There are a few games out there that fit into the niche genre called bullet hell. Solar Shifter EX is an indie game that embraces this genre to its fullest – the first achievement that you unlock is called “Welcome To Bullet Hell” and is a good indicator of what’s to come. You will face wave after wave of enemy ships that will fill your screen with bullets and laser beams. So, welcome to Bullet Hell.
True fans of the bullet hell genre are masochists. There’s not a lot else we can add; all they want is a screen filled with bullets to avoid and uncountable enemies to destroy. Solar Shifter EX certainly delivers. Ships come from all directions, firing a relentless stream of lasers and bullets at you which must be avoided at all costs, while you fire back at them with your own stream of death.
To assist you in avoiding the hell coming at you is a teleport system that allows you to instantly move across the screen to one of four different locations. This is pretty handy as ship placement is key in Solar Shifter EX. You need to get yourself at just the right angle to be able to hit the enemy ships without been hit; this is especially true against larger enemies that have much more health than you.
Success in any bullet hell shooter is avoiding fire aimed at you – whilst Solar Shifter EX offers a depleting health bar, you have about as much health as an empty coffee cup. This means that you will die a lot. Thankfully, checkpoints are plentiful and restarts – whilst not instantaneous, don’t leave you staring at a loading screen for too long, before you are propelled back into the fight. Bullet hell means frustration, too, as you will die many, many times on certain sections. The flip side of that coin is the glowing triumph – and tangible relief – after beating a really tough section. The air gets well and truly punched at times.
Not only has the screen been crammed with bullets, developer Elder Games has crammed in a story, of sorts. Unoriginal in the extreme, but who really cares about the story in a bullet hell shooter? Aliens are attacking in droves and you must destroy them to keep your base safe. You didn’t come for the story. You came for the action – and Solar Shifter EX delivers action that’s fast and intense.
Whilst your miniscule health stays with you throughout the game, you can at least upgrade your weaponry between levels. To upgrade you must collect resources from the enemies that you destroy and then trade them in for the upgrades. Very quickly, though, you realise that upgrades simply allow you to keep pace with enemies that get beiger, stronger and more aggressive. You never feel that you’re getting on top of the arms race, but neither did we fall behind as resources are plentiful.
Throughout the game it feels as though you are being funneled into certain areas by the level design which can make the game feel a lot harder than it needs to be – a staple tactic of the genre and no more badly implemented here than anywhere else. Thankfully, motion is fluid and the controls are responsive – it feels like the slightest movement matters. There is no clunkyness here – if you die it’s because you made a mistake, not because the ship didn’t go where you wanted it to.
Solar Shifter EX is a beautiful game – a standout in a genre that’s often more preoccupied with fluidity of movement and enemy density than a beautiful playing environment. Here, the environment shines – even to the extent that the mountain scapes of the first level are distractingly eye-catching. Distraction is not a good thing, here. Cue oblivion, explosions, and lost lives. below you in the first level are no direct threat, they can distract you into oblivion non the less. Throughout the game it’s possible to lose your ship – and some of the enemy ships – in the detail.
Solar Shifter EX is not a game for the feint of heart, and novices or casual fans of the genre may want to think twice before taking the plunge and buying this title. Fans of the genre should definitely give this game a go, though. If you like a challenge, and like to be induced into a controller throwing rage, then this could truly be the game for you.
Solar Shifter EX is available from the Store, priced £7.99.
Bullet hell truly means hell in this beautiful and unforgivingly hard title.
Solar Shifter EX is a game that will make you reassess life choices. Newcomers to the bullet hell genre should probably look elsewhere first, but established fans of the genre who want a true challenge should look no further.