RefleX is the second chapter of SHMUP series The Tale of ALLTYNEX by Japanese indie developer SITER SKAIN. It works well as a stand-alone game, although if you’re interest in the trilogy’s story, RefleX takes place during a decades-long conflict between Earth’s militaristic government and the resistance. There’s an alien race that has come to seek vengeance against humans, but really, I’m just here to shoot things.
For those that want to immerse themselves in the universe of ALLTYNEX, the internet provides rich background and recounts of the events leading up to the fighting. If you want to know what’s happening within RefleX and, like me, haven’t played the other chapters of the series, you’ll certainly need it.
It’s the first and most glaring omission of the game that left me more than a bit confused – there’s no text or dialogue explaining who you are, what you’re doing, or who you’re fighting against. The main menu allows you to jump straight into the campaign, and after setting your pilot’s name you’re thrown into the thick of combat.
Some people might despise this, and at the very start so did I due to how alien it felt. But this omission allowed other parts of the game to stand out, highlighting strengths and focussed the player’s attention on what mattered most – the gameplay.
The glory is out there for the taking
Like the classic arcade SHMUPs that dominated the scene pre-2000s, RefleX puts you in a powerful vessel to fight a massive onslaught of enemies. It’s one against hundreds over the course of 8 stages (of which I only managed to get through 5), with bosses that dwarf you in size and firepower.
But instead of the humdrum monotony of holding down the trigger key, aimlessly drifting side to side to sweep your endless barrage of lasers across the screen, the game encourages you to let go. In fact, there are some stages you cannot feasibly survive if you don’t stop shooting.
Your fighter is special, equipped with a prototype shield that reflects a certain type of projectile. Your ammunition is infinite, but this shield is not. It seems to share an energy pool with your guns, so while it recharges quickly, it charges faster when you aren’t firing.
More than just a barrier to keep you alive, your shield is a means for you to do more damage than your guns would otherwise be capable of. By timing your shield to catch the incoming blue projectiles and positioning your fighter just right, you can channel the destructive force of enemies twice as big as you to hit them where it hurts most.
It’s rewarding to see those big combo numbers come up on the screen after a particularly well-timed move. The shield is a simple concept, but it’s done in such a way that leaves you with the impression that there’s more to tactics than holding down the trigger. You have to think, and given that there are no power-ups, no upgrades to your fighter, no other progression than slogging through the stages, the shield is the one thing keeping combat fun.
Bringing it home
Ah, I guess I should mention that again as, if nothing else, it’ll probably be the reason why someone wouldn’t pick RefleX up. There is no character/pilot/vehicle progression. The guns you start with are the guns you end with, and your shield similarly stays the same. In true arcade fashion, RefleX is about how good you are as a player, not how lucky you were with your power-ups or how many upgrades you’ve equipped.
It’s a niche title all right, but what it does, it does well. Your fighter feels fast, and the animations on your plane are fluid. The rolls you automatically do while switching directions don’t make you any quicker, though they add to the impression of agility. Small touches like these fuse into a slick experience that’s great for whenever you’ve got a few minutes to spare.
RefleX is on Steam now for $7.99. Even though I quite enjoyed the combat, the atmosphere, and the music, I’d wait for a sale on this one. For the same price, there are other SHMUPs that offer more depth in areas like customization – a factor that will surely sway the majority of players.
- Fast, fluid combat
- A reflective shield system that rewards map awareness
- The necessity to release the trigger key
- Great atmosphere
- No customization
- Progression is limited to the number of stages you pass
- Limited textual context
OS: Microsoft Windows 2000 / XP / Vista / 7 / 8
Processor: Intel Pentium4 1.4GHz or better
Memory: 128 MB RAM
Graphics: DirectX 8.1 or above and Direct3D with 64MB or more of VRAM
Hard Drive: 200 MB available space
Sound Card: DirectSound-compatible Sound Card