Developer: Siter Skain Circle
Localisation: Nyu Media
If you're a fan of scrolling arcade shoot 'em ups (which we'll now correctly refer to as SHMUPs), then Nyu Media are about to make you very happy indeed. Following years of fan demand and a successful Kickstarter campaign, a triumvirate of legendary Japanese doujin titles have now been localised for Western audiences.
Collaborative indie studio Siter Skain laboured over a trilogy of exceptional shooters over the course of eleven years: Kamui, RefleX and ALLTYNEX Second. Taking their inspiration from Raystorm and other arcade classics, they created a balanced, gorgeous and responsive trilogy that quickly earned themselves a strong following and unassailable reputation. Nyu Media have now put in a shift to localise the dialogue, add native controller support and finally let us get our hands on these intense little gems.
If gameplay is king, Siter Skain are the power behind the throne.
Let's lock down the story details before we begin. Like most Japanese-developed SHMUPs, the ALLTYNEX saga is underpinned by an outrageously overblown plot involving insane AIs and brainjacked anime girls of indeterminate age turned into veteran pilots. Despite some strong localisation from the Nyu Media team, it's still incredibly convoluted and nonsensical to the point of being obnoxiously obtuse, but also doesn't particularly matter. Again, like all SHMUPS, the plot is just an excuse to strap you into a ship and throw you cockpit-first into the fire.
Because the story makes no sense, we'll take a look at each of the three games in the order they were released as opposed to their place in the overarching canon.
Kamui is rightly hailed as one of the best PC SHMUPS ever developed, and that's basically because it is. Siter Skain clearly took inspiration from Raystorm's lock-on laser mechanics (not to mention visual style), then applied it to a much more thoughtful shooter that takes place on two different planes. You'll need to use your lock-on projectiles to damage foes on the lower plane, but save your energy to deploy a powerful beam of lightning when you run into larger combatants.
The controls are pixel perfect and precise to a micron; responsive and tight whether played on keyboard or controller. But Kamui's greatest strength lies in balance. Though as intense and difficult as you'd expect from the genre, a shield grants you more leeway than you'd typically expect, yet depetes your weapon power should you rely on it too much. Bosses are perfectly designed, offering a satisfying range tricky attack patterns to memorise, while incoming projectiles will push you to the limit without going into fully-fledged Danmaku mode. It's tough, fair and utterly gorgeous to boot thanks to the detailed sprite art - though looks pretty rough if you up the peephole resolution.
Kamui does have its downsides, however. It's intensely short, packing only a paltry six levels, and frame rate can be incredibly inconsistent depending on your exact hardware configuration and drivers. Having tested it on both ATI and NVIDIA graphics cards, I found that the action often stuttered on the former, but have been informed that running slightly older drivers will help.
RefleX offers another slice of retro-tough, reponsive SHMUP action with another welcome twist. Expanding on Kamui's shield, RefleX actually turns your fighter's defensive countermeasure into an offensive weapon, allowing you to absorb or even reflect incoming fire back at its source. Using this effectively while balancing the commensurate energy drain takes practice, so luckily you've got a few more levels to hone your skills on.
Of all three games, RefleX is the closest to a 'bullet hell' or 'danmaku' SHMUP, since your shield allows you to deflect much of the incoming fire. Expect some seriously complex waves of projectiles to weave through... or exploit, of course. Once again, gameplay is both twitchy and deep, requiring both fast fingers and a head for pattern recognition.
Once again, be aware that performance can be inconsistent depending on your hardware and drivers.
Well, technically third. As the most recent title in the series, ALLTYNEX Second benefits from true 3D visuals, along with a comprehensive range of resolutions. Comprehensive scoreboards and even a halfhearted attempt at achievements demonstrates the more modern approach to development, but thankfully the gameplay is still refreshingly authentic. The major new upgrade here is a short-range energy sword that adds a neat risk vs reward element to the proceedings, allowing you to cut capital ships and even bosses to pieces if you're willing to get close enough. It's also capable of deflecting some bullets, which as an absolute must since one hit will ruin your day. Another superb slice of shooting action, and much longer than Kamui to boot.
On the flip-side, I personally feel that the 3D graphics lack the detail and personality of the sprite-based forebears, though performance is solid and the action is delightfully precise.
All three games are practically essential fare for experienced genre fans, but it's worth pointing out that they're not a great gateway into SHMUPs. You'll ideally have already played Raystorm and other scrolling shooters to appreciate the subtle intricacies of the ALLTYNEX games, the inspirations behind their gameplay innovations and the ways in which they adapt and improve on existing mechanics. I rarely mark games down for niche appeal, but I feel I need to make it clear that you'll only get good value from the package if you're already au fait with the genre.
Speaking of value, that leads me to my only major beef with The Tale Of ALLTYNEX. The release of games like this is a major event for diehard fans, but Nyu Media arguably missed a trick by not making it feel like a deluxe collection. The three games just exist as separate entities, run from within separate folders on your hard drive. Ideally, a splash page or menu would have tied all three shooters together, while perhaps also including some interviews with the developers, a story breakdown, brief strategy/tips & tricks guide, wallpapers... just something to make it feel like a cohesive value-laden package. I appreciate that Kickstarter backers could pledge for a variety of rewards (including a... erm... let's just say pillow), but I can't help but feel that Nyu could make their output feel more like premium definitive editions going forward.
Then again, if you're in The Tale Of ALLTYNEX' target audience, you probably won't care.
- Three legendary indie SHMUPs in one package
- Impeccably responsive controls, native controller support as standard
- Beautiful at original resolutions
- Inconsistent performance heavily dependent on hardware and drivers
- Few new extras and features beyond some new rotation modes
- Nonsensical storyline (that doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things)
The Short Version: Experienced shoot 'em up veterans should jump at the chance to own three of the most accomplished doujin shooters on the market. Though Nyu could have offered more in terms of extra content, The Tale of ALLTYNEX is still a truly magnificent collection so long as you have the genre grounding to put it in context.