Overview – initially developed by Digital Illusions (DICE AB) and reprogrammed by Softdistribution/Strictly Limited Games, with publishing covered by ININ Games, Ultracore hits the Nintendo Switch. A revival of the long cancelled title known during development as HardCore, this 16-bit title features challenging run and gun platform action, with large intricate stages, hidden secrets and dangerous bosses. This title is also available on the PlayStation 4 as well as the Nintendo Switch, links to purchase the game will be at the bottom of this review.
Disclaimer: before I get into the review, I would like to extend my thanks to the representative for ININ Games who provided the copy of Ultracore used for this article. The provision of this title has not influenced the contents of this review, all thoughts and opinions contained within are my own.
Now with the introduction out of the way, lets jump into the review, I will be skipping the story section as the narrative is best experienced first-hand.
Gameplay – Ultracore is a 16-bit run and gun platform game, with large sprawling levels, an onslaught of robotic enemies and hazardous death traps. The player takes the role of the last soldier left in hostile territory, tasked with defeating a threat to their home planet. Now the player must fight their way through the facilities, collecting weapons, coins that are used as currency in the shop, keys and bombs to progress through the treacherous facilities and environments.
The game has a mixture of Metroid and Doom style to the gameplay, featuring some mechanics that were more uncommon during the original generation that the game would have appeared in. During stages, players must locate terminals that will read key cards, activate switches to reach new areas and open doors to gain access to the locked off areas. When finding weapons, the player will see what they currently have equipped, alongside details of the newest addition to the armory.
During play the, player will come across mid-boss battles and end of stage boss battles, that are challenging taking place in enclosed arenas. When completing a stage, the player will get a completion breakdown with the stats for that stage, along with a password to save progress. Being originally designed for the Commodore Amiga and SEGA Mega Drive (Genesis in the US), there is no save system, instead using a password to keep track of progress so taking notes is important.
Following the traditional style of 2D run and gun games from the 90’s, the player moves in four directions, left, right, up and down, with the gun being fired in eight directions. The reprogramming team has also added quality of life modifications to the existing code, these include new sound, improved controls and having the game running at 60hz (60FPS) at all times. These improvements make the overall experience very enjoyable and rewarding to play.
Now with the elements of the gameplay that I want to talk about covered, I will now more onto the other aspects of the game, starting with the controls.
Controls – Ultracore has two control methods, the first is the “classic” control scheme, using the control stick/D-Pad to move and aim while firing. The classic method causes some small issues during play, with the player being locked into place if they start to fire before moving, which can be frustrating but does serve a purpose allowing the player to duck enemy fire first. The newly introduced twin stick method remedies the issue that the classic style can cause, this quality of life fix is more suitable for the modern players, while the classic gameplay style is likely how purists will prefer to play Ultracore.
Difficulty – Ultracore has no difficulty selection, the challenge is preset and can be difficult and punishing, with death traps that wipe out the player in a single hit. The player only has 5 lives at the start of the game, three additional continues and there are zero save states/save points, this is a tough game and a difficult challenge to overcome. This isn’t a downside since the game only consists of five stages, which is shorter than most modern experiences, although the hidden objects and coins in the stages make replaying the game more rewarding.
Presentation – this is a reprogrammed game from 1994, with 16-bit graphics and smooth animations. The resolution has been boosted to fit the Nintendo Switch with an enhanced frame rate. The sound is available as both the original FM sound and a new remastered CD quality soundtrack, with the quality of both standing on their own merit. These quality of life improvements to the visuals and sound are fantastic, allowing the hard work of Digital Illusions to stand out, I commend the teams at Strictly Limited Games and Softdistribution, for their work bringing this title to a new audience.
Final Thoughts – I enjoyed my time playing Ultracore, the game is tough and challenging but still fun. The overall experience is a time capsule of the early 90’s in console gaming, with the sound, graphics and gameplay fitting the time period well, while still fitting into the modern gaming landscape. I can happily recommend this game, Ultracore is suitable for both retro enthusiasts and those dipping their toes into the retro gaming scene for the first time.
The only significant issue that I could find was that there is no save system, with the game relying on password saves to track progress. This may be off-putting for some players, however the Nintendo Switch screen capture capability is useful, as it allows easy recording of passwords. There was a niggling problem I had with the game however, which was the slight stiffness with the classic control style. This little annoyance can get frustrating when you take hits that could have been avoided, but otherwise it isn’t a deal breaker.
So in the end, I give Ultracore a final score of 4/5. Ultracore is a challenging and enjoyable blast from the past, the platforming is tough, the gunplay is frantic and obtaining hidden objects is rewarding. I applaud the hard work that was put into restoring this lost title, with the additions made to the game enhancing the experience without detracting from the developers original vision. An outstanding game, that if you want to check out for yourself, there will be links to both versions below.
Link to Nintendo Switch version (HERE)
Link to PlayStation 4 version (HERE)