ould you remember a time when games were hard? Sure, the 8-bit era or even the onset of the 16-bit generation would fit the bill, but I’m talking difficult here, like “Hey mom can you give me another dollar’s worth of quarters” hard; aren’t too many you may who care to remember those moments now is there.
Sure, titles like Super Meat Boy have written the love letter to the demanding skill and frustration of video games, but generally most of these messages romanticize all of the aspects of pleasure that deride from the teeth grinding challenge of video games, and never any of the horse shit that comes along with it. The question is how could both sides of this coin be faithfully represented for both the purist, and masochist?
Last Dimension steps in with Ultionus: A Tale of Petty Revenge as their answer and while it may not appeal to everyone in both of those groups, it’s the best one I’ve seen yet to come close to being that answer.
The idea of modernizing traditional dynamics in line with criteria that caters to current generation of gamers and still manage to appease the vets is still a daunting task, but where Last Dimension succeeds with the right amount of pacing and how it’s packaged. The second the boot up screen appears, Ultionus delivers on all of the smallest details beyond simple aesthetic to carry the sort of impression it intends to give, and the attention is remarkable.
The screen effects do an excellent job of emulating the effects of the past tech without all of the flaws that normally came with them. The subtleties of raster resolution that accurately homage the pixel detail of action coin-op arcades of the nineties to the scan-line effects that render them on screen, the skips between frames and animation genuinely sell this deceptive notion that the title was an overlooked beauty of the past.
The narrative carrying this deliberate presentation is equally ridiculous in terms of balancing out moments of tongue-in-cheek fan service conveyed through sincerest of details that range anywhere from humble nods to ostensible allusions that will entertain beyond Ultionus’ nineties soaked roots. Players take command of Serena, a sultry space heroine jettisoning through space after another successful mission of saving the galaxy; relishing in her victory on Spacebook (I can’t make this stuff up y’all) her online celebration is ruined by the misogynist trolling of the evil Space prince, so naturally, she’s off to discipline some sense into him. It’s the kind of plot that would fit right in with Adult Swim’s Robot Chicken, with all of the same biting yet offensive kind of humor you’d come to expect with rather effective results.
How about the game though like the fundamental core of gameplay and its supporting mechanics? Well, imagine it like the “Dark Souls” of side-scrolling run ‘n gun shooters for without the unnerving difficulty curve. Serena’s 2D adventure does a great job of not only demanding skill but also rewarding it if players decide to lay all of their chips on the table.
Once the galactic huntress lands, she’ll start off with nothing but the ability to jump along with earning a meager blaster shot not too long after, and players will be given the choice of how they choose to advance Serena from there. Every stage is designed with twisting routes that all funnel to the same end, but depending on the route that you choose, player can trigger the opportunity of finding a key that will allow them upgrade themselves either offensively or defensively—because you can’t have both. While the concept of micromanaging specific augmentations that are exhaustible isn’t the most ideal dynamic to challenge its players, the subtle quirks within stage design and how it responds to different play styles is where the fun glows its brightest.
Finding the right path to the shop isn’t the challenge, as you’ll need to earn cash by defeating the full supply of foes thrown at you in your travels and they’re relentless (zoning respawns and all.) The nearly infinite onslaught of hazards and enemies around every inch of the screen can be taken on either way players decide to play be it defensive or offensive but no way is easier than the other is. How the game flows liberally depends on what players input into it, and in spite of very few areas that can only be conquered through trial and error, the difficulty will never feel punishing because of it’s difficulty, but because of what you genuinely did wrong. This all attributed to vital components like the controls, which are razor sharp, as Serena can stop on a dime and maneuver through the air with sensible platforming physics composed of accessibility and complexity, and stage design that brilliantly telegraphs it’s secrets to the discerning eye that scans it.
While the game length is pretty short for its ten dollar admission, the amount of secrets, routes, and play styles to experiment with allow for a high replay for that old-school sense of score chasing and speed running. Ultimately, the crass humor may not appeal to everyone, the sharp design and challenge that’s found in Ultionus will strike some kind of chord with anyone who initially play it and nostalgia withstanding, those who give it a chance, will discover a title that remains faithful to the experience that it sets out to be.