With the sad news that we are soon to say goodbye to Nyu Media, a group that was instrumental in getting the Japanese doujin game scene noticed and accepted in the west, I thought it probably about time that I checked out some of the company’s back catalogue. A lot of it I’m already familiar with, but some of it I’d never gotten around to trying — and SITER SKAIN’s well-regarded shoot ’em up ALLTYNEX Second, part of the Tale of ALLTYNEX series, is one of those that fall into the latter category.
Well, there’s no time like the present to educate oneself on something you’ve missed out on up until now, is there? So it was that I plopped down my five-and-a-bit quid on Steam, downloaded ALLTYNEX Second and then proceeded to have a thoroughly lovely time. And I recommend you do, too.
If you’re wondering why the first game in the ALLTYNEX series is called ALLTYNEX Second, it’s because ALLTYNEX Second is actually a remake of an earlier game simply called ALLTYNEX, originally released by a precursor to Siter Skain for the FM Towns Japanese home computer in 1997. Just to confuse matters further, ALLTYNEX Second’s 2010 release date makes it the most recent game to be developed by SITER SKAIN, despite being the first entry in the Tale of ALLTYNEX trilogy narratively speaking.
Got all that? It doesn’t really matter; all you need to know is that SITER SKAIN makes excellent shoot ’em ups — that, to date, have remained PC exclusive — and ALLTYNEX Second is a prime example of this that will particularly appeal to fans of polygonal “cinematic shoot ’em ups” such as Astebreed and Eschatos.
In ALLTYNEX Second, the titular supercomputer — an obligatory inclusion in at least 85% of spaceship shooters — has gone bonkers and launched an all-out attack on planet Earth, obliterating the vast majority of the population. The survivors retreated to the outer reaches of the solar system and decided that continuing to die off due to harsh conditions wasn’t the best way to ensure the continued existence of the human race. As such, it’s up to the inevitable lone pilot — that’s you, that is — to fly right into the thick of ALLTYNEX’s forces, blow the crap out of them and reclaim the Earth for its people.
ALLTYNEX Second has some interesting mechanics that are easy to pick up. Holding down the first of two main buttons fires your main shot, which gradually increases in power automatically as an on-screen energy gauge continues to rise and level up. The second, meanwhile, switches your ship into a slower “armour mode” and allows it to attack with blades from close range. There’s also a special weapon that can be used in different ways according to whether you fire it with your ship in its regular mode or armoured mode, and this consumes the energy gauge in exchange for its significant power.
Like other games with similar mechanics — the aforementioned Astebreed is a good example — you can likely survive most of the way through ALLTYNEX Second relying simply on the basic shot if you just want to learn the enemy patterns and get a good feel for the game. The other mechanics — particularly the blade attack — are primarily there to add some interesting depth to the scoring system, though they do offer some compelling additional benefits such as the ability to cancel certain types of bullet.
Essentially, the flow of gameplay in ALLTYNEX Second sees you destroying popcorn enemies to gradually build up a multiplier meter, then making use of the blade attack to “cash in” that multiplier with higher-value, stronger targets. This sense of rhythm even applies to boss battles, which tend to feature noticeable lulls in their attack patterns that are clearly intended for you to whizz in, smack your opponent around the face a bit with your blades, then zip back out to optimal dodging range.
It takes a little getting used to if you’re accustomed to simpler spray-and-pray action, but it does feel rewarding and satisfying when you successfully rack up big points with the maximum possible multiplier. The fact that the blade and special weapon mechanics completely replace the use of bombs also gives the game a markedly distinct feel, encouraging you to play aggressively rather than being too defensive.
Indeed, the game’s brief tutorial notes that while the blade can be used to cancel bullets, eventually there will be so many enemies on screen that even your most enthusiastic wafting won’t keep you safe — the best defence here really is to blow up the things shooting at you.
In terms of difficulty, ALLTYNEX Second covers a good range of ability levels. The Easy mode still presents a stiff challenge for newcomers and highlights how important it is to carefully observe your surroundings rather than flailing around blindly, but takes a bit of the pressure off by making some enemy bullets shootable. At the other end of the spectrum, an alternative player ship makes handling the game a little more challenging — and an unlockable difficulty unlocked after clearing the game on its Hard mode introduces suicide bullets to the mix, making for even more intense bullet patterns to dodge.
Presentation-wise, ALLTYNEX Second is good, though you have to bear in mind this game is a 12 year old doujin title at this point. The polygonal models used are fairly simple, but they move at a super-smooth 60 frames per second even on modest hardware, and the visuals are supported by heavy use of post-processing special effects such as motion blur. The backgrounds are brilliantly choreographed to take you on a thrilling rollercoaster ride that tells a wordless story as you proceed. And the thumping soundtrack is an excellent accompaniment to the action. The game, on the whole, has a very consistent, professional feel to it.
In summary then, despite ALLTYNEX Second’s age, this is still a solid investment for any shoot ’em up fans looking for something new to try — and if you already own it and haven’t had a blast on it for a while, now’s the perfect time to fire it up and see if you’ve still got what it takes. SITER SKAIN’s work is consistently regarded in shoot ’em up enthusiast circles as being of very high quality, and while ALLTYNEX Second isn’t their very top-rated title — that honour seems to be commonly agreed as going to ALLTYNEX follow-up Kamui — it’s definitely a very strong game.
Exactly what the closure of Nyu Media means for ALLTYNEX Second isn’t entirely clear as yet, but the rights for the game will be reverting to SITER SKAIN themselves, and it looks likely that it will still be available on Steam after Nyu closes its doors. At this point, console releases are looking very unlikely — though stranger things have happened in the shoot ’em up space. If you want to be on the safe side, though, grab yourself a copy for PC today!
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