Under Defeat HD – Review
Under Defeat HD is a port of a little-known (outside of shoot ‘em up communities) vertically-scrolly shooter that previously emerged on the Sega Dreamcast, right at the end of the console’s commercial lifespan (it was originally a coin-op too). It wasn’t available over here but it gained some cult status anyway, mainly thanks to the fact that Dreamcast games were so easy to pirate, you’d think they were Somalian and was one of a late tranche of shooters that found a home on the doomed console (the most famous of which was the clever-but-dull Ikaragu). This somewhat unexpected port arrives on the Xbox 360 thanks to Rising Star Games, the wonderful publishers who keep releasing Cave shooters over here, and at a budget price to boot. It has already had an outing in Japan but this ‘deluxe’ edition adds all the DLC as well as an art book and soundtrack CD as well as an exclusive playable character.
Now, all vertical scrolling shooters need their ‘thing,’ something to set them apart from all the other games in the genre. Ikaruga had its black and white switch ‘em up mechanic, Guwange has the fantasy setting and familiars and Akai Katana was all about the intricate scoring mechanics. Under Defeat’s gimmick is that your helicopter can lean left and right, allowing you to target weak points on enemies that would otherwise be inaccessible. You also get to use an ‘option’ which, like in Nemesis, Gradius and R-Type, is an independent orb that shoots with you and comes in three flavours (machine gun, cannon and bomb). Beyond that, this is just another shoot ‘em up and that is where the game’s main failing lies.
You see, Under Defeat HD is really rather dull. From the setting, a generic mix of land and sea battlefield backdrops, to the enemies (planes, tanks, bigger planes, a couple of battleships and some bigger tanks), there’s nothing exciting to see here. After the bright, exciting visuals in Akai Katana, this seems just so muted. Worse than that though, it’s also visually confusing. Often your first indication of danger is when the game jarringly pauses for a second and your helicopter explodes. Firstly, why the fuck does it pause? Secondly, what fucking killed me.
The game loves to have sparkling, bullet-ricochet effects all over the place and with a screen full of firepower obscuring everything, you’d hope that the action would take that into account. Does it? Does it fuck. Some enemies will fire slow patterns of bullets vaguely in your direction, while others will fire unavoidably fast and accurate shots right at you, and if that doesn’t kill you, then some poorly-defined lucky shot will.
Luckily you are capable of dealing out some fairly chunky slabs of death too, and are aided by your support options, but therein lies another issue. There are three options and the machine gun one (the Vulcan) is useless. The cannon option is great during levels whereas you want the bomb version for bosses. Once you have one, it stays with you until you pick up another. Picking up the same one again doesn’t upgrade it, so aside from dodging bullets and enemies you also have to dodge loads of fucking unwanted options too. At one point I counted nine of the fucking things blocking my path. It’s shit like that that makes you question the game’s design, and these questions continue to mount up as you progress until you get to the joyless final boss, who seems initially indestructible, made worse by very little visual feedback to tell you what to do, and has screen filling laser attacks that come with very little warning. From behind.
Despite all these issues, I ploughed through the game on easy, normal and hard difficulties and there was some sense of progression as I did so. After beating Arcade mode, you can take on the Extra mode, which adds a little difficulty and makes the sky red for some reason. I’m assuming there’s a plot behind all this but the game just insists on throwing pictures of people too young to be pilots at you in typically Japanese fashion.
Aside from the regular port, the game also has the New Order mode which keeps the same level design, albeit mirrored for no discernable reason, but freshens up the graphics considerably. Whereas the original game is presented in a vertical aspect, with big fuck off chunks of screen real estate taken up by wallpaper, the HD mode uses the entire screen which looks better, helps a tad with the visibility problems, but ultimately squashes the action a bit too much, making some of those hard to avoid enemies even more tricky.
On the plus side, the Xbox 360 version of the game does allow for dual analog controls, which make leaning your helicopter a hell of a lot easier and more intuitive (Guwange had something similar and it was by far the best way to play that game) and despite the many issues, the game does offer a decent challenge (I could only beat it in four credits so getting that down to a 1CC is probably beyond me) but the uninspired setting, lack of real character and innovation and the fussy visuals relegate this to a rental or sub-£10 purchase at best.Pros
- Solid challenge
- Decent control options
- Surprisingly generous achievements
- The hi-def New Order mode is a nice, if unnecessary addition
- Uninspired levels and enemies
- Cluttered visuals
- Annoying widdly guitar soundtrack
- Lacking in any real character
- Occasionally unfair bullet patterns
Under Defeat HD has its place in history as one of the games that kept the Dreamcast alive just a little longer and offers some authentic Japanese shoot 'em up action to starved fans of the genre but there are so many better games out there that do this kind of thing with more invention and panache. Shoot 'em ups have come a long way since the days of 1943 and Flying Shark but G-Rev must have forgotten that when they put Under Defeat together.
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