Developer: Four5Six Pixel / Huey Games
Publisher: Huey Games
Release Date: 11 May 2018
Price: $12.99 / £9.99
Reviewed By Gary Gray
Retro-inspired games and graphics flood the digital marketplace nowadays, and while some such as Shovel Knight or Celeste take the old-school gameplay/graphic combo to a newer, higher standard, others can only dream of living up to their retro counterparts. NES, SNES and Megadrive (Genesis to readers of an American persuasion) are the go to consoles that most draw their inspiration from.
Hyper Sentinel though is writing its love letter to a different era, the Commodore 64 to be exact. So does it live up to 'modern retro' standards, or does it blow up on impact?
If at first glance Hyper Sentinel looks strangely familiar, then you've probably seen a 1986 game called Uridium. It's safe to say that Hyper Sentinel is without doubt a new take on that classic, drawing a little bit more than just aesthetic inspiration. Different visual filters can be found in the options to change the appearance from the sharp, modern day, brightly coloured pixels, to a nicely rounded CRT monitor effect. Not only that, there's also Spectrum and C64 filters that change the colour pallets to match those of the glorious consoles of yesteryear.
Like it's inspirational father, Hyper Sentinel is a side scrolling space shooter that sees a lonely spacecraft taking on huge mother ships, ridding these crafts of all their surface defences in an effort to rack up some high scores. Formations of enemy crafts swirl around, firing desperately to try and stops Earth's final hope, a single Sentinel from destroying its fleet and killing the Guardians that protect them.
Story definitely isn't the main focus, but pure arcade-styled retro fun absolutely is. Simple, yet extremely tight, controls give you some gripping moments amongst the chaotic onslaught of enemy ships that shroud the battlefield. Bullets and other dangers are milliseconds away at all times, so to stop your life meter depleting too rapidly, there's a clever dodge mechanic that's easy to execute but hard to master. This is done by simply turning your ship around, flipping you Sentinel into a 180 degree revert, avoiding any objects or bullets that were on the path to impact.
Squadrons of enemy craft also jump in on the action, occasionally guarding a power-up. These are fast moving, so you may have to use your boost to chase them, which handily also draws the power-ups towards you. What exactly are these power-ups? Well, there's the standard health pick ups and timed invincibility powers, but others are unique to say the least. They range from rear firing guns to a set of spiked maces that swing around causing destruction to anything they touch.
Choose Your Poison
Another key feature to mention is that your health bar refills over time after a short duration of not getting hit. This keeps the game fair, whilst also forcing you to choose between sacrificing your combo building or risking death.
Before starting one of the 12 missions you're given some choices. First is to select one of the game's 3 modes. 'Arcade' sees you playing a standard, well, arcade style experience, where you must take on all the ground based units followed by the end of level boss. 'Survival' is an endless onslaught of enemies with limited power-ups where score doesn't count, it's all about how long you stay alive. Finally, 'Boss' skips the first part of the level and takes you directly to the level's final fight, but with all added ground threats at full health.
Next you get to pick a skill level, from the self explanatory normal and hard modes, to lesser explained 'Retro'. Retro difficulty is brutal to say the least, as you have to know the level's layouts a little better. Hard to see sections bounce your Sentinel backwards and cause damage. These can be quite close together with your mission's targets in the middle of them, meaning you'll be spinning your craft backwards and forwards trying to avoid them - perfect for the players that want that tough, old-school challenge.
Guardians, or bosses if you prefer, are a massive highlight in Hyper Sentinel, requiring more thought and strategy than you might initially suspect. From huge centipede like enemies, to bigger surface turrets, each level's boss will really keep you on your toes. After finishing the main arcade mode I found massive pleasure in taking on the boss mode and working my way though each of the level's bosses in quick succession.
Old and New
Modern elements and attention to detail are what really stops the game from feeling 'old', despite its retro styling. Faster paced, more action packed arenas wouldn't have been possible back in the 80's. Nor would little visual features, like the slow down when you narrowly avoiding losing your last piece of health. This in itself is a touch of excellence that gives you a final chance to avoid meeting an explosive end.
Sometimes the action can get overwhelming, and it becomes unclear as to what's a wall, ground unit or other space craft. That said, where it can be frustrating, this also increases the tension on those near death misses and close calls. In a strange way it adds to the experience, but it's really difficult on retro difficulty where blue, ship-destroying walls are nearly impossible to see.
Giving more than just a one and done experience, it also offers online leader boards, and achievement style missions to each level, keeping you coming back for more. The constant reminder of high scores keep you itching to topple your last run, and not only does each level have it's own score, but there's a full run high score that accumulates constantly from level to level in true arcade style. That single high score run drove me to complete full play-throughs again and again, just to get ever higher on the online boards.
Hyper Sentinel has some clever tricks up it's sleeves to keep you coming back for more, going above and beyond being just a retro-inspired arcade space-shooter. Intelligent mechanics, tight action, impressive boss fights and an itch to be number one keep the experience alive, while the sharp visuals, choice of filters and pumping chip tune soundtrack help you lose yourself in the crazy combats retro goodness. While a lack of any sort of multiplayer stops it from being a go to party game, there's still a lot of fun to be had solo, especially for the hardcore players. The initial run though isn't very long at all, and a slightly larger variety in levels would've been a treat, but there's more than enough content to keep completionists and score chasers abundantly happy.
Pros & Cons
+ Fast, frantic fun
+ Leader boards keep you coming back
+ Cool retro filters
- Short main campaign
- Can occasionally get too hectic to avoid traps
- Multiplayer would've been a nice addition