Review: Super Hydorah (Switch)

A retro-styled shmup with modern sensibilities.

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 02/15/2019 06:00 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
1-Up Mushroom for...
Solid presentation and soundtrack; clever implementation of more modern mechanics like customizable weapons and branching paths; creative enemy design
Poison Mushroom for...
High difficulty will dissuade some players

Super Hydorah is yet another delightful example of how to take the sensibilities of ’80s and early ’90s video game design and mesh it with that of today. The game is the work of a single programmer— Juan Antonio Becerra, also known as Locomalito (with composer Gryzor87 providing the soundtrack). Locomalito has quietly been building up a resumé of retro-inspired software for years now. As far back as 2007, Locomalito was producing a number of freeware titles, which he has sometimes returned to in order to expand upon and refine for release on contemporary gaming consoles.

The last work that Locomalito created that Nintendo fans might be familiar with is 2017’s Cursed Castilla EX on 3DS. Cursed Castilla EX was a take on Capcom’s Ghosts ‘n Goblins formula but meshed with Spanish literature and set in the real-life Kingdom of Castile. Working with Abylight Studios to bring the game to 3DS, Cursed Castilla EX was an impressive offering, so it was with genuine enthusiasm that I booted up Locomalito’s Super Hydorah. The shmup (shoot ’em up) is the latest enhanced port of one of his older games (in this case the adjective-less Hydorah from 2010) and, like Cursed Castilla EX, is a marvelous piece of software.

Super Hydorah wears its inspirations on its sleeve, evoking memories of series like R-Type and Gradius with ease. That’s not to say Super Hydorah is mimicking those classics, but rather that it uses them as a launching pad for Locomalito’s interpretation of those series for today’s audiences. Rather than veer into the territory of intense, bombastic shooters like Blazing Star or Strikers 1945, however, Super Hydorah scales the action back a tad. The screen certainly becomes chaotic with spent rounds and energy beams, but the action isn’t as gaudy and electric as more modern shmups tend to be.

Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by the scaled back visual spectacle, because Super Hydorah is still insanely tough. This is an unrelenting challenge that will undoubtedly leave less skilled players hanging on by their fingertips. Success comes from making the effort to learn the patterns of attack that the enemy employs, from reading the formations that are on-screen to discovering how to weave between the raindrops of death swarming all around the player’s ship. Basically, anyone who wants to win is going to have to work for it.

Super Hydorah does extend an olive branch in the form of its two difficulty levels. Rookie mode provides a 3-hit shield (and awards you a half score total) while Pilot mode bestows a 1-hit shield (and you get a full score). It’s a great way of softening the difficulty without watering down the actual gameplay, as the enemies are just as tough in Rookie mode— the only difference is how many hits the player’s ship can take. It’s the sort of compromise that makes sense for a shooter like this. It was also fun to see that Super Hydorah offers branching paths to choose from. The world map is reminiscent of the original Star Fox, with alternate routes galore to investigate. By offering players some autonomy in choosing where they go next, it keeps the action fresh when partaking in multiple playthroughs of the game.

This exploratory spirit extends into other aspects of the game, as there are secrets tucked away for the curious to discover. In one of the earliest stages, there’s a pilot running around on the ground who can actually be rescued if the player flies over him. After that, it became compulsory to move all around the screen trying to find new secrets to uncover. Players also have control over what weapons they take into the fray. Finding the right combination of primary and secondary armaments is an exercise unto itself, one that is very entertaining to engage in. What’s more, it furthers the sense of independence that Super Hydorah affords. Players get to have a say in how they tackle the game’s challenges, making the whole adventure all the more satisfying, as a result.

There’s no way I can close this out without touching upon Super Hydorah’s wonderful presentation. The pixel graphics are sublime, with a ton of small details to soak in while fighting enemy combatants. The aforementioned enemy variety extends to their designs, as well. The retro visuals aren’t quite as immersive and eye-catching as, say, Shovel Knight, but Locomalito’s sprite work in Super Hydorah is tight and fun. Gryzor87’s score is similarly great. It’s catchy and perfectly suits the gameplay, amplifying the action and sure to get stuck in a lot of people’s ears. Overall, Super Hydorah takes the classic shmup mold and bolts on its own unique elements to produce something new and bold. Definitely give it some consideration the next time you’re strolling through the eShop.

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.

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