Remember the shoot 'em up genre? RefleX will make you remember.

By Daavpuke, Posted 12 Apr 2014

Despite the shoot ‘em up genre, now known as shmup, being as old as gaming itself, games like RefleX still release periodically in the same state as ever. It may have dated gameplay and visuals, but thrilling action is timeless and that still lives in this hectic blaster. While it’s too chaotic for its own good, its combined elements do strike awe in these brief rounds of pure torture.

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If there’s a story, it’s completely irrelevant to whatever’s happening. Pixels explode everywhere; priorities need to be made. Aside from standard, detailed pixel models, stages are also made up of shifting panels. For instance, a level may have a sea background, while ships fly overhead or giant metal constructions move their way into the field. These may also change direction from time to time, creating an illusion of depth with moving panels, like old Final Fantasy overworld maps.

Newer design touches are lightly applied, mostly for bright gun fire and accompanying hazes. Explosions and other effects keep retain a more traditional pixel style. This comes with similarly crunchy sound effects, even if they can be a little repetitive. There’s too much moving at once to really pay attention to that sort of detail anyway.

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RefleX puts its name to the test from the start. Enemies come from all sides, often shooting salvos of beams, bullets and so on. Before long, both foes and their ammo will fill up the entire screen and only maneuvering diligently through narrow gaps ensures survival. This is what’s called the “bullet hell” sub-genre of the shmup category. There’s rarely any breathing room that doesn’t require some sort of immediate reaction. Either move or shoot; whatever gets things out of the way.

Aside from just a giant stream of bullets, however, RefleX also has a shield that intertwines with firing. By using the shield, a gauge is depleted and that also affects just how powerful shooting is. Once the blocking bar is  exhausted, the whole ammunition thing also starts to dwindle, simmering where it should be gushing. Therefore it’s necessary to give warding a rest and just evade.

Moreover, RefleX only allows the player ship to either use the ammo stream or the shield, but not both at once. So, going on defense only fills up the screen even more and trying to clear it by shooting leaves the ship vulnerable. This fine balance really is the selling point of the game. Trying to ride between protection and destruction is as tense as it gets. In the span of a second, it’s completely possible to switch between both numerous times to escape the oncoming storm.

As an added plus, the shield isn’t just used for not getting hit; it also deflects certain types of bullets back to the enemy. By using that mechanism, RefleX adds another tactical layer, which makes the decision to buffer become more titillating, but at the risk of emptying it. Bouncing ammo can be the only way to destroy a large horde, but that really takes its toll on the bar’s power. Decisions are hard-fought in RefleX.

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Shield deflection is a tight design to juggle.

Certainly during boss fights, which occur twice in most stages, it’s important to judge whether to fire or hide. As the supreme challenges often hold some sort of giant barrage of threats, not touching the gauge too much can make all the difference.  It may suddenly be gone in a flash and that’s not a good spot to be in during a boss battle.

There is some leniency in RefleX when it comes to ship health, but errors are quickly made. It’s possible to get hit half a dozen of times before reaching the Game Over screen. Playing multiple times and progressing further in levels also yields more Continue options upon failure. They’ll likely be necessary as some bigger foes can feel rather cheap. Sometimes, the working space is only an inch wide and even that gets pelted with threats. When a gap closes completely, not even the shield can help. While regular grunts won’t normally make this happen too quickly, the head honchos definitely have some of these pincer moves that will require trial and error to memorize patterns.

Worse than just the added difficulty in RefleX, however, it’s the visual style’s limitations that backfire on the action. As the screen quickly fills with color-coded bullets, having constant explosions and markers or other congestions can hide important info. It’s damn frustrating not to see a bullet or an enemy because everything is always getting blown to pieces. Again, this shooter takes no prisoners, so its uncompromising state shouldn’t be left to cluttered screens. It’s organic challenge rating is the thing to overcome, not trying to see through the smoke clouds. Nostalgia can only go so far.

RefleX,PC,Steam,Review,Shoot Em Up,Screenshot,Gameplay

Barring a few aesthetic issues that obstruct gameplay and some cheap moves, RefleX is one intense ride. It looks and controls just like a traditional shoot ‘em up, but with the bullet hell madness of having to weave through a full field of ships, bombs and lasers at all times. By cleverly doubling up on its dynamic of guarding and gunning, it also provides a more tactical design, based on choosing the right option at the right time. Even with just two buttons, however, it’s going to require a ton of finger finesse.

Daav Valentaten, NoobFeed (@Daavpuke)

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General Information



Platform(s): PC
Publisher(s): Nyu Media
Developer(s): SITER SKAIN
Genres: Shoot-'Em-Up
Themes: Vertical Scrolling Arcade Shooting
Release Date: 2014-03-27

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