Publisher: Nyu Media
Release Date: Out Now
If you're a fan of shoot 'em up games then you might feel quite catered to these days. While the genre has always had some important presence in the west, it seems that lately more and more titles, both retail and digital, are popping up to satisfy fans. Nyu Media's latest addition to their catalog is Ether Vapor Remaster and it's an arcade shooter through and through. Developed by doujin company Edelweiss, it checks all the boxes needed to make a competent shooter. Did they manage to create something truly notable though or did they just assemble a soulless regurgitation of genre tropes? Read on to see where exactly the game fits.
Ether Vapor Remaster has a story, but overall it's a simple affair. If you're expecting to see something like Sine Mora's philosophical waxing then you'll be disappointed. Considering how many of these games don't come with intense stories though it doesn't feel like much of a fault. If anything, it's a bit amusing at times when lines seem strange. It may seem nice that the developers tried to create a fully fleshed out game but it may have been better to just nix the idea all together. At the very least, the story isn't a massive hindrance, just a small blemish - especially since you can turn story text off completely if you want.
Looking at the actual gameplay you'll quickly find this is a divergent title. For example, most games in the genre will focus on one perspective while playing: horizontal, vertical, or 2.5D. Instead of settling on any of these orientations the game presents you with all of them. No, not at once, but throughout the various scenes the camera will often pan out or tilt into a different one. This doesn't happen at random but at specific points during your travel. Even though it only happens at certain times, it is extremely jarring at times. To have the camera switch angles in the middle of an intense fight can totally throw you off, and probably will the first (and maybe second) time through. After a while you'll get used to it, and it's an interesting design choice, but it may not be the best one. If nothing else, it helps distinguish this game from the myriad of others.
As soon as you jump into the firefights you will have to quickly acquaint yourself with the three main firing types. First, there's the "gatling" shot which shoots a volley of bullets straight in front of your ship. After that there is the "winder" shot which shoots bullets diagonally from your ship, helping you reach enemies that aren't directly in front of you. Finally there's the "lock-on" which, as expected, locks onto opponents. Each of these shots can be charged for stronger versions. Unfortunately, there are not power ups or specials to collect as you play through levels.
Aside from the camera, it seems like mostly a standard game. However, that's not fair to say just yet as Ether Vapor Remaster does have a bit more to show for itself. It does so in its presentation of gameplay. As long as you can handle the movements of the camera the game treats players to some interesting on screen visuals. Sometimes bosses will fly around in the foreground or background, which means you can't shoot them with just a standard shot. Locking on will get those lurking off the "main" screen but that's not the neat part. Seeing mechs zoom around all planes of the screen is pretty fun to watch and makes it feel like you're in much greater danger. When they stick out of your reach and spew laser shots at you in 2.5D it becomes more intense.
There was certainly a lot of thought put into making the game seem dynamic. Some enemies have specific patterns which dodge in and out of your reach and certain attacks are downright brutal. Sometimes though it artificially raises the game's difficulty. Judging exactly where a laser wall is coming from in 2.5D is pretty weird. Having an enemy flying around while you're stuck in a sidescrolling plain toss bullets at you is also often weird. Where are they falling? It's tough to tell at times, although thankfully this isn't the bulk of the game. Still, there are instances like this which required multiple playthroughs simply because it was hard to judge where the safe zones were.
There are seven stages in the game and that's a pretty typical amount for this type of game. Beyond having a simple boss at the end of each stage though there are also little shooting segments in the middle. These don't particularly rely on skill but help you rank up your points. The segments basically launch a load of rockets at you and you lock on and shoot down as many as possible. These moments, despite being in 2.5D quite often, didn't cause the same stresses as some boss battles did. Because of this, it made me wonder why they couldn't have kept this working visual design for other parts of the game? Well, at least this will prove to be a helpful example for Edelweiss' next game.
Overall the game takes about 30 minutes to complete if you can work through it perfectly. For most, you'll probably have to play some stages a handful of times before being able to beat them. The game isn't hugely difficult, but still offers a challenge for a wide range of players. You can't change the number of credits - it's fixed at two. However, you can change how many points you must accumulate to refill the ship's shield. Between those options and stages that are about 8 minutes, even novice players should be able to beat the game if they're persistent enough.
So where does this game fall on the spectrum of shoot 'em ups? It is something that was obviously produced with love by the developers but it isn't the best example of the genre. The graphics are nicely updated "Remastered" from the original Ether Vapor, but still look mostly PS2 era. Any fan would probably tell you that graphics aren't important to shooters, and they aren't, but it may put someone off. Backgrounds are nice and scroll by fast to create a great illusion of speed but they're not too creative themselves. Skies, cityscapes, and hidden bases are about as creative as it gets. Bosses often look like typical mecha characters, although the end boss is quite creative.
It's hard to say that Ether Vapor Remaster isn't an excellent game because you can tell that the developers adore the genre. Still, despite their love they seem to have made some mistakes in creating their own game. The camera changes are sometimes jarring, it can be hard to tell where bullets fall, and overall the production could still use more tuning up. Fans of the genre will enjoy the game though, and at $8 it becomes much easier to overlook the issues. Overall, don't expect the most amazing shooter you've ever played, but it's competent and is a most pleasant ride.
+ Solid shooting mechanics
+ Bosses exhibit a variety of attack styles
+ Good difficulty for many players
- Camera changes can be disorienting
- Sometimes hard to tell where bullets are
- Uninspired enemy design
Overall: 5 (out of 10)
Fans of the shoot 'em up genre will enjoy Ether Vapor Remaster as an inexpensive burst of fun.