Retro gaming seems to be an increasingly popular space, with developers making (or remaking) old games for a new generation. It's a great business model, as the brand name is already established and a lot of gamers that remember seeing the box in the back of Software Etc. or in the Sierra catalogs might see it and go "hey, I'd like to try that out."
Since the title was released worldwide on the PSN service, pretty much anybody can give it a whirl now. As part of the Square-Enix family, the formerly GameArts game Thexder Neo is an upgrade of the original which, in the USA, was only a PC release. In it, you pilot a little robot that's a cross between a design from Gundam and Macross, but what really matters is that you have a big cool robot you can transform at will and then shoot things with your targeting laser beam.
Fans should be so lucky as to have a game this straight-forward. You can move with the d-pad or the analog nub, and your moves include shooting, jumping, transforming, and a button for shields. The controls are astonishingly forgiving, as your jet-boosted feet give you a little bit of a kick when you jump or run quickly over a gap. Unlike other classic games which require tons of excess memorization in a bullet hell gauntlet which will kill you, the craft in Thexder Neo handle in such a way that you're not going to accidentally die. This is probably in part because of the fact that the game wasn't developed with sucking down quarters or 100-yen coins in mind, but rather, the personal computers of the world.
Explore and Kill
While going through the various levels of the game, which involve cybernetic mazes, muddy caverns of lava, and other cybernetic mazes, the player comes across numerous enemies which basically are a little less awesome than the playable character. Significantly less so, really, as some are just little orbs or circles rather than mini-spaceships. There are some walking robot drones which seem nifty, plus a couple of bosses at the end, but mostly your enemies look like the clay pigeons of the distant future.
Rather than simply go from left to right and kill things, you have to navigate corridors with all sorts of hidden power-ups, really tough barriers, and the occasional hidden bonus item. Would-be explorers will be able to track down bonus items to shoot which grant extra energy or a longer lifebar, and these come in the forms of flowers and little girls in kimonos.
Graphics & Sound
A 2.5D remake in visuals only, gamers should find quite a bit to like here thanks mostly to the strictly 2D gameplay. There's little reason for the game to rotate around the character or show off the fairly nifty level designs-- although when you finish a stage, it does rotate around the ship just a little to show you other angles of your playable craft. The textures and designs aren't going to be a mind-blowing experience for new fans, but everything is designed clearly so it's pretty obvious when you're dealing with an enemy, as these pop right off the backgrounds.
The music is a remix of retro themes that really do fit the whole let's-go-shoot-something run-and-gun feel of the game. The sound effects also fit the game nicely, providing all the laser blasts and explosions you could hope for here.
On the standard difficulty, this game is incredibly tough. Memorization, careful planning, and skill will be required to make a dent in the endless supply of drones and robots coming at you with everything you got.
Thankfully for the rest of us, there's an easy mode with continues and slightly easier enemies. It's not incredibly difficult to pound through the stages with the careful use of shields and lasers, and this is a good way to find out how to navigate the stages on the tougher mode should you try it. We managed to blast through the game on easy mode in under 18 hours, including sleeping and going out for food and stuff. It may be an ideal diversion on short plane flights or during a lunch break.
Is it worth buying?
If you saw the box art of the original PC game in the 1980s, or just like the idea of someone making a game with a transforming vehicle that basically works, this is it. Its simple, easy-to-figure-out gameplay does get bogged down in an intense difficulty level, so don't be afraid to try "easy" mode just so you can see more than the first couple of levels. It's quite a challenge, and would probably be great on other platforms like the Wii or Xbox 360. As portables go, it proves that the PSP is a great platform for old-fashioned 2D shooters. It provides all the fun you'd expect out of such a game, however with only 10 stages it's pretty easy to get through on "easy" mode, so player beware.
|TOUGH AS NAILS
There's absolutely $10 worth of game in here, but since it's a digital-only release, sadly, you can't rent it. It is worth trying out if you have the chance, and I see this as something I'll pick up every now and again when I just can't play Salamander or Parodius Da! again. Thexder Neo is a good addition to any old-school shooter fan's game stash.
Online modes were not tested for the purposes of this review.
October 12, 2009