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Super Hydorah (PC) artwork

Super Hydorah (PC) review

"Old school shooting, evolved."

At a time when the vertical bullet hell subgenre has all but become the defacto face of shooters altogether, Super Hydorah is a welcome sight. Itís a horizontal shoot-em-up in the 16-bit vein -- my absolute favourite type of shmup. And itís directly from the old school -- it has a distinctly Super Nintendo aesthetic, and while the SNES wasn't the shooter stalwart that the Genesis and the Turbografx-16 were, it did have its share of greats (R-Type III anyone?). Super Hydorah manages the very difficult task of taking a classic game archetype, updating it such that it doesn't sour modern taste buds, while simultaneously championing its old school assets.

Old school shooters were hard. They killed you mercilessly and they were punishing about where they restarted you. You only had a limited stock of lives and continues to work with, and so on the back of those finite chances you would charge into the fray as deep as possible before dying and seeing the title screen, only to try again, hoping against hope that this next time youíd make further inroads.

Super Hydorah doesnít work like that, because itís a modern game. Todayís gamers need to see more game for them to feel they got their moneyís worth -- small titles can no longer carry the day armed only with the illusion of depth which death and repetition provide. So more game, then. To that end, Super Hydorah has a lot to offer by shmup standards -- 21 levels to be precise. But, like any modern day game, you can save your progress. In fact, the game auto-saves after every beaten level. With that in mind, 21 levels would seem too small -- only it's not, and the gameís solution is at the core of its brilliance.

Super Hydorah (PC) image

Worlds, or levels in Super Hydorah are like microcosms of old school games in their entirety. Each level boasts multiple stages. And if you want to see stage five of the particular world you're on, youíd better find it within yourself to raise your game considerably over the first few stages so that when the shit gets real later on, youíll have the lives on hand to help you learn and fight your way to the end. Because when the lives are spent and itís continue time, itís back to the beginning of the world with you.

So yes, with each world safely in the rear view mirror, no one will be able to take that progress away from you, but you wonít really ever feel as if youíre on a roll; you wonít ever take a fully and ridiculously powered up ship into a world feeling like victory is a foregone conclusion. Super Hydorah is never a snowball going downhill. Each world will require from you your best; each world will command your attention, demand your respect. The campaign style game progression helps see to that.

Towards the end, youíll have an impressive list of primary and secondary weapon types to choose from, as well as specials. But at the onset: just one pea shooter. Each selectable power up must be earned by conquering (or liberating, as it were) a world. Most of the power ups are the usual Gradius fare: spread gun, focused laser, missiles, twin missiles, Ďoptions,í here called Ďscorts,í and more. Killing certain enemies yields coloured balls -- the green ones to power your primary, the red, your secondary. You can also nab shields and bombs from fallen foes. Thereís nothing ground breaking here, but choosing your loadout before descending on each planet furnishes some degree of strategy to the proceedings.

Super Hydorah (PC) image

Super Hydorah also takes cues from Darius in that it offers a branching world map. While you can actually see the ending through only clearing 12 worlds, the gameís difficulty encourages you to try to beat every level, just so you can unlock more of your complete arsenal towards giving yourself a fighting chance later on. Thatís it for Darius though (well, almost); you wonít find any giant fish here. More inspiration from Gradius shows up though, as many of the enemy types are large ships that wipe the screen from top to bottom firing pencil-thin lasers, and everything old is new again.

Strictly speaking, Super Hydorah is not really a new game; Hydorah was released as freeware by Localito back in 2010. A handful more levels (and accompanying tunes), tweaks to mechanics, and one adjective later, and the indie developer could finally make some well deserved bank on a freshly polished product.

Oh, and they added one more thing: Two player simultaneous play.

I canít properly express what a big deal this is. It pretty much never happens in general, and with horizontal shooters in particular? Forget about it. The sight of two ships onscreen at once takes me back to good times playing UN Squadron in the arcades (remember those places? No?). And as far as home-based play, Darius Twin is the only mission for two that I can remember offhand, and the option to bring a friend along elevated that game from decent to good.

Super Hydorah (PC) image

And it elevates Super Hydorah from great to essential. Full disclosure: I havenít even tried playing with a partner yet, but how could it not improve an already awesome experience?

Super Hydorah boasts some fantastic music and some very good enemy and level designs, but if there's a weakness here it's that I can't help but feel there could have been a few more interesting environs, and a few more standout tracks. That said, the gameís replay value is very high: upon beating it, you can go back and try it again, this time liberating all 21 worlds. And once you've done that, there's one final tier of mastery within your grasp.

On your first go, you won't even bother with it -- youíll be too busy just trying to stay alive at all costs -- but every time you have to continue, the game resets your score and your rank. So you've managed to reach the rank of Corporal? Well, after continuing youíll be busted back down to Private. The game also shames you by keeping track of how many continues youíve used, which is especially painful when progress is paltry. Steam says Iíve put 12 hours into Super Hydorah, and having already beaten all 21 levels while beating the game itself, Iím still not done (I canít quit you!), because now I'm working on trying to beat the game with as few continues counted as possible. Or maybe none at all. Iím getting there, and hereís the thing: youíll face those moments where it dawns on you that the rough patch that is consistently killing you, well, you just canít afford to die there anymore if youíre serious about progress, so you find a way, and you refuse to die there again. Super Hydorah has made me a better player.


Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (September 26, 2017)

There was a bio here once. It's gone now.

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EmP posted September 27, 2017:

You've sold me on this one. I'm not just going to let that R-Type III plug slide, but this game sounds like a gem. It must have been some kind of genius who sniffed it out.

Straight on the wishlist goes this one. Very solid, knowledgeable review. The pre-mission arming phase certainly isn't new, but it sounds like a great addition.
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Masters posted September 28, 2017:

And I'm going to let the implied R-Type III dig slide!

Thanks for the assets and the feedback.

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