June 9, 2015 6:00 AM | Joel Couture
There was no way I couldn't play Supercharged Robot VULKAISER after watching it's 70's anime-inspired trailer. I didn't even need to know what kind of game it was. Lucky for me, it was a shmup, one with a great selection of powers and strange enemies to use them on. I needed to get my act together as I played, though, as I only had a single life to use to get through the game. You do have a health bar, but once it's gone, you're done. Oh yeah, and your powers all have their own life bars, too, so unless you play well, don't get too attached to any one gun. You might lose it permanently right when you need it most.
Realistically, VULKAISER isn't as stressful as I think it is. You do have one life to beat it, but you have a life bar that lets you take a decent amount of hits. It's the same as if you'd had a set amount of lives and died in one hit, but for some reason that life bar made my screw-ups feel more pressing and dangerous. There's something about the act of dying and respawning that changes the stakes in my mind, even if it doesn't actually make a difference. Knowing I only had one life to lose in my battle against the Gogoh army, even if it was the equivalent to the respawns I might have available in any other shmup, just made things feel that much more intense. Considering you gain a little life back at the end of each stage, it's actually easier to manage than a system that used lives, but somehow it just made the stakes feel much higher.
Your power ups have lives of their own, too, which is where the game gets really interesting. VULKAISER is based on anime like Beast King GoLion (Voltron to folks like me), so your power-ups all come in the form of allies who can connect themselves to your main robot. Those allies have their own health bars and can get back a little energy between levels as well, and like you, when they take too much damage, the game is over for them. This encourages players to change powers often to keep everyone healthy, but there's a catch: the more levels you beat with each character, the deeper their relationship with the main character gets. You get a tiny blurb at the end of each level depending on which character you finish the stage with, and you only get the full story if you beat the entire game with one power-up.
This gives players a couple of goals to shoot for while shooting through the Gogoh army's monsters. You can just straight up shoot everything and beat the game using whatever power-up you have on hand, or you can go for a very careful route, getting a full story on each character for each game that you complete with a specific weapon. It's a nice addition for players who want to challenge themselves in ways beyond fussing around with difficulty levels, and adds a nice, if silly, narrative to hitting the fire button as fast as you can.
Each power has a couple of neat abilities to keep it alive. Your basic gun covers a good chunk of the screen, firing four or five beams in a spread in front of you. It works, but any backup helps. Hooking up with a pal gets you a needle gun, rockets, electricity beams, or a drill (you want the drill). Each of these increases the spread or power of your weapon, and gives you a new charge ability on top. These charge beams are where the game gets really interesting, giving you some really strong offensive powers. It charges naturally as you hold down the fire button, and when released, gives you bursts of straight fire, explosions, or super drill abilities that cut down enemy fire (often saving your metal behind) and does stupid amounts of damage. That drill will have you rushing headlong into anything that moves, carving it up and laughing like mad. Just don't get too attached to some of these guns, as the longer you use them, the more likely they are to take too much damage and be gone from your arsenal forever.
The enemies are pretty standard fare for shmups, with the usual array of nonsense ships and vehicles shooting at you. Even most of the bosses are just large, nondescript ships that fire various colored beams. They work, and a few bosses reminded me of the fun campiness of early anime, but most of the enemies are just plain, weird ships with a few bursts of inspired design. Even the stages are a little plain, although bright and colorful. The visuals work and it's still fun to blow up all of these varied machines, but I really did hope the developer would do more with the theme with some more interesting designs. Short of a few vignettes between levels, some images that show up when you power up, and a handful of enemy designs, there's just not many ways in which the developer really used the 70's anime look they worked so hard to infuse into the game's trailer.
The sound is catchy and fun, although, like the visuals, little stood out, again disappointing me a bit. The theme song in the trailer was such a strong kicking-off point for the game that I hoped for equally fun music, but it's all very generic and forgettable. I also missed out on a lot of the music over the sound of explosions and gunfire, having to strain to listen to it. Not that I mind explosions, but again, this game had such a strong musical theme going in that it felt a little wasted.
While its visuals and audio aren't as amazing as I'd hoped, Supercharged Robot VULKAISER is still a lot of fun. Shooting ships down and dodging bullets using your best pal as a power-up feels great, and the health meters add an intensity to the action. With the danger of being able to lose a power-up permanently, it forced me to choose whether I wanted to play a really hard version of the game and stick with someone from start to finish or go the easier route and keep switching, even though it would mean using power-ups I didn't like. The health system gives the game a lot of staying power for repeat playthroughs, and given that it's quite short, makes it the sort of thing I'd pick up if I just felt like shooting robots for an hour. I enjoyed it a lot, and while I felt like more could have been done with the 70's anime theme, it's still a solid shmup for your five bucks.