As a lifelong fan of shmups, I’ve played my fair share and come to the realization that it isn’t what initially catches your eye – the visual presentation – that counts as much the gameplay does. Fortunately for developer Studio Evil, it flies its most recent vessel, Syder Arcade with grace while excelling in both fields.
Syder Arcade’s strongest asset lies in its appearance, though its gameplay mechanics are nearly as lustrous. Throughout my trek across space, the framerate was consistent and the vivid explosions from enemy ships illuminated my screen with fluorescent colors. Vehicles and adversaries were all distinctly drawn, but at times I had a bit of difficulty discerning friend from foe, at least on the escort missions. Further adding to this confusion, was the fact that my weapons could also damage the vessel I was supposed to be guarding.
Upon loading the game I was also given the opportunity to select a very large number of filters to apply to the graphics that greatly changed the overall appearance of the game. I could select to have a cutting edge visual presentation from the current generation of gaming, while the next I could replicate it with a filter to replicate the look running the game on an Apple II or Commodore 64. The team clearly knew what they were doing when it came to designing the engine, and it shows.
Despite taking place in space, the missions offer quite a bit of variety in terms of objectives. The first mission simply had me taking out all of the enemies on screen, while future ones would have me escorting an enormous vessel through a hazardous asteroid field, brimming with explosive foes. My favorite situation had me bouncing back and forth to protect a fleet of ships for a set period of time. While I found this to be both difficult and stressful, it also translated into what was ultimately an exhilarating experience due to the pressure of time.
The objectives weren’t the only thing with variety either; each of the three ships offered a unique feel in terms of speed and maneuverability, as well as armament. The standard trade-offs are here, including sacrificing speed for armor, but your play style will dictate which ship works best for you. I found the S-116 Wasp, which rapidly fired a machine gun and used homing missiles as a special attack, to be my weapon of choice. The best defense is a good offense, and you’re going to need all that you can get, because the sheer number of foes and damaging explosions on screen at once will lead to many quick and unfair deaths. I struggled on the “tourist” difficulty, which drops the amount of damage you take to only 30% of what it would normally do, so I can only imagine what the alternative difficulty options would offer.
Enemies naturally drop power-ups, but it took me a bit to figure out what each pickup. This is pretty typical for the genre, and is only learned through trial and error. Speaking of which, it took quite a bit of it for me to resolve several mission objectives. On the third mission in particular, I was tasked with defending a fleet of ships. Two of them were destroyed almost immediately each time I played, but a final ship was off in the distance and seemed to be invulnerable to any attacks. I simply had to survive for the duration of the five minute timer.
The brutal difficulty of Syder Arcade may put many folks off from it, but those who are familiar with the genre should be no stranger to adversity. The lush visuals, distinct feel to each ship, and variety of missions bring a lot to the table, and make this a solid addition to any gamer’s diet.
Syder Arcade available now for $8 on various digital distribution marketplaces for the PC.