Weâ€™ve seen a few games lately with interesting backstories. There was Yeah Yeah Beebiss II, a sequel to a non-existent NES game, and the Quest for Glory homage Quest for Infamy â€“ a love letter to PC adventure games series that flips the premise on its head. Now hereâ€™s Andro Dunos II – a sequel to a 1992 NeoGeo game nobody had heard of it until some thirty years later when a relatively unknown developer thought â€œyeah, alright, weâ€™ll get the licence to make a sequel of this!â€
And thatâ€™s Andro Dunos IIâ€™s backstory. Itâ€™s a 2D shmup, which piqued my interest immediately as I love the genre. As a sequel to a 1992 game on essentially modern arcade hardware, ADII looks the part and throws around large sprite-scaling graphics with the same reckless abandon the NeoGeo was known for in its day. Iâ€™ve seen the occasional indie developer try and capture this aesthetic and energy in their own titles, as if itâ€™s a low bar to aim for, but itâ€™s truly challenging to get a game looking this authentic. Even when a lot is happening on screen, it remains easily readable.
Of course, the music and sound effects also play a part. Explosions are crunchy without being overbearing, weapons are aurally pleasing, and the music is suitably driving, all complementing the action well. It all may appear somewhat dated to less-enlightened eyes and ears, but to me, itâ€™s a glorious ballet of colour and cacophony. GOTY 1993.
Thereâ€™s more to it than simply looking and sounding authentic to the era. A shooter lives or dies by its mechanics. As such, ADII is patterned after its mediocre prequel at face value; the player ship has four weapons that can be cycled through, each with different utility, and all can be upgraded with either lettered power-ups or at the end of any given stage based on how many blue orbs were collected. Simple stuff on the surface and the switching between the different weapons in different situations adds a base level of strategy that lies somewhere between the offensive palette of the Thunder Force series and Hellfire. Unlike the former, weapons are not lost on death (only downgraded by one level) and unlike the latter, weapons can be upgraded individually.
The player expression afforded by this upgrade system is fantastic and lends itself to an aspect of planning and forward-thinking depending on which of the weapons the player focuses on in the early game. But itâ€™s not the only twist that ADII has as each weapon also has its own â€˜hyper shotâ€™ – a devastating super-powered version for use against bosses, crowded screens of tiny enemies, or sudden panic as the screen fills with bullets. This hyper mode has a cooldown, in which time the weapon used for it is temporarily reduced to â€˜level 1â€™ efficiency (or lack thereof) until the gauge replenishes again.
This is actually a stroke of genius, as it incentivises the player to experiment with other, powered-up weapons during the cooldown phase; each of them having a broadly-specific utility (such as a spread shot, or rear shot) which the enemy placement generally calls for here and there, it invisibly points the player toward the other attack options and almost teaches them how to get by without the need for holding their hand and slapping them with a large sign reading â€œHereâ€™s how to do the thing!â€
And what I also like is said enemy placement, as enemies come from all angles at a very deliberate and well-structured pace. It never gets too overwhelming, and thereâ€™s generally plenty to shoot at any given time outside (welcome and well-judged) rest periods are rhythmically placed throughout. And then there are the bosses, generally, screen-tall (or wide!) mechanical monstrosities with clear attack tells and easily readable projectile patterns, often with specific weak spots that will see the player employ the various tools in their arsenal to claim victory. And at eight moderately sized levels, none of this overstays its welcome or becomes long in the tooth.
ADII does everything expertly, even if it doesnâ€™t really do anything new. Certain bosses and sections of stages resemble (or perhaps pay homage to?) other shmups yore from Thunder Force and Hellfire to sections evoking Gradius, Darius (hello, prehistoric fish boss!) and even the almighty R-Type. The developer clearly has a love and respect for this, one of the oldest genres, and it shows.
But there are certain things it doesnâ€™t do, which simultaneously weaken the package as a whole while also lending a hand to that early â€˜90s authenticity. Besides a basic set of options and a way to select previously beaten levels, thereâ€™s not an awful lot on offer outside the base game. Replays and other modern features that you expect to find in a CAVE shooter are absent. Nit-picking, perhaps.
In short, Andro Dunos II is a game that offers no novelty other than incredible lip service to its forebears across the horizontal shmup genre. Thereâ€™s nothing here unique or novel â€“ a move thatâ€™s clearly deliberate, allowing for a package with finely-tuned core mechanics, delivered with unrivalled aplomb and finesse. Outstanding.
Andro Dunos II is available on PS4, Switch, PC and 3DS. Dreamcast and Xbox One versions TBC.