In enemy mind you are not a lone hero taking down an armada of hostile enemies by yourself in order to save the universe. Instead, you control a being of pure psychic energy that is able to take control of anything in close proximity for survival. As the game is a side scrolling shooter this adds a rather interesting twist to the genre and ensure that retro fans and newcomers alike will find the game enjoyable.
Enemy Mind doesn’t bore you with a lot of story details, but instead delivers little tidbits between enemy waves. As there are more than 70 waves spread across 8 levels, it all builds up to quite an interesting conclusion which I am not going to spoil here. As I already mentioned, the game is a side scrolling shooter with a retro feel thanks to the 8-bit inspired visuals and chiptune soundtrack, but the ability to hijack any ship you see on the screen makes for a different kind of challenge.
In traditional side scrolling shooters you face progressively tougher enemies while simultaneously upgrading your own ship using power-ups. However, in Enemy Mind this approach would not have worked so the developers came up with some interesting alternatives. There are more than twenty different ships in the game and each of them have their own pros and cons so it is not just a matter of taking over the most powerful one and laying waste to everything. Instead you have to assess each wave and determine which ship is going to give you the biggest advantage in regards to bullet spread, hull strength and speed. Some ships are just better suited to certain situations and figuring out where to use which one is a lot of fun. This also means that you can’t just indiscriminately shoot everything in sight as you might inadvertently destroy a ship that would have been more useful to you to take over. Thanks to limited ammunition you won’t be able to continue spamming the fire button either like in traditional shooters, so conserving your ammo and making each shot count is very important.
The ability to take control of enemy ships is surprisingly intuitive and once you get the hang of this feature you will be jumping from one enemy to the next while simultaneously weaving through bullets and retaliating. A warning sounds if your ship is low on health, which gives you the chance to jump to safety. If your ship is destroyed you lose a life and it is back to the start of the wave to try again. Eight levels might not sound like much, but the game kept me busy for more than four hours and that is barely counting the time spent on the various bonuses such as a boss rush mode and the original prototype that you can unlock. The version that I played didn’t have any Steam achievements, but it is something that the developers are planning to implement in the future (note: achievements along with a host of other features have since been added to the game).
While not being able to upgrade your ship or collect power-ups feels strange at first, especially if you are used to the side scrolling shooters of the eighties, the ability to take over other ships more than make up for this. Despite the modern twist on the genre the game still has that classic R-Type/Hellfire feel that retro junkies will love. While the game is playable with a keyboard the whole experience is just so much better with a decent controller. In fact, you might want to invest in a few controllers as Enemy Mind supports co-op for up to four local players. There is no friendly fire, but it is still a chaotic experience and will leave you wrestling with friends for the control of ships.
The visuals are nice, but the backgrounds are kept rather basic in order to make the enemies and bullets more visible. I really liked the ship designs, though, which range from traditional craft all to way to more exotic organic style stuff. The highlight of traditional shooters is usually the boss encounters, but once again this game couldn’t go the usual route. Instead of bosses being huge enemies that rain down destruction on you, they are made up of enemy formations or multiple parts that you can take over to retaliate. It works well, but I did miss going toe to toe with a traditional shooter style boss. The audio is excellent with some very solid sound effects that wouldn’t sound out of place coming from an arcade cabinet and a nice chiptune-inspired soundtrack by Rainbow Kitten that fits the action perfectly.
I have played plenty of side scrolling shooters over the years and while my taste veers more towards the bullet hell genre these days I still had a lot of fun with Enemy Mind. Instead of just being a traditional shooter with a new feature tacked on the whole design of the game is based around the enemy controlling ability. This ensures that it is more than just a gimmick that you can almost ignore, but instead turns it into something that you have to master in order to survive. Casual players will find the game challenging, but not impossible, while hardcore players can use the multipliers which increase from making kills without getting hit and scoring kills in the same ship to rack up huge scores and climb the leaderboards. Unfortunately, there is no way to select the difficulty of the game, but by default it is challenging without being unfair.
Overall I was very impressed by what Schell Games were able to achieve with a genre that is not really known for innovation. The game is addictive enough that you will want to complete it a few times in order to piece together the whole story and of course the co-op mode will also eat up a lot of your spare time if you have friends nearby. While shooter fans will obviously enjoy the game the most I urge anyone that has an interest in polished, unique titles to try it out as it is definitely worth the effort.
*Review originally published June 2014.
- OS: Windows XP
- Processor: Core 2 Duo 2.66Ghz
- Memory: 2 GB RAM
- Graphics: 256 MB Graphics Memory and Directx 9.0c Compatible gpu
- Hard Drive: 200 MB available space
- Sound Card: Onboard sound card
- OS: Windows 7
- Additional Notes: USB wired Xbox 360 controller recommended