Demo Driver 8: Steam and Metal

For the rest of you, this piece exists.

Some of you will see this and instantly be “that’s my jam!” In that case, well, you’re welcome! Glad to help.

The nice part about top-down scrolling shooters like this is that even a short demo gives you a pretty good picture of what you’re going to be getting.  This is not a genre wherein there are big, hidden mysteries right around the corner.  I am flying a plane vertically, there are things to be shot, they will try to shoot me down, and so forth.  Dodge the stuff that hurts you and hurt the things that would otherwise kill you.

As a result, evaluating the game comes down chiefly to side elements and trying to pick out whether or not the game really delivers a novel enough experience to justify its price tag in the first place, something not helped by the fact that the game’s store page appears to have been handled by someone whose grasp of the English language is only slightly firmer than Kanye West’s grasp of social niceties.  Once you get past all of that, though, the game certainly seems to do its level best to deliver on its stated goals.  Whether you want those goals is another discussion.

The opening story sets up the narrative simply enough, although it contains far more dialogue than is even remotely necessary for a game in which you just fly a plane and shoot things.  You play Judith, the granddaughter of a scientist researching an engine for reasons, and you’re chasing after people who stole the research.  It’s a lot of hand-wringing and explaining to get to the point of “cute anime girl flying a plane to shoot down other planes,” which honestly could have been the plot summary right there.  Your target audience didn’t ask for much.

Spoiler: of course it does.

“I love you, cute anime granddaughter!”
“I love you too, science grandpa! I really hope that the fact that my face is on the front page doesn’t presage a terrible fate awaiting you in the near future!”

Comparisons to Touhou are likely inevitable, but they’ll not be made by me because I don’t honestly care.  The game is very much the standard top-down shooter fare.  You have two weapons, both locked in a forward firing line.  Destroying enemies rewards you with gears; collecting gears powers up your main gun, while your limited missile count serves as your big punch weapon with a big explosion around whatever it hits.  Unlike most games of the style, you actually do have a health bar and occasional health powerups to refill it, although it’s not much of a health bar.

What is a problem is that you don’t actually have any other powerups.  There are missiles to restock your supply and there are health pickups, but at least in the demo there are no options to change your attack from a straight shot and there’s no suggestion that the option exists elsewhere.  Which makes for a remarkably limited experience – no further upgrades, no incremental shifts, nothing.  Upgrading your main gun fully isn’t a terribly difficult task, either, since enemies shed gears like water even on normal.

I should note that technically the various power-up tiers for your main gun do add some spread, but you’re still firing in a straight line ahead of your plane.  The slight additional spread only gives you a minute amount of extra horizontal clearance, and the intent is that you will be aiming your additional projectiles at the same target.  More power on the same thing, in short.

All you have left, then, is the actual stage layout.  Which is… not bad, exactly, and the enemies are certainly nice-looking and fluid in motion.  But with only six stages listed on the level select, it doesn’t look to be a particularly long excursion.  After a single runthrough of the first stage I was able to reliably clear it in only a couple of minutes.  There were no segments that really jumped out at me as being novel, just stock pieces that I vaguely remember seeing in other games and in different configurations.

Not every game has to be Darius, but shouldn't that be a baseline rather than an aspiration?

It’s a solid idea, I just wish the designers had proven interested in, like, doing something with it.

It’s a pretty game, definitely, but the gameplay is very much based around intricate dodging and taking things down with your sharply limited arsenal.  Which kind of removes some of the fun of the game.  Having powerups or varied weapons to select from makes for a richer experience, and it’s the sort of thing that can really keep you playing a game for an extended period of time.  Part of the fun I had in Satazius was trying different loadouts, trading advantages and disadvantages as I experimented with the weapons available to me.  Here… there’s nothing.  Your only reason to go back through a stage is to get a higher score with a better knowledge of enemy patterns and more practice dodging.

Acceptable?  Yes.  But it’s light.  The lack of choice feels like it’s pretty limiting, and the fact that your limited-use punch weapons aren’t all that punchy makes the game feel a little thinner.

Of course, it’s also a cheap little indie game, so some of that is acceptable.  And my own dislike of things like score attack as a gameplay mode or philosophy (which I have already opined about) doesn’t make it an invalid style of play.  This is not by any means a bad game, and I cannot in good or even mediocre conscience say that if you buy it for its modest sticker price you will not be getting what you paid for.

What I will say, though, is that it suffers from being a remarkably thin top-down shooter from what I’ve seen in the demo.  It’s a solid and good game, but there was nothing that lit me on fire despite my well-known love for the genre.  I am absolutely certain that it would provide lots of fun as you made your way to the final boss and the end of the story, but it doesn’t seem to offer a whole lot more, and that makes the whole thing feel just a bit too thin.

Nice art, though.

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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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