Years after the utter disappearance of the arcade scene has brought with it a reprisal of many familiar success stories. Last year, the good people at Puppy Games and Curve Digital served us Titan Attacks!, a cartoonified take on the arcade classic Space Invaders. Their follow-up title, Ultratron, is another fresh glimpse at old school twin stick shooter action. Over the last year, the industry has seen a noticeable uptick of re-introducing the world to older titles to cash in on nostalgia. With so many available, have games like Ultratron done enough to prevent themselves from being written off as nothing more than a rehash? Perhaps a deeper look is necessary to find the answers.
Close your eyes momentarily and envision a common raspberry. How does it make you feel? What thoughts does such a fruit conjure up and how exactly is it relevant to this review? For starters, raspberries are quite small. They require certain seasonal conditions. Raspberries are good for you, but you certainly wouldn’t eat an entire basket for lunch. Could you imagine the overwhelming tartness of such an ordeal? I’d rather not. Indeed, raspberries are presented in a diminutive package, which helps explain why they are so good in small doses.
It’s quickly becoming evident that old games aren’t going anywhere. You will always be able to find an experience from your childhood if you look hard enough. Between remasters, HD collections, and definitive editions there are no shortage of “retro” experiences. And Ultratron gets it. On the surface, Ultratron looks like your standard arcade fare. It’s main chunk of four bosses are separated by ten levels and you can quickly go from the first to thirtieth in short time. Yet Ultratron does well to (much like the raspberry bush) stay slightly off the beaten path. Challenge stages and bonus items be damned, Ultratron’s surprising level of depth comes from it’s variety AFTER each level, whereupon you'll find a a bevy of upgradable systems and stats in the shop. The multitude of options will dictate how you go about your next level, and are a rock solid system of checks and balances. Low on health? You could bulk up on your non-replenishing shield, or press your luck with a damage upgrade. Feel like investing in a small fleet of friendly pet drones or would you prefer to try your luck with speed? EMPs and grenades or a magnet for drawing in more currency? Every choice has it’s benefit and detriment, and it is all a reward if you are capable of finishing a level without taking much damage. My first play through felt like a struggle to stay afloat. When I reached the fourth boss on my second pass, I had a considerably stronger arsenal and a much different tact to approaching each battle. Despite there being only four bosses to face off against, Ultratron will continue to toss levels and increasing challenges at you. Rewarding high score chasers and perfectionists along the way.
One of the many reasons people seem to like raspberries are their taste. It’s a sweet, sour, and slightly bitter morsel. Soft enough to melt away on your tongue, yet gritty with small seedlings that linger evermore. I like Ultratron for many of the same reasons. The taste is a delightfully cutesy art style, flashy color, pumping sound, and subdued notes of robotic threats. It’s texture is easy enough for a beginner to pick up and enjoy, but also complex in profile for those who’d rather sit and savor. Unlike raspberries, Ultratron will kill you repeatedly. Providing unforeseen challenge and strategy in it’s twitchy action that stands the test of time as your fruit-based analogy slowly starts to unravel.
None of this is to say Ultratron is without it’s bitter moments. There are frequent times in Ultratron where I was utterly incapable of keeping up with all the action on the screen. Colors blurred together. I would often glance upward to see I had lost a considerable amount of my shield and everything was soon fucked thereafter. These problems seem worsened by my limited time playing co-op, but not wholly unenjoyable. Thankfully, Ultratron does it’s best to alleviate these woes by offering (seedless rasperberries?) the ability to turn off several potentially distracting visual effects. This may not help you when facing an Assault stage, but time and honed reflexes will get you far.
Ultimately, Ultratron’s gameplay is a balancing act of defense, offense, and resource management. I came to appreciate it more and more as the game wore on. Nearly every purchasable item can be strengthened, right down to friendly drone A.I. Ultratron provides enough challenge, reward, and discovery to be played over and over again. Everything taken into account, I give Ultratron a Coolguy Jones on the Game Awry Review Scale. If you’re looking for a smart choice in the perennial crop of newly released throwbacks, look no further than Ultratron. It’s quite the raspberry, after all. - Brian Garthoff