Under Defeat HD Review
Game: Under Defeat HD
Publisher: Rising Star Games
Available On: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Reviewed On: Xbox 360
Under Defeat was one of the last “proper” games released for the SEGA Dreamcast – as in not a homebrew labour of love like unlicensed Neo Geo port Last Hope – and as a result holds something of a special place in my heart. Developer G.rev, who were formed by a shooter fanboy splinter group from Taito’s arcade division, have a hell of a pedigree. Their members had previously worked on arcade bangers like G Darius and killer vert lock-on title RayStorm, and had been involved in helping Treasure work on two of their finest titles in Gradius V and Ikaruga. Their first two shooters, operating by themselves, were stunning, uber-hardcore horizontal tribute to Metal Black, Border Down, and the old school, military themed helicopter shooter that I find myself taking a look at now.
Like Border Down, Under Defeat was originally a SEGA Naomi arcade game, released – understandably – in Japan only, seeing as the market for arcade games in the West had all but disappeared by the time of its release. The ensuing Dreamcast port sold remarkably well, possibly as a result of its rumoured status as the final DC release, however it is also a solid shooter which, at the time, was praised for its excellent graphics and gameplay which harked back to the likes of Raiden and Twin Cobra. All this was in spite of a controversial plot and aesthetic which sees you seemingly take control of a Nazi fighter helicopter in direct combat with what are ostensibly coalition forces. “Thass raycess!” I hear you cry – but it really is pretty innocent, and if you really do have a problem using a Teutonic aircraft to gun people down (the characters even speak German!), then please don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Under Defeat puts you (and a friend, if you wish – it is two player) in control of a helicopter gunship in a straight up vertically scrolling scenario. The angle of view is slightly tilted, and you are able to take out airborne enemies as well as tanks, boats, buildings, gun emplacements and other ground-based foes. You can move your craft the standard eight directions, and fire vertically, however, there is a twist, you can rotate to the left or right slightly, meaning that you can fire in three directions, forward, and left and right diagonal. In the classic arcade version, which is present here, the way your copter aims changes when you move left or right, and holding down the main shoot button will fix your fire in whichever direction you happen to be facing. If you move right, the ship will tilt to the right and fire diagonally in that direction. Moving left will fire the opposite way, whilst not moving horizontally will see the projectiles shoot vertically. This can be reversed so that moving left will aim the bullets to the right and vice versa. Your helicopter is equipped with the standard shmup smart bombs (an initial stock of three), but also has another trick up its sleeve; the Option unit. Refraining from shooting your main weapon charges up the Option and it will then be unleashed the next time you fire, instinctively attacking the enemy on your behalf. There are three types of Option: Vulcan, Rocket and Cannon, with the type altered by collecting floating power up icons left behind after destroying enemies. Each type of Option has a different effect and varying recharge times for the bar to fill up. Vulcan will unleash a heavy stream of machine gun style bullets, whereas the slower-to-replenish rocket fires a huge cataclysmic blast that fills a huge section of the screen.
Until very recently, the only ways to enjoy Under Defeat would have been to hunt down a reasonably priced second hand Dreamcast version from an auction site, or for those lucky enough to own an arcade cab, purchase a Naomi board and hunt down a copy of the GD-ROM . Thankfully, following in the footsteps of the Japanese PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 release earlier this year, the always reliable Rising Star Games have stepped in to provide a brilliant high-definition port, in a deluxe package that contains a wealth of new modes and content formerly only available to NTSC-J-gamers.
What do you get with this new Deluxe package, and indeed the re-release as a whole? For those bothered about what comes in the box, the game ships with a digital art book, a soundtrack CD highlighting the thumping old-school shooty tuneage, all of the downloadable content and patches that had been released for the Japanese release, and a letter from G.rev CEO Hiroyuki Maruyama, which I won’t spoil for you, but needless to say warmed the cockles of my heart.
Game-wise, you can now play using the second analogue stick as a way to aim your helicopter and, dare I say it, but this Robotron control setup actually makes it far more intuitive and easier to handle than the original. The original arcade mode is present, with the option to play with borders, or to turn your telly on its side for some TATE action. Not ideal for the larger tellies of today, perhaps, but kudos for including this option. In addition to the old school mode, there is also the excellent, HD-enhanced New Order mode which transports the action into full-screen, 16:9 graphically-sharp glory. It works tremendously well, and doesn’t seem to lose anything in translation during this aspect ratio shift. Like the original game it is nails-hard, so the handy Practise mode, which allows you to take on individual levels in your pursuit of one-credit glory, is a nice addition. Of course the game is also laden with Achievements and has online Leaderboards.
VERDICT: Under Defeat is not a wheel-reinventing, unique shooting experience. It lacks the bullet-hell sophistication of a Cave title (although it does get very hectic at some points), it is very much a product of a bygone age, when the arcade was King, and firms like Taito and Toaplan crapped out brilliant vertical shooters the same way as a chickens lay eggs.
That isn’t to say this isn’t a terrific game, it has that “just one more go” feel, meaning that even after your tenth effort to defeat a stage you are still prepared to go back and learn the patterns, take a different approach (use of the Option is key to success!) and beat that goddamn boss; even if you are basically playing as the female Hitler. Rising Star Games should again be applauded for bringing us these lovely little niche titles, and one hopes that all of the old school heads like myself pick up this retail release, so that G.rev may do the honourable thing and give the public (read: me) what it deserves and start working on that port of Border Down.