Developed By: Digital Illusions/EA DICE (Originally), Strictly Limited Games (Final Release) Published By: ININ Games (Digitally), Strictly Limited Games (Phyiscally) Categories: Retro, Shooter Release Date: 06.23.20
In a recent trend of bringing cancelled games back from the depths of obscurity to modern consoles, we now have Ultracore. Ultracore, or as it was known originally “Hardcore” was developed by Digital Illusions, who may better be known now adays as EA DICE for a release on the Amiga, Sega Genesis, and Sega CD and nearly finished before it’s publisher Psygnosis pulled the plug at the last minute in 1994. In 2018, Strictly Limited Games announced that they would be finishing the game up to release it to the public after over two decades. It would finally see the light of day the following year on the Mega Sg, and then a year after that hit modern consoles such as the PS4, Vita, and the console the game is going to be reviewed on, the Nintendo Switch.
25 YEARS IN THE MAKING
The question that will immediately come to mind is whether or not the game holds up. The answer to that isn’t entirely clear for a variety of reasons. Ultracore is very European in it’s design, which can and will probably always be very divisive for players, there’s a certain trademark jank that seems to linger in games from Europe at the time. The good news is, as a run and gun shooter, the game does a admirable job. You shoot an automatic weapon at lots of robotic enemies and destroy them in a satisfying show of explosions. There is almost always something going on and for you to shoot at. While quite a few games in the run and gun genre take more from arcade games or Contra in particular with regards to health and dying in one hit, Ultacore thankfully has health points, which comes as a welcome companion to how chaotic the game can get at times. The game is full of secrets too, with hidden gun pickups and extra lives (which are even counted in the results screens after a level). If you’re looking for story, you’re probably not gonna get much. Ultracore immediately places you in the first level upon starting a new game and while you do get short cutscenes for exposition every now and then, you might not even notice or remember them while playing.
HARDCORE IS RIGHT
This is where I stop praising the gameplay. You have quite the variety when it comes to ammo types, but I could never actually see the difference in them outside of appearance and maybe speed. Stages can get rather big and maze-like and while that isn’t in itself the issue, maps you can look at at certain places often don’t help much if you are lost only showing the immediate surroundings. This relates itself to another issue the game has, it’s time limit. Isolated, it’s not an issue, as you’ll find time pickups in the levels, but combining this with deaths makes it one. The timer does not restart when you die. This becomes more of an issue when you might be stuck on a level, get to your final life, only for the timer to run out immediately after respawning, leading to a game over. Come Stage 3, I found myself getting bombarded by downright unfair situations. The game has shoddy platforming, which isn’t an issue during normal gameplay, but when you need to make precise jumps, it falls apart. Imagine, you’re tasked with having to jump on moving platforms over an insta death pit, combine this with pillars that will also instantly kill you if touched on the only solid ground. With the unforgiving time limit and setpieces like the previously mentioned, you get get parts of the game that aren’t fun. Even better, you have limited continues. At the very least, the game does have a password system and you are given passwords after each stage. Without this, I would find it very hard pressed to even remotely suggest people play the game.
As many other games that would release in 1994, the game is a looker. Sprites are quite nicely detailed and there’s a decent amount of variety with enemies and even bosses. Animation for everything is nice and smooth, which is pleasing to the eyes with the game’s equally smooth framerate. If there was one complaints, it’s that stages, while not bad looking, come off as very samey, you’ll see a lot of caverns. The game’s soundtrack is also rather good. It has that patented Genesis/MegaDrive sound heavy in drums, which if you’ve heard it, you’ll know what I’m talking about. While a lot of games, even Japanese made ones seems to not get the soundchip for the system, Digital Illusions knew what they were doing and really showed their understanding of it’s workings. On top of that, you can opt into using a synth soundtrack if you want, and I’d very much recommend that option too, it’s almost hard to say which I’d rather use. Unfortunately, the soundeffects, such as your gun overpower the music quite a bit and make it hard to hear. It’s definitely a soundtrack to listen to outside of playing the game.
I really want to like Ultracore. It plays well, it looks good, and I LOVE the music. However, I can’t get over how unfairly difficult the game seems to get at times, almost as if it doesn’t want people to enjoy the game, only waste their time. Something that is only made up by the inclusion of a code to skip levels. Ultracore at the end of the day is an important game and noteworthy in it’s existence of a lost, cancelled game and it’s developer’s hard work finally being showcased, but it also makes the same seem like more of a novelty than anything. There is admiration to keeping as accurate to the game’s original design when finishing it up, but some of the more antiquated parts of the game really do show their age and could very much be better left in the past.
Buy Now: $19.99 Digital – 29.99€ Physical
*Game Download Code supplied for review purposes