Solar Shifter EX fits snugly into the Bullet Hell category of games. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, a bullet hell game is a type of shoot ’em up where the screen scrolls towards you, generally vertically, and there are hoards of enemies that fill the play area with projectiles. Navigating through the enemies and the bullets takes split-second decision-making, quick reactions, and the ability to stay focused.
In Solar Shifter, you play as a mercenary in a pretty typical futuristic setting; humanity tried to explore the stars, aliens kicked humanity’s ass, and aliens want to wipe out humanity. There are also human space pirates being douchebags to the rest of humanity too, for some reason. None of it is explained terribly well but honestly, it’s a shoot ’em up, you don’t need a story. You do however need gameplay! Solid mechanics! Crisp visuals!
SS-EX doesn’t really shine in that department either. While, in fairness, the game utilizes both mouse & keyboard play as well as gamepads, your ship feels like it’s made out of some kind of space-faring cardboard as it can’t take any sort of sustained damage. This is a shame because the visuals are so cluttered and messy that you’ll be eating a lot of stray shots. While it’s typical of the genre to have loads happening on the screen at one time, SS-EX tries to achieve a cinematic feel by stuffing tons of effects into both the foreground and background at the same time. It leads to a confusing mix of lasers and explosions, and it can be difficult to tell background cinematics apart from stuff that can kill you. Even exploding ships have rain debris that can easily be mistaken for lethal missiles.
You do have a health bar, but it’s tucked away at the bottom of the screen and simply drains when you take damage. There’s no feeling to it at all. More often than not, you don’t realize you’re taking damage until you’ve exploded. It also takes a couple of seconds to respawn which can be frustrating if you die repeatedly in a single section. And as most checkpoints come before the game’s minimal, generic dialogue, if you die you have to listen to it again. And again. And again. I’ll be quite happy if I never have to hear the phrase “You are a true survivor, exactly the kind of person we need right now! Follow me to the Shadow Hub!” ever again in my whole entire life.
The characters and storyline are almost instantly forgettable. The first mobile phone I ever had came with a vertically scrolling game similar to SS-EX, but it didn’t make the mistake of trying to make me care about a story. The dialogue is generic and poorly scripted, but it comes in frequently enough that it feels like you’re really supposed to take interest in this sci-fi universe that’s comparable to so many others.
The worst thing about the entire experience is the camera. It’s a scrolling shooter, so you obviously don’t expect to control the camera. What you do expect, however, is for it to sit still and stop trying to pan and rotate for dramatic effect. Your ship doesn’t change direction or stick to the bottom of the screen while this is happening, so it creates an awkward angle where you’re trying to line shots up diagonally across the screen, while also trying to dodge bullets and avoid getting eviscerated by the hoards of enemies. I can’t see a single reason for the camera to move around the way it does.
Solar Shifter EX is a bad example of a Bullet Hell game. It’s a poor representative of a genre that holds some solid classics. At its best, SS-EX is tolerable. At its worst, it’s infuriating. This is one to be avoided unless you feel like putting yourself through a hell that has nothing to do with bullets.