There's a certain expectation of the malign that comes with a name like Studio Evil. When I had first heard the name, I swore there was a darkening of the very air around me, like all light and hope had not completely disappeared, but dimmed appreciably. It was with this trepidation and expectation of horrors untold that I started Syder Arcade, a knowing throwback to the days of yore (the '90s) in which blood and tears were shed to play games on things called “Amigas” and “PCs.” Cursing all that is, I am happy (?) to report that they succeeded.
Syder Arcade is a shoot'em up, or shmup, based in the far reaches of possibly this galaxy, where you, as the intrepid “Pilot,” fly headlong into things you shouldn't be flying into. Through the six campaign levels, there's a central story of humanity defending the reaches against some alien horde. At some point you're yelled at by your commander for doing something cheeky, and there are a few reasons given for shooting things, and saving things, and escorting really big things, but if we're being perfectly honest here (which I assure you, humble reader, we are) I was far too busy dying to either pay any attention at all, or care.
What was clear, even beyond the constant mortal coil-shuffle poor “Pilot” was subjected to, was my selection of three ships available for active destruc- use. Each had different stats in regards to flight speed and armor (armor... hahahahahaha!), and each sported a special weapon unique in design and function. My personal favorite belonged to the heavily armored (in this instance think of the difference between tissue paper and some good, solid college-ruled) Mule, a robust (read: slow) ship which, when called upon, summoned asteroids as a physical shield against the neon-lit Cirque de Morte surrounding it.
Since we have already established we're being honest, this Cirque de Morte of which I speak can be dumbed down to reasonable levels through Syder's difficulty levels. I played through the game on Tourist, which is, as the game puts it, "for those that just want to enjoy the scenery." There is also Young Gun, Arcade, and Pure, which, if we're being honest, and we are, might as well read dead, deader, and "Suitable only for Bill Murray's character in Little Shop of Horrors."
To make matters more interesting, Syder Arcade is a 2D side-scroller... that doesn't side-scroll. YOU scroll Syder Arcade. Yup, stop, read that last bit again and for the love of Pete, hold your hand down before you slap yourself. YOU scroll Syder Arcade. Both to the right and the left. Cause they give you a button that lets your ship flip, and you control Aliens, shooting their horrid guns, launching their terrifying mines, or hell, just sitting in your way, come from all sides, and are displayed in a deliciously terrible mini-map as small red dots surrounding your small white dot.
See, Syder is not content to simply throw legions of the undying (well at least in my game the only one dying was me) at you. Nope, you get to see them coming, lulling you into a false sense of security by allowing a strategy of sorts to form on how to deal with the approaching hordes, and then killing you anyway.
And die I did. Beautifully. To admit that Syder Arcade is woefully difficult is to also admit that each of my deaths was of the utmost visual quality. Though the hit box of the various ships was a little difficult to gauge, each was highly detailed, and popped colorfully against the black of space, or the browns of asteroids, or the multicolored death of the various metal reapers (star ships) that sealed my doom on more occasions then I care to mention.
So where does that leave us. You fly, you die, you fly again, you die again. Somewhere in between you earn points, pick up small upgrades from the enemies you manage to kill, and find yourself as a number on the leaderboards as an atta boy for performing as well as you managed to. As I mentioned before, all this shmup is wrapped in a campaign mode, but, if you want to skip all those needless words, Syder also comes with a survival mode. It's you, “Pilot,” against an endless spawn.
Probably the only thing that could really make this better for a shmupper (I just made that up, ha!) would be working game pad controls. Growing up, I didn't have a computer, so my only window to this supposedly super hard style of gaming came through friends, which means I normally ended up huddled over them, holding my finger down on the weapon controls while they steered the ship, acting out some sort of mad bomber fantasy, free and clear of any and all blame relating to the eventual death of our plane, boat, helicopter, or general conveyance. My own solo experiences come mainly from releases on the SNES forward, which means that I am much more comfortable controlling things with a game pad then the little arrows relegated to the right of my keyboard.
Game pads are supported, but there is a known issue with Xbox game pads that make it almost impossible to play with. Does this hurt the game? Not really, in the long run, but because I prefer a controller to a keyboard when playing games, my personal enjoyment is kind of wrapped up in it. Luckily, a fix is on the way for game pads, and I plan on leaving it installed on my system long enough to see if maybe I don't die as quickly with a controller in hand.
For the asking price of $7.99, anyone would be hard pressed to find such a quality shmup within reach, especially one which seems to not only to celebrate, but actually relish in the difficult roots which birthed it. Naming itself a love letter to the '90s, Syder Arcade is a great ride to a glorious, and well earned, death.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!