I always love to see a genre I’ve not experienced in years make a comeback. With a bit of polish and love, an old experience can be just as fun as it was back in the day, and when I saw the trailer for Habroxia 2 I was instantly transported back to my childhood playing games like Gradius and Earth Defense Force.
Habroxia 2 continues the tradition of side-scrolling shooters, a throwback to yesteryear, out for PS4, Vita, Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo Switch on February 3, 2021. The Switch version was played for this review.
Through Ancient Skies
The plot of Habroxia 2 is more or less in the background. If you leave it on the title screen for a while you have a tale of strange aliens attacking Free Space, the brave pilots who fought against them, and how only one of them managed to send an SOS, spurring their daughter to head after them. However… this story has little to do with what you get up to. There’s no further plot until the end of the game, and the areas and bosses are just essentially random things you come across during your journey.
What the game lacks in story, it makes up for in old-school gameplay. It is primarily a twin-stick shooter, allowing you to dodge around while continually firing in any direction. This only takes you so far however, and the real star of the show are the equippable special weapons.
You can equip a fore and aft weapon, they take a while to charge, and they do tremendous amounts of damage. You unlock new ones and upgrade existing ones each time you defeat a new boss, and by the end of the game you have a variety of different loadouts to support various playthroughs.
However, this system also results in one of my complaints about the game. As it goes on, your normal weapon lags behind quite a bit, to the point where you need to spend nearly all the time an enemy is on screen firing at it alone to destroy it before it goes. Or, you can use your special weapon to destroy a pack of enemies.
So, instead of a pure twin-stick shooter it’s more like a basic side-scrolling shooter with a weapon that takes a few seconds between shots. It’s possible to upgrade attributes between missions, including your basic shot’s power, speed, and spread, but this can take a prohibitive amount of grinding to do so, as in it’s faster to just beat the game relying mainly on special weapons than to keep it a twin-stick shooter.
If at First You Don’t Succeed
I adore the pixel art graphics, and the game manages to be quite readable even during high tense moments with bullets flying everywhere. The music also captures that nostalgic frenetic pace of the 90s.
Unfortunately, one aspect that kept pulling me out of the game was how often the tracks looped. They’re not terribly long, and to make matters worse a number of tracks have a short two-to-three second loop that goes on way too long before the rest of the song continues. Tracks that may have otherwise been enjoyable became tedious by the time I finished the game.
More Time in Drydock
It feels like someone put a lot of heart into Habroxia 2, but heart only goes so far. It’s a decent enough attempt at a side-scrolling shooter, but lacks the polish I’d expect from a game these days.
A bit more balance considerations, some more context for why you’re fighting the things you are, and some longer music tracks, and it would be an alright retro throwback. As it is, it’s a bit mediocre.
Review copy provided by EastAsiaSoft for Switch. Screenshots courtesy of EastAsiaSoft.