Should’ve stayed buried
Platform: Nintendo Switch, PS4 (Reviewed) and PS Vita
Developer: Digital Illusions
Publisher: Strictly Limited Games
Release date: Out Now
tl;dr: Another Contra clone
Price: £18 / $23
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Developed by Digital Illusions, Ultracore, originally known as Hardcore, was first set to release years ago for Amiga, Sega Genesis, and Sega CD until the publisher canned the project. The nearly completed project was saved by Strictly Limited Games in 2019 and subsequently released in June 2020, though Japanese players have been able to procure a fully functional SEGA Genesis/Megadrive cart for the game since October 2019. The game is now available for Nintendo Switch and PS4 with a PS Vita port still planned.
Ultracore is a 2D run n’ gun platformer akin to the Contra series where you have to kill everything in your way with small Metroidvania-like features. Additional firepower can be obtained in specific boxes peppered throughout the game which can be switched out at any time; as long as your secondary weapon has ammo. Your default weapon has unlimited bullets, however, so you have that to rely on.
The game’s first problem is a double-edged sword. While it is greatly useful to be able to fire in as many directions as possible in a run n’ gun game, Ultracore’s mechanic is clunky, restrictive and frustrating. If you hold down the attack button *before* moving, you won’t be able to move. You’ll only be able to move and fire simultaneously if you press the direction you’re going before shooting.
Additionally, you can’t turn around while shooting either. When moving and shooting, it locks your character in the direction you’re moving. You’ll be able to shoot forward, diagonally up and down, but if you want to shoot behind you, you’ll need to stop shooting, turn around and shoot. This is a really counter-intuitive way of doing things. Considering the number of buttons on today’s gaming controllers and the fact that they mapped a bomb to a shoulder button, there’s no excuse to not have mapped a shoulder button specifically to help you shoot in a specific direction à la Contra: Shattered Soldier. And if you’re teetering on a ledge, the character looks like he’s humping the air and you lose control as to where you’re shooting.
The game’s Metroidvania-like features are pretty generic; if you see a cracked wall or ground, you can shoot it to either discover hidden rooms or coins. There’s also needless back and forth where you’ll either need to find a switch to activate a platform or a key card to open a door. While back-tracking was “hip” back in the day; today? Not so much.
Collecting coins is a bit of importance here as it allows you to get extra lives. Through hidden spots, you’ll also find a time extender, ammo for your secondary weapons, weapon upgrades, extra lives and extra bombs so exploring is worth it, but as you play, you’ll rather blaze through each level than take your time.
Another hindrance here is that the game relies on an archaic password system. Yes, back in the 1990s, passwords were all the rage; people successfully killing a few robot masters in Mega Man 2 hurried up to scribble down the password so they could pick up where they left off. While I love this little nod to the past, Ultracore’s passwords are a bit too long and considering the lack of save system, if you miss the password, you’re screwed and have to start over. Maybe adding a feature that stores the password in the Options settings would’ve been a lifesaver for present players.
Ultracore’s level design is pretty bland. While I get this was supposed to release in the mid-1990s, I’m baffled that the developers didn’t take any additional time to give the game a bit more “life”. Levels are overly gray/dark, drab, and boring. Enemy design is fine but nothing really special. The original soundtrack is one of the most ear-grating, annoying 16-bit scores I’ve ever heard. Honestly, some high pitch bits will make your ears bleed. Thankfully, you can enable the newly created Synthwave soundtrack and turn off those annoying SFX.
Ultracore is definitely the most archaic, poorly designed and clunky run n’ gun I’ve ever played. While I completely understand its backstory, I believe this game should’ve remained binned or at the very least properly tweaked for modern gaming. Archaic password system, cumbersome movements, boring level design, everything about this game is bad considering the other, much better alternatives of the genre. This might’ve been OK in the 1990’s but considering the progress made since then, Ultracore is an easy pass. It’s easy to see why the original publisher, Psygnosis, put this in the bin.
- Decent weapon variety
- Great new soundtrack
- Archaic password system
- Clunky and restrictive shooting/movement
Ultracore is rated E10+ and PEGI7 due to the presence of blood and mild violence.
This review is based on a review copy of the game provided by the publisher