The recent trend of reviving long-defunct shoot-’em-up IPs from the dead, usually when the original developer has stripped their electronic coil, is commendable. M2 revived Aleste, Platinum Games revived the Crestas, and now little indie outfit Picorinne Soft – made up of brothers Ryo and Satto – have ventured a sequel to Viscos Andro Dunosa largely forgotten Hellfire-inspired neo-geo shoot-em-up from 1992.
Despite outstanding work, Steam, Dreamcast and the recent releases of Picorinne Soft’s Ex-A Arcadia remain relatively underground. While Andro Dunos II inherits the Hellfire-style ship and weapon system of its ancestor, everything else is so vastly improved and expanded that it bears little resemblance to the original game. It’s so different, in fact, that Visco’s intellectual property seems little more than a Trojan horse to give them wider recognition. As it turns out, this is an all-round win.
Anyone who grew up playing arcade games will know within the first 30 seconds that something is very right here. Your retro gaming skills sing like a sixth sense, remembering ten pence coin drops and cigarette burns at the control panel as Stage One’s beautiful indoor space city, barricaded by steel walls and ripping skyscrapers, opens before you. Within minutes, you’re soaring beyond its confines into a desert of scorched earth that mirrors Zoom’s grittier elements phalanx and Taitos metal black.
From there, the creativity goes supernova, using just about every shoot ’em up convention imaginable, from mobile tank attacks to a thrilling mothership boss onslaught that spawns seemingly bottomless inventions. There are moments when maps flash and show you a route before you hurtle through tunnels, not unlike those of the Mega Drive Aero Blaster; Elsewhere, sparkling interplanetary cityscapes dot the background before diving into laser-infused techno connections. An ever-changing sci-fi spectacle, it maintains its shape across a reasonable difficulty curve from one blistering moment to the next, adjusting itself as it soars to ever more epic new heights. When Gradius v were a 2D arcade game, it would probably be something like this.
Very simple at first – and all the more encouraging – it’s hard to overstate how accurately the brothers have captured the gaming traits of yesteryear. While visually it’s a near-perfect facsimile of ’90s arcade software, the aesthetic is bolstered by an exemplary soundtrack by Brit Allister Brimble, who has been composing since the days of the Amiga and Spectrum. Its punchy, spacey themes fuel the adrenaline with classic chords and haunting synthesizers in a superior fusion of Eastern design ethics and Western music composition.
your little orange Jetsons-like vehicle reminiscent of the cars of the future from the 50’s comes with four default weapons that can be driven freely. ‘S’ symbols power each weapon currently in use, increasing its power incrementally up to seven times. On the other hand, if you die, your weapon power is reduced by one. There are also missile and shield icons that increase the power of your secondary weapons and defense options.
During gameplay, blue orbs dropped by destroyed enemies can be kicked up before floating off screen. Collecting all 30 orbs in a stage allows a total of three upgrades to be applied during the interval between stages. While the mechanics appear simple at first glance, one quickly realizes that a carefully structured economy is at play, offering a wealth of experimental freedom. This is expertly and sophisticatedly tied to the design of the stages, their enemies and threats.
Choosing the weapons that suit you best and focusing on powering them up is a common first instinct, although ultimately it’s a race to max out your entire arsenal as quickly as possible. This can be done in a variety of ways, from focusing on a single Forerunner to spreading your upgrades evenly across the board. Integral to all of this is each weapon’s ability to go into overdrive in four unique bursts, firing heavy firepower for a few seconds before falling into a brief recharge phase that temporarily reduces the power of your shot – a small penalty for otherwise unlimited use. To counter this, you can switch to one of the other three weapons instead and focus on moving your arms with the shoulder buttons.
Each weapon is not only unique – some backfire, others tout power over range – but also its hyper attributes. Learning to use the right weapon at the right time becomes an essential part from around level five, with plenty of hyper attacks helping to take down threats from above and below, obliterating busy boss attacks, and even nullifying incoming bullets. The timing is of course crucial.
As you learn the early stages and their bosses, it’s super fun to strategize, snag all those blue orbs, and tear apart giant enemies and popcorn fleets with your hyper attacks. The controls are tight and tactile, and the horizontal format leaves plenty of room to breathe and maneuver. It feels great to be able to juggle everything at once and unleash hell on alien hordes to Brimble’s fantastic themes.
Bosses are also particularly inventive, impressively tiny, with multiple destructible pieces and a massive library of exciting attacks to navigate. Whether you’re up against monstrous aquatic nemesis or bomb-launching destroyers, there’s rarely a dull moment.
There are many continues available, but if you’re playing it “right” you should really only use one. That said, Continues obviously allow you to progress to subsequent levels and then add them to the Practice mode list: an extremely important feature in fighting the increasing difficulty curve.
While Andros Dunos II resembles the arcade era’s long-lost glory, there are still a few imperfections. At ten stages, it’s a bit weighty, especially when no-fire shoot-em-ups are generally at eight. It’s just one player – so no team building – and the lack of scanline filters is disappointing, especially in a game that looks and feels this accurate. Elsewhere it would have been nice to be able to change the random wallpapers or even turn them off, and you can’t stretch the display either, but that’s probably for the best.
Worst of all is the inability to remap the shoulder buttons, hampering the ability to use different controllers. For example, if “L” and “R” are permanently locked from switching weapons, you may well find yourself doing finger gymnastics on an arcade stick, depending on the layout. This would be less of an issue if swapping weapons wasn’t as important and didn’t need to be used as regularly, but as it stands it’s a minor but fairly limiting oversight.
Minor criticisms aside, if someone were to tell you that Andro Dunos II was more of a long-lost relic of a bygone era than a 2022 release – and thus a prime example of the genre – you honestly would be none the wiser. To that end, 30 years from now, it will likely be far better regarded than Visco’s original title.
Andro Dunos II is a complete success. That a small indie developer can compete alongside M2 and Platinum and frankly with greater overall success is always uplifting. What’s further inspiring is how – despite the superficial IP – it manages to live up to ’90s arcade standards so absolutely, while still feeling breathtakingly original. His craftsmanship, from weapon negotiation and experimentation to the way each stage is cleverly built to support a variety of approaches and playstyles, is top-notch. Andro Dunos II looks great, sounds great and plays beautifully.
https://www.nintendolife.com/reviews/switch-eshop/andro-dunos-2 Andro Dunos 2 Review (Switch eShop / Switch)