Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Solar Shifter EX is a solid shooting game more often than not with excellent visuals but a camera system that does the title no favors in the end. The experience is a decent one for fans of the shmup genre, but Solar Shifter EX is nowhere close to being one of the best shooters have to offer.
The visuals. Really the crux of the conversation here revolves around those, both for better and for worse, so I will start with that. The level designs are absolutely gorgeous, but superficial. There is so much going on at any given time that it can sometimes be difficult to tell what the actual enemies are from the constantly moving backgrounds. Solar Shifter EX makes great use of color, movement and detail to make the game feel so much more alive than most shooters, which have you often simply flying over static backgrounds.
Another feature that I thought was really cool early on is the way the camera tends to move and swerve around. It helps to create the illusion of greater movement and larger worlds. Solar Shifter EX is still a vertical shooter, but there is some sway that sweeps your ship and the screen around it at angles that create a cinematic flair. The effect is actually really neat – until you realize that it has a direct and detrimental impact on how the game plays.
See, the issue is your ship seems to get into what I would describe as odd states due to these shifts. Every now and then, I found myself no longer shooting straight vertically but at slight angles. It is almost as if my ship got slightly torqued with the non-vertical screen shifts. Eventually it works back out when things go straight vertical again, but I found it frustrating to press my ship up against the left side of the screen, trying my best to shoot straight up towards the enemies leaking into the field of battle only to have my shots all skewing at slight angles instead. It is somewhat disorienting, making one of the game’s coolest features also one of its most frustrating.
To its benefit, Solar Shifter EX does add a mechanic I have seen in a couple of other games – a shifting mechanic. This is mapped to two different sets of controls, and is used to warp your ship from one spot on the screen to another. This is mostly useful when there are continuous beams of fire or swaths of incoming enemy ships that you otherwise cannot avoid. It is interesting that the tutorial directions tell you to use the X button along with the left stick. This creates what I would call ‘jump to’ points on the screen. It is slow and inaccurate and thankfully is not the only way to shift – though I don’t recall the directions ever explaining that I could flick my right stick for a smoother, quicker result.
This is an important mechanic, because there is no bomb or shield weapon to wipe out the screen when you get pinned, which is a little frustrating at times. You will get pinned and you will die a lot. There are mercifully no lives to worry about running out of, but the load times are entirely too long for a game that has you dying this much. You have a health bar, but really it does not last very long. It helps to give you the illusion of durability, but most of the time if you get hit by one ship or one set of bullets, there are a dozen more right behind it waiting to tear through your ship. I would say more often than not it felt like I was dying to what might as well have been one hit kills, though some enemies do drop shield regenerating orbs that can help you survive longer from the stray singular shots you fail to avoid.
On top of getting the rare health restore, slain enemies also drop credits. Fly over them to pick the credits up, and then between levels you can upgrade your primary or your secondary weapons. This also feels somewhat shallow, as basically they are the same thing, firing out of your ship due to the same button presses and these upgrades never seem to amount to much. It takes roughly the same number of shots to kill things by the end of the game as it did during the beginning. Are the enemies scaling to become sturdier bullet sponges as your weapons increase or when you reach a new level? I really couldn’t tell, but unfortunately this left the upgrade system feeling somewhat shallow.