It’s kind of unfortunate to see space shooters fall by the wayside after the 16bit and 32-bit days. While there were some out there that really impressed, they’ve all fallen to the niche circle. Indie hit Touhou reached a level of popularity the likes of Gradius and R-Type. Then Ikaruga brought forth a space shooter with bullet hell elements. And now, the scene is mostly quiet, with ports and remakes of Shoot ‘Em Ups hitting the download scene. Alongside that, smaller teams have developed shooters of their own, bringing over ambitious ideas quenching the thirst of old-school shmup fans, if only temporarily. However most of them never made it outside of Japan. Here’s one of the few that managed to make it out, Ether Vapor Remaster. Will this quench that thirst for a while, or are you better off drinking water? After the jump, I Breakdown Ether Vapor Remaster.
The story follows a young pilot named Luca, a pilot of the ship EX-TIO. He’s on a mission to defeat the Chaldean Airforce and destroy the Decider, a sentient machine that acts as the leader of the people of Chaldea. The story is interesting and it does bring up some good ideas, but none are really fleshed out. Like an action movie, you’re not here for the story though. You’re here for the action. I would like to bring up a strange decision though. Whose idea was it to have story exposition in the middle of a dogfight for a shmup game? Throughout Stage 6, text-only pilot banter appears. If the game had voice acting, then I wouldn’t mind this since I’m using my ears. But it’s all text, and there’s no way I’d be able to read any of that while I’m focused on shooting down planes and dodging bullets. For those that want pure action with no story, you can switch to the Remaster option and play without story and cutscenes. I do find it ironic how Luca complains about how much the Chaldeans talk, and there’s a mode to leave out the talking parts. Kinda funny. Grade: 76/100
I get a strange feeling when looking at this game. The graphical presentation of the game reminds me of Dreamcast game with sharper graphics. Not a knock on the game by any means. But it does take me back to the time when 3D graphics became clean and not so jagged. Since this is an indie game, the graphics look pretty good. The explosion effects look better though and can be pretty satisfying when you blow up a lot of ships. The only time when the graphics became a problem was in the Valley stage. The mountain textures are very repetitive and your ship moves so fast; everything looks like it’s becoming fuzzy. It’s pretty disorienting. And the ground of the city stage could’ve done without the flat satellite image. Grade: 82/100
Music and Sound
The music goes back and forth between techno and rock arrangements. It’s actually pretty nice with the pumping beat and melody of the piano, flutes, and other instruments. There are a few duds here and there, but it’s pretty much a decent soundtrack. Sound effects are what you’d expect. I still wonder if the Metroid Prime charging sound became public domain. I heard it a bit during the Stage 2 boss fight. Or maybe it was royalty free from the start. Agh, I digress.
The game is 3D but plays on a 2D plane. The perspective will switch from time to time from horizontal, to vertical, to behind the ship, from an angle, etc. Knowing this, enemies will attack from from these multiple planes, whether it’s in front, behind, foreground, or background. Because of this, there were some situations where I wasn’t sure if some targets where in in the foreground or the background. The Valley and Factory stage comes to mind in this case. On top of this, amidst all the enemies and explosions, it can be pretty hard to see some bullets. This is especially true for the thin laser-like bullets, which can be pretty hard to spot sometimes. The boss battle though are pretty challenging but fun to play through. In the end it’s all about memorizing the patterns. When you do, it’s a breeze and looks pretty baddass. And taking down a wave of missiles is pretty awesome.
The control aspect of the game actually does a good job for the most part. You have three weapons to choose from, all of which can be changed on the fly. Thankfully, you continue pressing the assigned button rather than pressing another to shuffle between like in other shmups (Gate of Thunder comes to mind). You have your gattling gun, which fires straight ahead and is the most powerful. You have the Winder, which is weaker but has a wider range of attack. And finally there’s the Lock-On, which fires streams of bullets on a locked on target. I do have one gripe with this system though. Charging your Gattling and Winder guns is done by holding down their assigned buttons. That means your guns will not auto-fire when holding down the button. The only weapon that does that is Lock-On, where you hold down the button to auto-fire and let it go to charge. I do wish the other guns function this way. The other two do fire multiple rounds per button press. But in the end I’m just mashing buttons and my thumbs hurt like hell after a session.
Finally, the game has a weird way of making itself easier. Or course more Shields and Continues become available as you lose (a la Easy Automatic like Devil May Cry or the Super Guide). But it looks like just playing through the game will unlock them. I’m still not certain if it’s determined by losses or play time. Since my skills have waned since my heyday with shmups, I needed a lot of continues and shields. But I do wish it gave me that option a lot sooner as I kept playing the same stages over and over.
Ether Vapor Remaster is a commendable effort from the small team at Edelweiss. Its got its problems in some areas, but overall is was a fun experience. I do wish its story was flesh out as it did bring up some interesting ideas. Maybe separate cutscenes might help, a la Ace Combat. Sequel perhaps? The graphics are clean and remind me of the olden days of pure gameplay. The music is pretty cool sounding with arrangements reminding me of the 16-bit days (not in audio quality mind you). The gameplay could’ve used some tweaking though. Maybe make smaller bullets a little more visible when lots of stuff is going on. And the choice of button functions could be less demanding on my thumbs when firing (when they should be on movement). But overall It’s a good game to kill time and hone your skills at shmups. It’s $8 after all. 7 stages, boss rush; it’s like 1 dollar a stage plus the boss rush. Pretty good deal if I do say so myself. So shmup fans, your thirst is quenched… for now.
Final Score: 80/100