Review: Ultracore (PS4, PS Vita)
By: Roberto Nieves
In 1995, a special game was in development. It was a run and gun shooter, with multiple levels of shooting, requiring a combination of exploration and combat to progress through each level. it featured stunning 16-bit graphics and tight gameplay. This game was known as Hardcore. The game was nearly set to be launched on the Sega Genesis at the time, but the timing couldn't be any worse. With the onset of the first PlayStation and the next Sega system on the horizon, the game was canceled; however, Hardcore would have a very different fate compared to most canceled games. Deep within storage, the game was unearthed and brought back to life, and in 2018, Strictly Limited Games announced that Hardcore, now titled Ultracore, would not only be completed but released onto modern-day systems. At long last, Ultracore is now out and available for all major systems, thanks to DICE, ININ Games, and members of the original Ultracore team. Ultracore is an amazing side-scrolling action shooter with Metroidvania elements, but be prepared to have a truly nostalgic experience with its difficulty.
On a distant planet, there is an interstellar war, and only you can save the human race. Ultracore puts you in the role of a super soldier, incorporated with the latest in cybernetic and combat technology. Across five levels, players fight endless hordes of rogue combat machines in a bid to end the threat against humanity. In each level, players search massive labyrinths for key cards, necessary to access new areas and on each stage along the way, secrets can be uncovered, along with new weapons.
Ultracore certainly looks and feels cinematic, even in its 16-bit form. The visual style is reminiscent of movies such as Aliens and Terminator, with the cybernetic nature of the main character certainly being drawn from that inspiration. Shooting does take getting used to. In comparison to famous run 'n' gun shooter Contra, Ultracore gives players a larger range to shoot versus the eight directions in Contra. In Ultracore, you can shoot in full 180 degrees and crouch down to avoid incoming fire. Each level is loaded with enemies, from gun turrets on the ceiling walking gun platforms. Most enemies can be subdued with just a few bullets, but many enemies will be tough, requiring aggression and careful precision. The same can be applied for the Ultracore's any bosses, requiring precision and the multitude of weapons at your disposal. Finally, platforming is a significant part of Ultracore , requiring timing and precision.
Ultracore truly feels like a blast from the past in all the best ways. Shooting enemies and maneuvering through the world is smooth and immersive, and the combat is sharp. Ultracore runs smoothly, using that world-famous BLAST processing to power each moment of the game. Most particularly nostalgic is the 16-bit soundtrack that feel a chef's kiss to Sega loyalists. The soundtrack features the distorted bass and reverb that were common amongst most games at the time, and when everything synchronizes together, Ultracore becomes a remarkable experience. Ultracore puts players in a modern-day time capsule in a gaming experiences that is nostalgic and incredible, giving players a new appreciation for a gaming era long gone. This is further enhanced by an optional remixed soundtrack from today's leading artists in chiptunes and 16-bit music processing. Older games gave players the sensation of being an unflinching warrior, fighting the great challenge to save the world and Ultracore greatly delivers on that sensation.
However, there are a few setbacks that players should be more aware of when playing Ultracore. Ultracore does not feature any autosaving whatsoever. Each level ends with a passcode, and just like older days, the only way to continue progress is to input that password. This means that if players play Ultracore they should grab a notepad and copy the long string of characters. There is no "save scumming" in Ultracore either, meaning that players will have their skills tested to fight hard and make it to each level's end. As mentioned before, Ultracore does contain platforming sections, and these moments can become rather frustrating. Some section of Ultracore have either bottomless pits, or instant-death glowing floors. The main character can move faster and jump quite high but the control input can feel rather floaty when trying to jump these large sections, leading to untimely and frustrating deaths. Fortunately, there are multiple lives to earn, secrets to find, and continues to accumulate during Ultracore's five levels. Additionally, some computer terminals allow for upgrades for players, if they can find them.
Ultracore may not be for everyone, especially if they are unwilling to be patient and return to the older fashions of gaming, but for those willing to remember passcodes, platforming, and gold ol' fashioned running and shooting, Ultracore is simply an awesome flashback and a great game to play. I encourage everyone to play Ultracore but also ponder the game's release and its significance. The release of Ultracore is remarkable in an of itself, but its release leaves a constant question in my mind. How many canceled games are out there, sitting on a drive in a closet, waiting to be unearthed again? Split/ Second 2 and Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned come to mind. I wonder if one day, someone will take great inspiration from Ultracore and bring them back again.
Ultracore was reviewed on the PlayStation Vita, thanks to a key supplied to Stack Up by PR Hound