Review: Tale of ALLTYNEX Trilogy

As I type this, I’m downloading the Final Fantasy XIV 4.0 patch and awaiting the release of that game’s new expansion. It’s during downtime like this that I tend to dig through my library and pull out something that can be played start-to-finish in a reasonable amount of time. In keeping with my current theme of games from the late-90’s era, I came across a trilogy of arcade-style schmups (shoot-em-ups) called The Tale of ALLTYNEX. This trilogy consists of three games: ALLTYNEX Second, RefleX and KAMUI. I’ve had these titles sitting in my Steam library for some time, but I’ve never paid them much attention. If I remember right, I got them as part of an indie Japanese game bundle several years ago. Last weekend, I found myself with a desire to step away from all the deep and complicated RPGS that tend to consume the majority of my game playing, and jump into some old school, bullet-hell arcade action. So I installed these games and went in completely blind.

Unless you’re really into the Japanese indie scene, you’ve probably never heard of these games. So, let’s take a moment to bring ourselves up to speed. This trilogy contains a set of games created by Japanese developer Siter Skain. This collection was actually made possible via a project on Kickstarter. It contains the following titles:

ALLTYNEX Second – This game is a semi-modern remake of the Japanese 1996 arcade classic ALLTYNEX.

RefleX – A 2008 remake, this time of an indie freeware game called Reflection from 1997.

KAMUI – A 1999 Japanese PC game, based on classic shoot-em-up arcade titles.

Originally, each of these games were separate entities with each successive game being largely inspired by the one that came before it. Now, they have been compiled and somewhat re-imagined as a loose trilogy. Oddly enough, due to the various remakes, the newest games are actually the oldest chronologically.

As mentioned above, the first game lore-wise in the trilogy is ALLTNYEX Second.  Essentially, you play as the pilot of a “superfighter” starship.  In this title, mankind’s  orbital defensive supercomputer, ALLTYNEX suddenly goes rogue and uses its control over all of all of Earth’s military hardware to wage war on humanity. As a result, the human race is forced to flee the planet and regroup on the far reaches of the solar system. In a last-ditch effort to reclaim the planet, a team of  “superfighters” are dispatched to destroy ALLTYNEX.

This game is very well done. It feels just like one of those old quarter-pumper arcade machines, and thanks to moderns graphics, it makes the genre look better than ever.  It embodies the classic Starfighter schmup gameplay: swarms of enemies, rapid fire, bullets everywhere.  The player can choose between their regular blasters or a special shield that both protects your starship as well as damages enemies.  The gameplay is intense and not particularly easy – but few bullet hells are. The nearly unlimited continues make the game accessible for even a casual player. From start to finish the game can be completed in under an hour by an experienced player.

Next up is RefleX. This game is very similar to the others. It’s an overheard bullet hell/schmup. But unlike the other entries, you don’t have multiple lives. If your ship is destroyed, it’s game over. Luckily, the starship here is protected by a reflective shield. Enemy bolts will bounce off the shield and back towards the sender. This provides a whole new level of strategy to the game.

RefleX actually has quite an in-depth backstory, but to find all the juicy details you will have to dig through the manual. (The Steam version does have a PDF manual).  Essentially, you are a member of a resistance group that is rallying against an overbearing government. What’s unclear, at least to me, is how this ties in with the first game… has humanity retaken Earth and now bad guys are running the show? Despite several similarities, it just isn’t made very clear.

Finally, we have the third game in the trilogy, KAMUI. Despite being the last game in the series, this title is the one that shows it’s age the most. Which, considering the other two are remakes, I guess that’s to be expected.

This is the game that actually manages to tie the other two titles together. It features story elements from both ALLTYNEX and RefleX and presents a final battle between the resistance and a new militarized version of the ALLTYNEX AI.

Despite being the most dated of the three, I think KAMUI is my favorite of the trilogy simply because it reminds me the most of those old arcade-style shoot-em-ups that consumed so many hours of my youth. Which, is odd in itself considering KAMUI was a PC title.

Difficulty: Hard–  Most schmups and bullet hell games are infamous for their high degree of difficulty. These games are no different. Unless you’re one of those machine-like professional gamers or some kind of savant, you’re going to die a lot. Luckily, the games are pretty forgiving in that you are granted nearly unlimited continue credits. So, in reality, as long as you are persistent you can manage to complete the games regardless of overall skill. This still doesn’t change the fact that the game itself is difficult in it’s own right.

Story: As a whole, the storyline shared between these games is surprisingly rich. This is true despite it being largely absent from the games themselves. Schmups are not typically known for being rich is lore and storyline, so for this type of game any real attempt to provide one is welcome

Originality: Back in the 90’s games like these were a dime a dozen. These days, they have become a bit a niche category. Despite being based on a tested and tired model, the games in the ALLTYNEX Trilogy manage to stand out in their own little ways. For example, the ricochet shield from RefleX is a pretty unique feature. Little things like these keep the games feeling semi-fresh in a pool of stagnant copy-cat titles.

Soundtrack: One of the high points of all three of these games are the fantastic soundtracks. All these of titles come complete with a groovy, high-energy techno-like score. The music is catchy and appropriate. It does a fantastic job of keeping your blood pumping for the split-second twitch action that games like these require.

Fun: I can imagine that many people would find games like these to be frustrating and overly difficult. But that is something that fans of bullet hell games have come to expect and love. So you’re either going to enjoy this type of game or you’re not. For people like me, I don’t really consider myself to be a fan of these types of games, per se. But I do enjoy them for the nostalgia factor. And, I can appreciate them for what they are.

Graphics:  Being a trilogy of games from different eras, the graphics are a mixed bag.  Kamui and RefleX, are both still stuck in the 16-bit era. While ALLTYNEX Second has a much more modern, polished look. 

Playcontrol:  Even though these games support keyboard controls, take my advice and plug in either an Xbox or Playstation game pad. Games like these were made for controllers. Personally, I found a trusty old Xbox 360 controller to be perfect to all three games, with no real issues.

Downloadable Content:  None

Mature Content: Sci-Fi violence.

Value:  Each of these games is available separately on Steam for $8, or together in a bundle for $20. If you’re a fan of this genre, the $20 pricetag may be well worth it. But, these games are on sale frequently so a bargain shopper can usually snag them on a deal.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Even though I don’t really consider myself a fan of the shoot-em-up genre, I found a lot of enjoyment in these three games. It was really a nice break our of the norm for me. Everything from the fast-paced action, to the visuals, to the soundtrack really scratched an itch I had been having for some retro arcade action. My biggest complaint about the collection is that the original versions of ALLTYNEX and RefleX were not included.

Available on: PC (Steam)

Coin-Op Origins

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In my 33 years I’ve been many things. I’ve been a husband, a father, a student, a banker, an insurance agent,a pizza man, I’ve even flirted with being a rockstar. As the years have gone by, I’ve worn many labels and enjoyed many hobbies. A lot of these interests have come and gone over time. But one thing has remained constant since I was a young kid: I’ve been a gamer.

I remember the first time I played a video game. I had to be no more than six years old. I was with my parents at the local Pizza Hut when I turned around to find myself face to face with a giant glowing Centipede machine. The controls were simple, roll a big red ball, press the button as fast as you could, and try to shoot the centipede in a field filled with mushrooms.

I was enthralled. It was fantastic. There was blinking lights, beeps and bloops, bright colors, it was sheer magic! The machine was adorned with a painting of a menacing cartoon centipede poised to strike at some unknown victim… From that first quarter down the coin slot, I was hooked.

It wasn’t too long after that I encountered other arcade machines, Asteroids, Galaxian, Pac-Man, Q-bert, Frogger, Donkey Kong. All of them were interesting to a young child like me. But nothing had tickled my fancy quite like the first time I saw that Centipede machine.

Although I can’t claim to remember, I’m pretty sure I begged my parents to eat out at Pizza Hut every night just so I could play Centipede. Eventually, I assume they figured they could save some money by finding a way for me to play it at home, and for  Christmas that year, I got an Atari 2600. Complete with a Centipede cart.

The Atari version did not satisfy me the same way the arcade machine did. The Atari 2600 was not as powerful as most arcade cabinets. The graphics were much less colorful. Comparing art of the Atari version of Pac-Man to the arcade machine will make that clear in an instant. Regardless, for the next couple of years the Atari 2600 was what I gamed on. I had all the classics: Pitfall, Moon Patrol, Donkey Kong, Asteroids, all of which suffered in quality compared to their arcade counterparts. I’ve included two pictures below as an example:

 Moon Patrol Arcade Version:

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Moon Patrol Atari 2600 Version:
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Just not the same is it?

For a year or more, I was content in my little bubble of watered-down Atari games.It wasn’t until one fateful trip to the local 7-11 with my father that I realized there was something better. It was there, Slurpee in hand, that I first laid eyes on a Super Mario Bros. arcade machine. Everything from the graphics to the sound were revolutionary. My dad handed me a quarter and I plunged head-first into the Mushroom Kingdom. Of course, I was clueless. I didn’t make it past the first Goomba. I had no idea you were supposed to jump over it, or better yet, on it.

I recall going to school the next day and telling my friends about it.  “He had a a mustache. You could REALLY see that he had a mustache! It looked… well, almost as good as a cartoon” I wanted to play game again so bad, I remember drawing pictures of Mario and Koopa Turtles on notebook paper and cutting them out like paper dolls and acting out scenes I had seen from the game. I mean, I had that Mario Fever bad.

One day I was in Toys R Us, and I saw a “Mario Brothers” game for the 2600. I let out a squeal unmatched to this day. Imagine my disappointment when I got it home only to realize it was not as “super” as Super Mario Bros. Even worse, it was another terrible Atari port.

My fever was cured that coming Christmas with the gift of a Nintendo Entertainment System by my grandmother. From the first day I pushed that SMB cart into that beautiful gray toaster and pressed the power button, I was marked as a gamer for life.