• Dux review Sega Dreamcast

    DUX came hot on the heels of Last Hope, which probably put a lot of people off getting it. This is a shame because it's better looking, not nearly so rock hard and plays pretty well. It's still hard though.

    Whilst presented as a horizontal-scrolling (2D) shooter, there is also an option to play vertically, especially bizarre since some of the levels feature water at the bottom of the horizontal screen. However, most people will play with the standard horizontal. Being a cavern shooter featuring a force shield, it most immediately says "I'm an R-type clone", but the large sprites and explosions suggest influences from Cybernoid and Armalyte. The scenery, all of which will destroy you on impact, starts off with very clean, large structures with almost no colour as if inside a spaceship, but soon moves on to more organic or rocky/crystalline terrain. The main thing to note is that it is normally crawling with surface enemies in addition to the ones that fly in from all sides. This allows the action to slow right down in comparison to bullet hell shooters. Since there are patternless bullets and solid objects flying around everywhere, it's more about learning the best placement for any given section than surviving on reactions alone. A good placement will ensure much of the opposition is destroyed before it gets a chance to release too many bullets, giving you a chance to think about what is going on elsewhere on the screen.

    All weapons can be held down a little for a charge shot which is useful for combo-hit score increases, and some can be combined, so lasers with vertical bombs or normal shot with rockets. Weapon pick-ups litter the stages, but can be difficult to spot amongst the carnage. In fact, similar to Last Hope (No Hope?), it can be quite difficult at first to distinguish solid from background, explosions from bullets and generally pick your way through the destruction without meeting an untimely end. However, unlike Last Hope, it is something that gets easier with time and experience. To aid with this, there are three levels of adjustable background intensity – an interesting feature, but probably needed more in Last Hope than here. Overall, it's easier to make out what's going on here and is all the better for it.

    The force shield has various functions. Most importantly, it's a bullet shield, making it invaluable when the intensity ramps up. It can be powered up making it larger, and can be positioned at either the front or back of your bright-orange ship. Placing it at the back is useful for killing some enemies that have a weak point at the back for a quick kill and higher score. Alternatively, it can be fired off in a straight line and vaguely follows your movements but at the edge of the screen or scenery, until recalled. It will destroy some enemies while passing through them. If you remember to use it amongst the chaos, this is an essential tactic and is well implemented, with it firing out quickly but returning slowly, giving a chance to squish a few more on the way back. Secondly, the shield has a Hyper Soak meter that increases as you soak up bullets and occasional soak boosters. Pressing Y on the stick (or right trigger on the pad) causes the shield to attract all nearby bullets, so if the shield is attached to your ship, you become impervious to bullets, but not lasers. This only lasts until the meter runs dry, but is extended while bullets are soaked. Bullets soaked in rapid succession also increase your score more quickly than bits here and there – a sort of soak combo. The Hyper Soak works really well to get you out of a tight spot and makes a great thinking-man's alternative to the traditional bomb.

    The way the game looks overall deserves a mention. The simple but colourful packaging theme extends throughout the presentation, from the menus to the game stages themselves and it works, with the VGA visuals being a treat to view. The accompanying trance soundtrack does the job, but the front-end music is more memorable than the tracks in the stages.

    Unfortunately, anyone playing for scores will be disappointed because a bug in the first stage to do with the checkpoint system means it's only worth playing for survival and 1CC bragging rights. Another bug means that you have to use all 3 credits, or pause and quit. If you are obsessed with scores as the measure of success and improvement, then steer clear, but if you can enjoy it for the experience and how far you can get on one credit, then it's a worthwhile purchase.

    Score: 6/10