Video arcades are all but gone. I spent tens of thousands of coins during the 1980s and ’90s, but by Y2K it was over. During the past decade however, a gradual arcade resurgence has come to consoles, computers and mobile devices. One such entry is Horizon Shift, by Flump Studios.
During initial setup, this game appears to promise a conventional left and right space-alien shoot ’em up, or “schmup” to some aficionados. But this perception is immediately doused when you start the first wave. Yes, aliens are descending upon your X-axis bound ship, which can only scroll left and right. However, these crafty adversaries are also ascending toward your ship from below! Fortunately, you can flip the direction that your ship is facing…either up or down. You also have the ability to jump (and double-jump) to avoid enemies and other obstacles. The central axis is called the “horizon”; however I see it more as an equator, with the two battle areas as hemispheres.
Horizon Shift can be played in one of four modes:
Arcade: Start with 2 extra lives and earn an auto-save “checkpoint” after every boss battle.
Arcade Arrange: Start with no extra lives and earn a checkpoint after every wave.
Survival: Start with a fully powered up ship, but with no extra lives, no checkpoints and no further power-ups.
Tournament: Same as Survival, but with no lucrative “bombing” allowed…and everything happens at double speed!
The standard arcade mode is the best way to learn the game. The first few waves are easy and allow you to get familiar with the controls. Along these lines, I highly recommend using a controller. For those who tend to fat-finger a keyboard or press the wrong keys, this will quickly become a deal-breaker. I could only get past the first boss (Wave 5) with a keyboard and mouse. With the controller, I’m progressing through levels like I did on the coin-op machines years ago.
As you conquer the waves, you will invariably acquire special items and power-ups. One such item increases your ship’s firing strength & spread. Another provides a protective shield. By far, the best in my opinion is “Reflection”. This attaches a second ship the the back of the original. So now you have two turrets facing opposite hemispheres simultaneously!
While typical arcade shoot ’em ups focus primarily on tactics, Flump Studios has included a somewhat new and popular strategic element...the “Chain”. Essentially, a chain is a mini-game of chicken where players build up a reservoir of firepower, bonus points, loot drops, or in the case of Horizon Shift…all of the above. When players are ready, they drop a special bomb to detonate the chain and collect the resources. But should their ship be destroyed before dropping the bomb, players lose the entire chain and all its benefits. How are chains built? Simply put, alien ships do more than just fly around the screen. They become hungry and periodically nibble away at the central horizon line, creating gaps. You must hop the gaps with your “jump” button to avoid a lethal plunge. The more damage to the horizon, the greater your chain bonus becomes…but the more precarious your stance on the line…again, a game of chicken.
Overall, the game is about variety. Each wave has its own tricks and charms, and it’s up to you to figure out solutions on the fly. The bosses are fearsome, and beating them brings a solid sense of accomplishment.
I would definitely recommend Horizon Shift for all who enjoy a fast-paced bullet-heck experience. As for the setup, it’s ironic that the game is only available on PC, yet a controller is all but required after you defeat the first boss. I suppose optimists might see this as a bonus challenge. Personally, I’m happy with my little harem of controllers.
So have fun firing, flipping, sliding and evading…and remember, your nearest exit may be behind you!