The recent trend of resurrecting long-discontinued shoot-em-up IPs, usually when the original developer shuffled their e-reel, is welcome. M2 revived AlestePlatinum Games has revived the crestsand now independent outfit Picorinne Soft – made up of brothers Ryo and Satto – has dared a sequel to Visco’s Andro Dunosa largely forgotten Neo Geo shoot-em-up inspired by 1992’s Hellfire.
Despite stellar work, Steam, Dreamcast, and Picorinne Soft’s recent Arcadia ex-A builds remain relatively underground. While Andro Dunos II carries over its ancestor’s ship and Hellfire-style weapon system, everything else is so improved and expanded that it bears little resemblance to the original game. It’s so different, in fact, that Visco’s IP looks like little more than a Trojan horse to gain more recognition. This, in the end, is a complete victory.
Anyone who grew up with arcade games will know within the first 30 seconds that something here is very on point. Your retro gaming faculties sing like a sixth sense, remembering falling dimes and cigarette burns from the control panel as Stage One’s wondrous inner space city, barricaded by steel walls and zipped skyscrapers, opens in front of you. Within minutes, you’re ascending beyond its confines to a scorched-earth wasteland that echoes Zoom’s more austere elements. Phalanx and that of Taito Black Metal.
From there, the creativity goes supernova, using almost every shoot-em-up convention you can think of, from attacks on moving tanks to an exciting mothership leader rush that unleashes a seemingly endless invention. fund. There are times when the maps pop up, showing you a route before running through the tunnels, which is no different than in the Mega Drive. Aero Blasters; elsewhere, shimmering interplanetary cityscapes line the background before plunging into laser-riddled techno-compounds. An ever-evolving sci-fi spectacle, it completely maintains its form on a reasonable difficulty curve from one searing moment to the next, pacing itself as it soars to new and more epic heights. Yes Gradient V was a 2D arcade game, it would probably be something like that.
Initially very easy – and all the more encouraging for it – it’s hard to overstate how precisely the brothers have captured the gameplay traits of yesteryear. Although visually a near-perfect facsimile of ’90s arcade software, the aesthetic is enhanced by an exemplary soundtrack from Briton Allister Brimble, who has been composing Amiga and Spectrum since his days. Its punchy, spatial themes get the adrenaline pumping with classic chords and evocative synth in a superior fusion of Eastern design ethos and Western musical composition.
your little orange Jetson-like craft, reminiscent of 50s future cars, comes with four standard weapons that can be used freely. “S” icons power up the weapon in use, gradually increasing its strength up to seven times. In case of death, conversely, the power of the weapon is reduced by a value of one. There are also missile and shield icons that boost the power of your secondary weapons and defensive options.
During gameplay, blue orbs dropped by destroyed enemies can be swept away before floating off-screen. Collecting all 30 orbs in a stage applies a total of three buffs during the interval between stages. While the mechanics seem straightforward at first glance, one quickly realizes that there’s a carefully structured economy at play that boasts a wealth of experimental freedom. This is expertly and accurately tied to the crafting of stages, their enemies, and their threats.
Picking the weapons that suit you best and focusing on powering them up is a common first instinct, though ultimately it’s a race to get your entire arsenal to the max as quickly as possible. This can be done in a variety of ways, from focusing on a single Precursor to spreading your upgrades evenly across all levels. Part of this is each weapon’s ability to become hyper-powerful in four unique expulsions, delivering a few seconds of intense firepower before dropping into a brief cooldown where your shot is temporarily reduced in power – a small penalty for otherwise unlimited use. To combat this, you can switch to one of the other three weapons instead, focusing on cycling your arms with the shoulder buttons.
Not only are each weapon unique – some fire behind, others boast power over range – but so are their hyper attributes. Learning to use the right weapon at the right time becomes essential from around stage five, with plenty of hyper attacks helping to take down threats from above and below, clearing occupied boss attacks, and even cancel incoming balls. Timing, of course, is key.
As you learn the first stages and their bosses, it’s extremely fun to strategize, snatch all those blue orbs, and take down giant enemies and popcorn fleets with your hypers. attacks. The controls are taut and tactile, and the horizontal format leaves plenty of room to breathe and maneuver. It’s great to juggle it all in tandem, unleashing hell on hordes of aliens to Brimble’s fantastic tapping themes.
The bosses are also particularly inventive, dwarf-impressive, with multiple destructible parts and a huge library of exciting attacks to navigate. Whether it’s taking on monstrous aquatic enemies or bombarding destroyers, there’s rarely a dull moment.
There are plenty of continuos available, but if you play it “correctly” you should really only use one. That said, the pursuit obviously allows you to reach the next stages and then add them to the training mode list: a very important feature to combat the increasing difficulty curve.
While Andros Dunos II resembles the long-lost magnificence of the arcade era, there are still some imperfections. It’s a bit heavy at ten stages, especially when bulletless shoot-em-ups usually top out at eight. It’s single player – so no team – and the lack of scanline filters is disappointing, especially in a game that looks and feels arcade-accurate. Elsewhere, being able to change or even disable random wallpapers would have been nice, and you can’t stretch the display either, but that’s probably for the best.
Worse is the inability to remap shoulder buttons, which hinders the ability to use different controllers. For example, with “L” and “R” permanently locked for weapon cycling, you might just find yourself doing finger gymnastics on an arcade stick, depending on its layout. It would be less of an issue if the weapon cycle wasn’t so integral and required such regular use, but as it stands it’s a small but rather limiting oversight.
Minor gripes aside, if someone told you that Andro Dunos II was a long-lost relic of a bygone era rather than a 2022 release – and a shining example of the genre with it – you honestly wouldn’t be wiser. To that end, it’ll probably be much more highly regarded 30 years from now than Visco’s original title.
Andro Dunos II is a resounding success. That a small indie developer can rub shoulders with M2 and Platinum and, honestly, with greater overall success, is always uplifting. What’s even more inspiring is how – despite the superficial IP – it manages to be so rigorously up to ’90s arcade standards, while still feeling breathtakingly original. Its craftsmanship, from weapon negotiations and experimentation to how each stage is cleverly constructed to facilitate a variety of approaches and playstyles, is top-notch. Andro Dunos II looks good, sounds good and plays great.