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Sturmwind – Preview

Sturmwind – Preview

In the land of shmups competition has always been fierce and abundant, the genre that brought us such wonders as the ThunderForce series, Radiant Silvergun, Ikaruga, Donpachi, R-Type (to name a few) has been visited and re-visited time and time again. I remember the first shmup I ever played, Time Bandit on the MSX. I can still to this day feel the anticipation growing while waiting for the tape to load the first level which would feed my appetite of defeating bad guys made up of a few black pixels that I could only assume at the time were planes, a far cry from today’s ship 3D with multi-million polygon designs (I wish).

A shooter from another time…

The short-lived Dreamcast enjoyed a few nice shooting games during its life time but most of the amazing titles like Borderdown, Ikaruga and Under Defeat were released towards and after the end of its official life. I still regret that Tecnosoft didn’t release Thunder Force 6 on that system in the end and while the PS2 version was nice, I’m sure it was very different from what it was intended to be initially, nevermind…

Whirlwind

Today, I want to talk about an upcoming Dreamcast shooter that’s gathering a lot of good reviews and momentum, Sturmwind. There’s already quite a few previews/video previews of this game floating the web, here are my 2 cents on this game.

A home-brew game, Sturmwind is the fruit of the labor of 2 incredibly talented brothers operating under the name of Duranik. Sturmwind was actually preceded by an impressive shmups demo called Native that was developed on the ill-fated Atari Jaguar CD. I never owned or was ever interested in the Jaguar but head to http://www.duranik.com/jaguar.html, that demo has changed my mind about this system forever!

Sturmwind is for the most part an horizontal scrolling shoot’em’up running on its own home made 2.5D engine built on KallistiOS. The guys at Duranik were kind enough to send me a near final version of the game, which I am previewing here.

After a lush introduction film in German (Hello Dracula X!) that sets the scene of the game very well, the action can begin. The start screen lets you choose between different game modes, options and bonuses (such as renders of the game). I have yet to ask Duranik about the giant Iguana sitting on top of  the start screen and its meaning.

What’s striking when you start playing this game is the beauty and the sheer amount of details of the graphics, for a moment I thought I was on the Xbox 360 playing an HD remake of Gradius V. Back in the days of the Dreamcast my SEGA fanboy self was quick to defeat any praises for the enemy PS2 but damn even in 2012, the good old DC can still hold its own!!! Sturmwind would have no problem putting to shame a large number of XBLA and PSN titles, power vs craftsmanship!!! In fact I strongly believe the guys at Duranik should release that game on XBLA and PSN, it is that good!!! Check it out:

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Shaken not stirred

Instead of re-inventing a genre, Sturmwind pays homage to a number of classic shooting game, the obvious ones being Axelay on the SFC for its giant bosses and weapon system, level 1 reminds me a lot of Gradius V, the ship design resembles the ship in Download 2 on PC Engine, obviously there are some R-Types inspired items like the drones, the weapon beam charge and a little bit of Thunder Force.What Sturmwind does best is combining elements from a lot of good games into what is the best shooting experience for the Dreamcast.

The game provides excellent value and packs 2 modes, Normal and Arcade with your typical difficulty levels (Easy, Normal, Hard):

– Normal mode which is the main mode contains no less that 16 levels, allows continues and saves your latest successful position, so in case you’re “Game Over” you don’t have to start the game over again from scratch;

– Arcade mode contains only 6 levels but does not allow saves or continues.

The game supports the Dreamcast Joypad but also the Arcade Stick, the VMU, the Rumble Pack which add another depth to the game and last but not least the VGA box so you can admire this game in all its visual glory!!! When released the game will also have a webcode system in order to share your scores over the internet, there is also a trophy system much like on the Xbox and the PS3 which unlocks content as you progress and I believe that extending the game with DLCs will be possible in the future via SD Card. Not bad hey?

So what’s it like?

Sturmwind plays much like a good old classic arcade game, shoot to kill everything, but it requires a bit of strategy particularly in the use of weapons.
There are 3 weapons available from the start of the game:
– a blue laser, which provides a good dose of firepower, my all-rounder;
– a vulcan red, that you can rotate around the ship, useful at certain points in the game;
– a green laser way which I find only useful when fully charged.
These weapons are upgradeable to up to three additional levels of power via containers that you can find along the way when shooting certain ennemies. Drones are also available and behave much like in Gradius and R-Type. You also start the game with one smart bomb (more can be collected) which offers a very destructive and visually amazing way of killing bad guys.
As I said before the game is visually stunning and complex, which creates a very immersive and inviting environment to play in. Everything moves smoothly without any slow down and flows continuously to keep you on your toes, if you succeed in killing wave of ennemies in the appropriate manner you will be treated to a wave bonus, just shoot the letters appearing on the screen to earn a star, completely unexpected and welcomed!!! The game is packed with little details and winks like that.
The controls are very smooth and responsive, the ship movements and weaponry are easy to grasp within a few minutes and make the most of the layout of the Dreamcast controller.
Audio wise… well I’m a big Thunder Force fan and I always expect shooting games to sound like an epic heavy metal orchestra with an 80s/90s sound with lots of synths!!! So at first the exclusively electronic soundtrack was surprising. Having said that after a couple of plays I’ve grown to love the soundtrack and it does complement and pace the gameplay extremely well. While I’m no expert in this kind of music, I can however safely say that the music is well orchestrated and packs layers of sonic goodness for your enjoyment. Sounds effects are some of the best I’ve heard in years with quite a few wind type effects to support the title of the game.

Sturmwind – Epilogue

From the day I saw the first screenshots to receiving my preview copy, I knew I was gonna love this game. When it comes to home-brew development, I naturally admire people who can code a game in their spare time without teams of dozens of people, the gear and capital investment. There are loads of good examples around and especially on the Dreamcast but Sturmwind is insane!!!

This game feels like a proper commercial release, in fact, it would put a lot of commercial games to shame. Sturmwind has been made with passion, love and dedication and not necessarily with financial gain and deadlines in mind. Sure game companies needs to make their numbers and churn a certain volume of games every year, that’s life. But in a world filled with FPS sequels arriving one after the other, New new new Super Mario Bros Ultra Special and build your social cattle farm type of games, Sturmwind is refreshing for the hardcore gamer that I am.

The fact that it is on the Dreamcast might sounds limiting to broaden the appeal of the game but these guys have extracted every ounce of raw power that this console has to offer, which re-enforces the common belief that the Dreamcast was retired way to soon!!! Damn you PS2!!!

In conclusion, as you can see throughout this preview, I cannot recommend enough this game, even if you don’t have a Dreamcast, just get one (they’re only cheap these days) and this game, you won’t be disappointed!!!

The game is slated for release in Q4 2012, you can pre-order the game from the publisher, RedSpotGames. The game is available in 2 editions, regular and limited edition.

sabre

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