spot on and everything you could hope for. It’s entirely possible to completely dominate in this title if you’re good enough. You’ll never feel cheated here. If you buy the farm, it’s because you made a wrong move, not due to any lag in the controls. It’s the kind of game where the controls feel so right that just moving around during the brief gaps in bullet clouds makes the experience worth it.

I couldn’t put these new levels down for a couple of days, and only then because I had other reviews to write. It’s incredibly addicting, and offers a lot of replay value on top of what the original game already offered. As mentioned above, there are new Challenge levels, your ships are upgradable, there’s unlockable ships, world leaderboards, and multiple difficulty levels. You do get a lot for your money, but that does bring me to a disturbing point.

To be completely honest, I feel like this really either should have been included in the original release to better justify its 14.99 price point, or released as a free expansion. This fairly recent trend of having new DLC for games that’s available the day of a game’s release or shortly thereafter on retail titles is bad enough, but when it starts happening with DLC titles, you can’t help but think that these were completed at the same time as the rest of the game, and were simply held back to sell for an additional cost later and squeeze a few more dollars out of shooter fanatics. I look at this trend, and I think of drug dealers who give out the first fix for little or no money, then charge out the backside once you’re hooked. The quick turn around time for this expansion leads me to think that the above is what happened: they finished the game, then cut three levels off in the hopes that the first seven (or four depending on your skill) levels would get players hooked and willing to shell out another seven bucks. And while I feel the game on the whole is fantastic and well worth 14.99, I’m not so sure it’s worth 20.00.

The Scores
Story: Good
Graphics: Classic
Sound: Great
Control and Gameplay: Classic
Replayability: Great
Balance: Classic
Originality: Good
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Below Average
FINAL SCORE: VERY GOOD GAME!

Short Attention Span Summary
There’s a lot of clear love for old school side scrolling shooters in this game, and it the expansion pack. If the core game really scratched your bullet hell itch, the additional material here will make sure the sore doesn’t scab over any time soon. And while I question the practice of splitting games this small up and selling three levels at half the original purchase price, I do feel that if you already own the core game, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice not to pick this up. I eagerly await future games in this series, as its quickly becoming one of my favorite PSN exclusives. Go pick these up, and be sure to give as much hell as you get.