Demo Driver 8: Satazius

The least you can do is politely attack by flying in that exact approach vector.

Considerate enemy armadas build ships that are designed to be dangerous from exactly one angle and utterly non-threatening in every other configuration.

It’s weird to see a game that’s specifically targeting your own nostalgia when, by and large, you steer clear of gaming nostalgia.  I’ve been playing video games for a long portion of my life, and I know that I’m not immune to the siren song of old loves, but I like to think I’m also aware of the fact that the past of video games is filled with missteps, bad decisions, and stuff that made sense at the time but not now.  My affection for the past is rarely within sight to be targeted at all.

And then, of course, I find a game that is a direct throwback to one of my longstanding loves, a shoot-’em-up in the mold of Gradius, Darius, and R-Type.  While the master genre never died, I’ve noted in the past that it’s tapered off into a steady stream of bullet hell shooters, which I have less affection for.  Satazius, by contrast, feels very much like a familiar variant on old tropes, so much so that I had to double-check that it isn’t a remake of something.  They found my one weakness.

If the above comparisons didn’t tip you off already, Satazius is a side-scrolling shooter in which you control a futuristic spacecraft that blows up when anything comes into contact with it whatsoever.  You knew that already.  Things fly on the screen and you have to shoot them.  Some of the things on the screen resemble spaceships, some of them are just vaguely mechanical greebles, but the goal is to shoot everything with such fervor that it’s sort of ridiculous for the game to even have a “Fire” button because you are never not shooting.

There was some Flash-based shooter that had its main weapon fire set to a toggle button, I believe, which was a bit of innovation that would have served this game well.

Between stages, you can choose between a variety of weapons.  Your ship has four weapons at its disposal – a primary weapon, two secondary weapons, and a charge weapon.  The latter is essentially the game’s smart bombs, but rather than being limited by picking up power-ups you just have to wait for the weapon to charge before unleashing hell on your enemies.  The secondary weapons both offer different characteristics than your main shot, like homing shots, spreads of missiles, bombs, that sort of thing.  You can swap between secondary weapons with a button tap, with the goal being to pick out secondaries that complement your playstyle effectively.

I know it's alphabet soup, I can't remember if it's just that.

Just an FYI, I cannot remember whether Satazius is the name of your ship, the enemy forces, or just alphabet soup.

All of these weapons are powered up by picking up little bits dropped by enemies, because of course they are.  The power gauge is reminiscent of a simpler version of G-Darius, with shots visibly powering up at certain intervals.  In a slightly irritating move, your sub-weapons must be selected to get the power pickups, which can be particularly annoying with sub-weapons that have a narrow band of utility; if they’re only really useful in situations that don’t feature power-ups, they’re going to lag behind.

Still, from a functional standpoint, the game combines elements of Axelay‘s between-stage swapping with a powerup system, which is fun enough.  There are also more weapon options unlocked as you progress through the stages.  In a move of kindness, at least on the difficulties available in the demo, dying does not immediately wipe out your powerups completely, so the classic hurdle of dying to a boss and then having to take it on again with firepower below what was inadequate the first time is sidestepped.  (I imagine higher difficulties wipe them out a bit more, but I could be wrong.)

But all of this comes at something of a price.  The game does everything it’s trying to do quite capably, and it does indeed feel like a nice slice of old-school familiarity.  The problem is that it doesn’t do anything else.

Obviously this is not a genre that generally prides itself on novelty.  Still, there’s nothing here that’s attempting in any way to expand the existing genre, to do something that hasn’t been done in side-scrolling shooters before now.  I’m as happy as anyone to have a return to form, but it’s a return to form that could easily be a contemporary with the many games that I’ve already listed in this piece, rather than a game coming out 14 years later from the most recent entry.

It beats another runthrough of a game I've played hundreds of times, I guess.

Same as it ever was.

None of this is helped by some annoying design choices that don’t even need to be there.  For example – you can continue, but your continue option doesn’t keep the weapons you selected the first time around, thereby meaning that unless you just clicked all of the default options you’re going to be kind of stuck.  You also only keep your powerups from previous stages so long as you don’t swap your weapons; unless there’s a way to maintain your unlocked weapons in the full version, this can easily lead to some of them becoming functionally unusable.

The game isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination.  I had a blast playing it, and it certainly felt familiar and fun.  Enemy patterns are solid, the weapon choice is a nice bone to gameplay customization, and everything is entirely functional.  If you really want a new game in this style, this is probably the best option you’ve got, barring something totally unexpected turning up like Gradius Rebirth.

Still, it’s a game marketing itself on nostalgia.  If you were wondering if I would change my tune for a game that’s specifically aiming at my nostalgia, the answer is a definite no.  The big draw here is that it’s an alternative to playing through familiar games for the hundredth time, but it doesn’t make the effort to distinguish itself from those spiritual contemporaries, nor is there anything in the game that takes advantage of the platform other than the option to save replays.  It’s a solid entry, but at its heart it’s just another game appealing to what you already know and like.

If you like side-scrolling shooters, it’s a solid offering at $6.  But don’t expect anything you haven’t seen before.

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About expostninja

I've been playing video games and MMOs for years, I read a great deal of design articles, and I work for a news site. This, of course, means that I want to spend more time talking about them. I am not a ninja.

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