Solar Shifter EX
Gameplay 7
Graphics 8
Sound 7

With its non-stop action and intense visuals, it is hard to believe that Solar Shifter EX is the work of a solo developer. The game is quite tough, but fans of bullet hell shooters will enjoy the challenge. The ability to shift around the screen definitely adds to the experience and while not perfect, Solar Shifter EX has a lot to offer fans of the genre.

Gameplay: Very tough, but the inclusion of checkpoints makes the challenge more manageable.

Graphics: Crank it up to “Extreme” and marvel at all the detail.

Sound: Features some nice tunes, but the sound effects lacks a little punch

Summary 7.3 Great
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Solar Shifter EX

Developer: Elder Games | Publisher: Headup Games | Release Date: 2015 | Genre: Action / Indie | Website: Official Website | Purchase: Steam

In stark contrast to recent games, such as Reign of Bullets, that are designed to make the shooter genre more accessible, Solar Shifter EX is aimed squarely at the old school crowd. The game comes courtesy of the one-man studio, Elder Games, and fuses good old fashioned bullet hell gameplay with some crisp, modern visuals. It is a formula that has been tried before in games like Revolution Ace, but Solar Shifter EX still manages to impress.

The setting for the game is a far flung future where humanity colonized new worlds, but then encountered an alien race who proceeded to wipe the floor with them. When the aliens set their sights on destroying the sun, what is left of humanity decides it is time to flee the system. Unfortunately, some unscrupulous pirate raiders also decide it is the perfect time for scavenging, which just adds to the chaos. As the pilot of the “Phase Shifter” spaceship, you have to battle your way past aliens and pirates as you leave the doomed system.

Players familiar with the bullet hell shooter genre will instantly feel at home playing Solar Shifter EX. Enemy formations enter the screen from all directions before unloading their guns in your general direction. The Phase Shifter has a relatively small hitbox, but ducking and weaving through the hail of bullets still take some skill and a bit of luck. Although you can shoot back, enemies soak up a lot of damage, which means the best course of action is often finding the safe spots where the bullets can’t reach you. Finding these takes some trial and error though, which means pattern memorization comes in very handy while playing the game.

With more than 40 enemy types, including some huge bosses, hiding doesn’t always work. The Phase Shifter is equipped with both a primary and secondary weapon, but don’t expect any cool power-ups or special attacks to give you an edge. Instead, destroyed enemies drop credits that can be used to upgrade your weapons between levels. The only edge you have in battle is the special jump drive that enables the Phase Shifter to warp out of tough spots. Holding down the shift key highlights four positions on the screen that can be warped to, which is great for making an escape when pinned down by enemy fire. It is a double-edged sword though as it is all too easy to warp straight into incoming fire if you don’t pay attention. With the screen usually already cluttered by all the bullets and explosions and the fragile nature of the Phase Shifter, warping can be a bit of a gamble.

Although the game does not feature any difficulty settings, you don’t have to worry about running out of lives. Instead, checkpoints automatically saves your progress and if the Phase Shifter is destroyed you restart back at the last checkpoint. It only takes a couple of hits to deplete the hull strength of your ship, but by memorizing enemy patterns and some practice it is possible to complete the 18 missions on offer. Every now and then the game gives you a break by giving you control over one of three alien ships. These lack the phase shifting ability of your regular ship, but feels much more powerful and instead of credits all defeated enemies drop health, which makes these sections a lot easier. Controlling the aliens ships doesn’t really add much from a story perspective, but make for a nice change of pace.

While the action takes place on a 2D plane, Solar Shifter EX uses 3D visuals for the backgrounds and ships. This looks quite impressive, especially when the camera rotates during the action, but also makes things even more chaotic. In total there are eight different environments, with levels that take place in space and over planets. Playing the game on the “Extreme” graphics quality setting definitely looks very impressive, but makes dodging the bullets between all the explosions and debris a little harder. Lasers cut across the screen with retina searing intensity, while missile barrages leave smoke trailing in their wake. The voice acting is fairly standard, but the game does feature a couple of good music tracks. Solar Shifter EX is perfectly playable with a keyboard, but using a duel-stick analog controller makes for a better experience. Using the second stick to instantly warp to one of the preset locations is a lot more intuitive than holding down a button to select a spot.

As enjoyable as it is, there are a couple of things that detract from the experience. Compared to other bullet hell shooters, the ship customization feels very limited, especially after getting spoiled by games like Reign of Bullets in this regard. Only being able to upgrade the primary or secondary weapon between missions leaves very little to look forward to and even after upgrades these weapons still feel very feeble. The weaker weaponry forces you to rely more on your dodging skills and make use of the phase shifting ability though. Having to redo sections until finding the perfect sweet spot for hiding from the bullets also becomes very repetitive and the difficulty curve is definitely not very newcomer friendly.

Shooter fans looking for a decent challenge should definitely add Solar Shifter EX to their library. The shifting mechanic adds a new strategic element to the bullet hell formula, but the game still retains its old school feel.

System Requirements

  • OS: Windows Vista / 7 / 8 / 10
  • Processor: 2Ghz single core
  • Memory: 2 GB RAM
  • Graphics: nVidia GeForce 8600 GT / ATI 2600 Pro
  • DirectX: Version 9.0
  • Hard Drive: 4 GB available space
  • Sound Card: Any
  • OS: Windows Vista / 7 / 8 / 10
  • Processor: 2Ghz dual core
  • Memory: 3 GB RAM
  • Graphics: nVidia GeForce GTX 275 / ATI Radeon 4770 (or higher)
  • DirectX: Version 9.0
  • Hard Drive: 4 GB available space
  • Sound Card: Any
  • OS: Mac OSX 10.7
  • Processor: 2Ghz single core
  • Memory: 2 GB RAM
  • Graphics: nVidia GeForce 8600 GT / ATI 2600 Pro
  • Hard Drive: 4 GB available space
  • Sound Card: Any
  • OS: Mac OSX 10.7 or newer
  • Processor: 2Ghz dual core
  • Memory: 3 GB RAM
  • Graphics: nVidia GeForce GTX 275 / ATI Radeon 4770 (or higher)
  • Hard Drive: 4 GB available space
  • Sound Card: Any
  • OS: Ubuntu 12.04
  • Processor: 2Ghz single core
  • Memory: 2 GB RAM
  • Graphics: nVidia GeForce 8600 GT / ATI 2600 Pro
  • Hard Drive: 4 GB available space
  • Sound Card: Any
  • OS: Ubuntu 12.04 or newer
  • Processor: 2Ghz dual core
  • Memory: 3 GB RAM
  • Graphics: nVidia GeForce GTX 275 / ATI Radeon 4770 (or higher)
  • Hard Drive: 4 GB available space
  • Sound Card: Any

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