Following on from last week’s look at ALLTYNEX Second, the first in the series of The Tale of ALLTYNEX games — because why wouldn’t you call the first one “Second”? — today we take a look at the second one, RefleX.
Canonically, this one unfolds years after the previous game, and casts you in the role of a resistance fighter battling against both worldwide oppression and an invading alien force seeking retribution for past atrocities committed against them. As always, none of this matters in the slightest once you start playing, but it is at least nice to know a bit of context before you start blasting.
In contrast with ALLTYNEX Second’s polygonal visuals, RefleX is designed primarily as a 2D game and consequently won’t run full-screen at anything higher than the 4:3 1280×960 resolution. Assuming your TV or monitor doesn’t apply excessive blurring or filtering to non-HD resolutions, it still looks great and runs super-smoothly — just remember to turn off widescreen stretching and play in the original 4:3 aspect ratio for the best look and feel.
Despite being composed mostly of 2D graphics instead of polygonal 3D, RefleX is still designed in a very cinematic fashion. The progression of environments you fight your way through as you proceed through the stages is near-seamless, and tells a wordless story on the way.
Notably, although the game unfolds as a vertical scroller, the backgrounds aren’t constrained to only progressing in a single direction; over the course of your adventure, you’ll see them panning, zooming and rotating for all sorts of dramatic effects. Many stages feature spectacularly good parallax effects that create a completely convincing 3D effect — you’ll have to look closely to see whether you’re really looking at sprites and bitmaps at times! There are occasional polygons used, but the vast majority of the backgrounds are flat bitmaps, making it all the more impressive to see in motion.
The game unfolds in stages, which are subdivided into two areas. The end of the first area sees you facing off against a miniboss, and the end of the second sees you battling a full-on boss before enjoying a transition to a new stage. Calling the first area guardians a “miniboss” doesn’t really do them justice, mind; many of them are just as fearsome as their stage-ending counterparts, with complex and interesting attack patterns demanding an intricate dance as you deftly avoid their attacks and look for opportunities to launch your own assault.
RefleX has a trick up its sleeve, though, and it’s through understanding this distinctive protection mechanic that you’ll truly get the best out of the game — both in terms of being able to survive its more difficult encounters, and through achieving higher scores once you can comfortably manage a one-credit clear.
Besides your standard shot button, which presents a pretty devastating and slightly spread-out barrage by default, you also have a shield button. Holding this down drains a meter in the corner of the screen and, as you might expect, protects you from damage.
Most notably, it allows you to do various things with bullets: red bullets and lasers will be absorbed and cancelled, while blue attacks will turn green and be reflected right back at your enemies. (Purple bullets, meanwhile, can be shot.) Successfully hitting enemies with these green reflected attacks starts a combo with an increasingly large score multiplier the more reflected shot hits you get — and you can maintain this combo by continually dispatching enemies with your shield or shots.
There is, of course, a trade-off; the lower your shield power is, the lower your shot power also is, and your shield recharges more slowly when you’re shooting. Consequently, in order to get the best out of your shield, you’ll need to carefully time when you activate it and know when to stop shooting in order to get it charged up ready for the next enemy barrage. You’ll face situations like this both during the stages themselves and especially in the boss fights; this added tactical complexity makes RefleX a real pleasure to play and learn in your early hours with it.
RefleX is immaculately presented, despite its low resolution. Its scrolling and animation is flawlessly slick, even on modest computers — the game originally came out in Japan in 2008, after all — and the encounters are full of highly destructible enemies that explode in an immensely satisfying manner. Pretty much all of the bosses feature various chunks that can be blown off them to limit their attack patterns, and the way in which the action is accompanied by the dramatically animating backdrops makes this a memorable thrill ride every time you play.
Music is great, too, following that distinct, hook-heavy, melodic and energetic mid-2000s shoot ’em up style. The intensity and drama is ratcheted right up during the boss fights and, coupled with the great retro explosion samples, make this a game you’ll want to turn up loud and proud.
RefleX is a pretty magnificent shoot ’em up, all told. Its mechanics are simple, straightforward and easy to understand but hard to master, and the experience as a whole is fundamentally satisfying. It might have been nice to see some difficulty options — though the ability to practice individual areas and the gradually increasing number of continues you get with each unsuccessful clear attempt are both welcome features — but on the whole, it’s not hard to see why those deep into the shoot ’em up scene love and respect SITER SKAIN’s work, and why these games still hold up so well nearly 15 years after their original release.
The closure of western publisher Nyu Media means that the publishing rights for the localised version of RefleX and the rest of the Tale of ALLTYNEX series will revert to SITER SKAIN. This likely doesn’t mean anything will happen to the existing PC versions of the ALLTYNEX trilogy — but wouldn’t it be nice if a new publisher were to show up and partner with SITER SKAIN, port these classics to today’s consoles and give them a brand new release, perhaps in a fancy physical package? We can dream — and it’s a plausible possibility at this point, but we’ll have to wait and see, I guess.
In the meantime, you can nab RefleX on Steam for 50% off in the Steam summer sale at the time of writing — and it’s not as if it’s expensive even at full price. So go on, enjoy; just remember to use protection…
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