There's no denying that Solar Shifter EX is an incredible looking game. that is made by such a small team is undeniably impressive. Itís a game billed as a bullet hell shoot em up, although it actually plays slightly differently.
Rather than dodge bullets, weaving your way through complex screen filling patterns, making the most of your pixel small hit box, Solar Shifter EX is slightly different. Instead of dodging incoming fire, the way to make progress is to find a safe spot and sit there until the enemy patterns change and bullets start heading towards you. Bullets move too fast for you to react your way through, and the screen, thanks to the tilt and camera swing, is actually a quite a small play area. So while the idea of sitting still might sound easy, the game is actually a real challenge.
Solar Shifter EX's USP is your ability to teleport to other areas of the screen. You don't use it as often as you might think, and my favourite use, using it as a means to get a better angle to take down an enemy, is under utilised. Generally it's saved for larger enemies, there's so much fire on the screen and so many enemy ships that flinging yourself through space usually ends with you reappearing on top of an enemy or being greeted by a laser in the face.
The incoming fire is a bit of an issue. Granted thatís the point, but itís where a lot of my criticisms of the game lay. As a train of enemy ships explode in front of you, the yellow hum emitted blinds you from incoming fire, you donít have a lot of time to react anyway, by design, but by Ďdoing wellí you often canít see the faint bullets coming in. Itís more of a problem on the planets than in the blackness of space to be fair. Similarly, the game uses depth aesthetically, battles are taking place all over the map, not just where you are, itís a cool touch, but it does mean youíll start avoiding ships and lasers that are never going to hit you. The real problem though is that you aren't always aware you're being hit. I can't count the times I've seemingly died out of nowhere, in reality either a ship has flown in to me or my shield had been whittled down without me noticing. That stuff needs to be signposted better.
The 'find a safe spot and sit there' gameplay of Solar Shifter EX is something of an uneven experience. Initially I was really enjoying it, puzzling my way through the early levels, making progress each time. Later though it's more of a chore, trial and error, which made me pine for some more traditional combat. I will say this though, after completing the game, returning to the early levels was a cake walk. It's wrong to assume that just because the gameplay sounds uninvolved on paper that it doesn't involve skill. You will improve, you will begin to read threats, to understand what's expected of you.
That being said Solar Shifter EX is an uneven experience. There's points where I really enjoyed it, it's hard not to be pulled in by its looks, and the combat is satisfyingly chunky when you do get to take ships down. The problem is that later on, when you're struggling through, it's just not all that much fun. It's a decent length so maybe there's a case for less is more, but the last few levels soured me on the game quite a bit.