Shoot ‘em-ups, or “schmups,” have always been a curiosity of mine, but the stress of cluttered, “bullet hell” style gameplay combined with exceedingly high difficulty pushed the genre into the corner of “Games I’d Rather Watch Someone Else Be Good At on YouTube,” stored away with rhythm games, insane Super Mario Maker levels, and Japanese arcade eccentricities. For such a storied genre, dating back to arcades in the 1980s, schmups always felt too inaccessible.
Fortunately, accessibility makes Super Galaxy Squadron EX, developed by Sysnet and an overhaul of last year’s well-received Super Galaxy Squadron, appealing. A plethora of difficulty options ensure newcomers won’t be overwhelmed, the pros have something tough to chew on, and those of you in between face a fair challenge. All three modes offer a large health pool, forgiving hit detection, and convenient checkpoints between levels and before boss battles. If all that sounds too easy for you, Hardcore mode switches off health drops and checkpoints, turning Super Galaxy Squadron EX back into one of those inaccessible schmups some people adore.
A simplistic design further lessens the burden for entry. Like most schmups, you control a single spacecraft as wave after wave of enemy fighters fire thousands of bullets your way. Super Galaxy Squadron EX rejects fancy mechanics that attempt innovation or reinvigoration of the genre, instead limiting the game to two buttons outside of the arrow keys: Z to fire both primary and secondary weapons, and Space to fire off a Hyper attack. The resulting gameplay feels enjoyably straightforward as you dodge projectiles, hold down the Z button for continuous fire, collect weapon powerups, and fire off the periodic super move. It’s all so streamlined I didn’t understand that secondary weapons fired automatically with the primary weapons for an embarrassing amount of time in light of all the fun I was having.
With such a simple approach, Sysnet walks a fine line between accessibility and a lack of longevity. As the Arcade campaign only features six levels, both beginners and veterans will clear it in a couple hours of frantic, intense schmup action. 14 different ships support many different play styles, but I quickly found the ship I enjoyed most–a sturdy, doughnut shaped vessel piloted by an alien of unknown origin, which fires off equally doughnut shaped projectiles–and stuck with it for most of my time with the game as I felt little need to replay with another craft.
An Endless mode and the original Super Galaxy Squadron come packaged with the Arcade mode. Sysnet promises to release a second Endless mode called Gauntlet at a later date, and the lack of it at the time of this writing is palpable. Zen, the remaining Endless mode, feels like a perfect fit for a handheld console. In Zen mode, you face endless waves of easily dispatched enemies while listening to relaxing chippy music. I’d love to bust out Zen mode on a long road trip or while on a train. And despite there not being much incentive to go back and play the original Super Galaxy Squadron, as it lacks the difficulty choices and plethora of visual flourishes, those who grew up with schmups in the 80s and 90s may find it nostalgic.
Impressive animated story sequences and voice acting present a campy, but rather thin narrative which pieces the entire game together along with a healthy amount of catchy chiptune beats. Humans are at war with aliens from Tau-Ceti, more or less, and it’s up to the 14 members of the Super Galaxy Squad to blow up thousands of them after a fragile peace breaks and another war heats up. While the narrative isn’t so important, this isn’t the kind of game where you want or care for a gripping story anyway. Really, you just want to blow up other ships while not getting blown up yourself. That said, there’s some impressive voice acting that managed to immerse me more than I otherwise would’ve been. I’ve heard much worse from bigger budget titles.
Super Galaxy Squadron EX succeeds most where it holds back. While in a couple places it holds back too much, namely in the short Arcade campaign and lack of the second Endless mode, I’m resistant to booting up the game again for another bout with the Tau-Ceti aliens on a higher, more punishing difficulty. However, because Super Galaxy Squadron EX utilizes such simple design and doesn’t force a steep difficulty onto the player, it’s the perfect entry point for anyone looking to delve into or back into the schmup genre without feeling overwhelmed.
Super Galaxy Squadron EX was developed by Sysnet and published by New Blood Interactive. It was released on on February 18, 2016, at the MSRP of $9.99. A copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of review.