|Min OS X: Any Version|
I'm all doped up on the latest drug craze, Ultratron. Distributed by PuppyGames in secluded back alleyways for a one-time charge of $10, you can take a hit on this old-school arcade shooter that has replaced caffeine as my morning stimulant of choice.
I've always had an appreciation for the old school arcade games where sprites ruled, hit detection was surgically precise, and mistakes went unforgiven. A number of recent Mac games such as Freeverse's Kill Monty have revitalized such arcade fundamentals, and we'd be remiss not to mention the well-played stable of games over at Ambrosia Software. But few of these I've enjoyed as much as Ultratron.
Fans of Smash-TV, Robotron, or even Gauntlet will feel immediately at home in Ultratron. Trapped inside an insidious computer virus infection (or whatever, and who cares), you must use your unearthly two-dimensional powers of lateral, vertical and diagonal shooting and movement to eradicate the alien invaders (or whatever). The 70 different homicidal robots in the game will variously drop exploding mines, shoot laser flares, chase you, shoot at you, laugh at you, bounce vigorously across the screen, and shout "all your base are belong to us." Multiply that kaleidoscopic psychosis by 40 increasingly difficult levels and four boss encounters, and you have a recipe for some scary stuff.
Luckily for you, wasting these robots will yield power-ups of various kinds, some of which can be combined for MAX P0W4R!!11!!, a heavenly state of unrestrained contentment and destruction notable for its giant pink laser. In addition to various such gun upgrades, a wide range of weapons from autonomous attack drones to freeze bombs can be deployed to great effect. As a great counter-balance to the immediacy of its twitch gameplay, upgrading weapons has to be planned out. Upgrading laser power will overwrite boosts to firing rate, for example, while adding to your shield will remove your score multiplier. Such decisions have to be made in a split second, and you'll have to find a play style that best resonates with your subconscious.
The object of Ultratron isn't just to smash and destroy, but to do it with style. Ultratron features a layered scoring system of multipliers, bonuses and special challenge levels that will keep you striving. To get the best scores (which are recorded online for a sense of truly global competition) you have to play perfectly. Cue the addiction.
The graphics are a pixelated palooza of such saturated style that Tron can only wonder where it went wrong. More importantly, the game clearly shows an understanding of the essential mechanics for arcade design in its graphics. Different enemies, power-ups, traps, and bonuses are well differentiated and instantly recognizable iconographically, letting the player abandon himself to the sub-conscious gaming essential for survival on a screen crowded with dozens of deadly objects. Ultratron will give the practiced gamer plenty of "how did I just pull that off?" moments.
Oddly enough, the game seems written for an 800x600 screen, so anything above that at fullscreen gets, shall we generously say, "anti-aliased." Is this a purposeful attempt to bring us back to the halcyon days of arcade gaming? Arcade authenticity gone painfully far? Who really cares—gameplay rules.
A few things are holding Ultratron back from achieving cult status. Foremost has to be the lack of gamepad support, which is an absolutely natural fit for this type of game. The keyboard controls are quite precise in their own right, but I envision the mashing of a well-worn gamepad to even higher scores. Second, each of the bosses in the game use the same attacks and strategies, leading to a rather hollow gameplay experience and a less than thunderous conclusion. And finally, the first 15-20 levels of the game become a mere cursory requirement once the game is familiar. The ability to crank the difficulty level would keep the game fresh and challenging.
All things considered, Ultratron is a great arcade pickup game. With a resumable save-as-you-go feature, competitive online scoring records, bonus stages, and a subtle scoring and upgrading system that lends itself to experimentation, Ultratron's twitchy gameplay will frustrate you in a good way.
Pros• Decent number of combinable power-ups and bonuses
• Great control and twitch gameplay
• Fun retro graphical style and robotic voice samples
• Online high-scores
• Save/Resume feature
Cons• Low-res graphics
• Final bosses all have the same attack
• UI menus not always responsive to mouse clicks