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Super Galaxy Squadron EX (PC) artwork

Super Galaxy Squadron EX (PC) review

"Super Galaxy Squadron EX is too focused on doing what is expected of it to do much that's genuinely interesting."

"Wow," I said to myself numerous times as I played through Super Galaxy Squadron EX. "This is certainly a competent game!"

As it turns out, "competent" is both the best and worst thing I have to say about the title, which is a slightly enhanced version of the regular Super Galaxy Squadron that didn't have the "EX" on the end (which is also included here). "Competent" is my go-to description for every single element of the overall design, from the visuals to the soundtrack, from the voice acting to the presentation. Everything about Super Galaxy Squadron EX feels thoroughly... competent.

Do you like vertical shooters? I certainly do, and I've played a number of them over the years. The genre was my best reason to own the ill-fated Dreamcast, and my interest in scrolling shooters goes back much further than that. I've never been great at them, never played like a pro you might see demolish Ikaruga or Radiant Silvergun on YouTube, but I've usually had a good time blowing aliens, airplanes, or giant insects out of the sky.

Super Galaxy Squadron EX offers a relatively good time along those lines. The plot, which is more substantial than it had to be but never ambitious or detailed enough to qualify as legitimately interesting, tells of a battle between mankind and an invading race of aliens in the year 2438. Brief scenes play out before each level, piecing together simple animations and not-quite-enthusiastic voice acting to let you know that it's time to fly through another wave of aliens and blast apart the big guys at the end. You know, just in case you couldn't figure that out on your own...

There are six stages in Arcade Mode, and you can choose from among three difficulty settings. I started out on Expert, and from there I effortlessly blasted my way to the first boss. I couldn't seem to defeat him, though, no matter how hard I tried, even with the default setting enabled that lets players continue from checkpoints. I came reasonably close a few times, but the fiend was simply too much for me and our showdowns gradually evolved to the point where they felt tedious rather than exhilarating.

So I dropped down to the Casual setting, and then proceeded to advance through four stages--and most of the way through a fifth--without losing so much as a single ship. That wasn't much fun, either, but at least I was able to see what the game had to offer. I just wish the developers had done a better job of balancing things out a bit. I seem to be caught right in that odd limbo where I'm too good for most of the Casual campaign (final boss excepted), but nowhere near skilled enough to master the next step up the ladder.

With around 14 pilots available in all--each one flying a different ship--you might suppose that there would be a lot of potential variety to extend the experience. However, the six stages don't do anything memorable enough for me to talk up one stage versus the next, and the enemy waves don't offer enough resistance to matter. You mostly blast waves of weak enemies out of the sky, and along the way you'll have to tackle the occasional larger ship that fires projectiles or sometimes a laser beam. It's easy to clear the screen of most opponents, no matter which ship you select, and the paths your bullets follow seem to differ only slightly. I would have preferred a narrower selection of five or six pilots, with perhaps more obvious differences between them.

So mostly, you work your way through waves of forgettable enemies, and they swoop around just enough to put require your attention but not enough to generally stress you out until probably the last couple of levels. Bosses ramp up the difficulty considerably, but they don't really do anything remarkable, either. You just have to avoid waves of spread shots while you return fire, and keep doing so long enough that the life meter at the top of the screen empties. I realize that I've just described a lot of shooters, but I really can't remember a recent game in the genre that felt this average as it ran through the expected motions. Maybe Aegis Wing?

Fortunately, there are occasional special effects that actually look pretty good, even though most of the artwork also looks like it was designed to suit a PlayStation 2. There are some lovely effects as you fly through clouds in some areas, for instance, and you'll come across an impressive sequence near the end of the campaign as a planet scrolls into sight and then you fly toward its surface. Don't expect to be blown away by any of those moments, even the highlights, but the development team clearly put some effort into the experience and that prevents the project from ever feeling amateurish. I have no problem admitting that if I put a whole bunch of time into Unity or some such engine and produced a shooter of my own, it would look like complete and utter crap in comparison.

Although the Arcade mode is arguably the main draw, you'll also find a Survival mode that serves as a purer score attack. With only a single ship, you must fly through an endless stream of random adversaries, blasting and dodging for as long as you can, until finally you take too many hits and go down in flames. Then you're awarded a rank and you can try again, if you feel inspired to try for a superior score.

Score chasing is a big deal even in the Arcade mode, I should note. As you blast enemies in rapid succession, a score multiplier builds. Then, as you pass time without blasting more opponents out of the sky, it starts to dwindle. Thus, you're rewarded for stringing everything together nicely, but never in a way that calls attention to itself.

Really, I don't have anything else to say about Super Galaxy Squadron EX. It's a thoroughly competent shooter (there's that word again), with effective but unremarkable presentation, bland but serviceable stages, challenging but otherwise forgettable bosses, and a bunch of options that should appeal to those few players who find themselves utterly absorbed by the total package despite its relative lack of flair. Every decent shooter seems to attract at least a few fans like that, and I suspect that Super Galaxy Squadron EX will do the same thing. It is, after all, the very definition of a decent shooter...


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Staff review by Jason Venter (March 06, 2016)

Jason Venter has been playing games for nearly 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he also writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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