As someone who grew up during the death of the (Western) arcade, I have very many fond memories of spending literally half a day at a time on space shooters at the (then) local mall. I’d be stood in front of the arcade cabinet, shooting, dying, pushing a coin into the box, shooting, dying, pushing a coin into the box, shooting, dying, and it never occurred to me that I might be hungry, thirsty, tired, or in need of a piss. I’d only stop playing the shmup once my money was exhausted, or a parent or sibling came to pull me away.
All this is to say, shoot-’em-ups have to do something extra to impress me—and REVOLVER360 RE:ACTOR does that.
REVOLVER360 (THE CAPS ARE IMPORTANT), a shmup by one-man development studio Cross Eaglet, and published by AGM Playism, is clearly inspired by the side-scrolling 2D space shooters of old. There’s the player, in the form of a flying, shooting aircraft; there are enemies, which are various kinds of flying, shooting aircraft; and the two are trying to kill each other. And then there are the twists.
What makes REACTOR (the colon can go) different from everything else out there is that it’s a side-scrolling 2D space shooter in a 3D world. While you can’t roam freely about, as you’re confined to the portion of the world that scrolls into your view, and while you have little control of where the game takes you (with one caveat; see below), what you can do is revolve around the action, and in that way move along the third dimension, the Z axis.
In effect, the player has multiple 2D planes of the 3D world available to them. For example, if an enemy shoots a fan of projectiles that take up all of the screen, the player needs only revolve clockwise or counterclockwise to turn the fan into a line. (If you’re having trouble imagining this, think of rotating a piece of paper so that its edge instead of its face faces you.) Rotating also allows the player to decide what they see of the 3D scenery, and therefore what they can shoot.
That’s not the only evolution that REACTOR brings: even further complicating movement are junction points. At set moments in your onslaught, at what the game calls junction points, you’ll be able to choose which route you’ll take through a level. These junction points present themselves as simple directional cues, and floating to the left, right, top or bottom of your 2D view when they’re available will move your craft in the corresponding 3D direction.
But let’s get to the shooty bits. This aspect of the gameplay is quite involved, too, although it’s more simple than the movement mechanics. REVOLVER360 has the two, classic space shooter attacks, one light (projectiles), and one heavy (laser; which provides the extra benefit of destroying enemies’ projectiles); and has a third action, which dissipates all incoming attacks.
There’s one other, contextual attack which can only be used on certain enemies. Enemies come in many forms, but there are two, broad categories: those in the foreground, and those in the background. (There are also exceptions which occupy both spaces.) Foreground enemies can be attacked directly with projectiles and laser, but background enemies can only be attacked by flying directly over them (in 2D space, not necessarily 3D space). A lot of repair and recharge bonuses are also earned this way, and a lot of obstacles are overcome in this manner, so it’s another important aspect of the gameplay to master if you expect to progress.
Learning all of the systems and mastering them is part of the challenge.
(With that in mind, a gamepad is absolutely necessary. Playing R360R without one is simply an exercise in frustration, as you will regularly need to give two or three commands simultaneously, and your computer just won’t recognise all of the button presses on a keyboard.)
The player uses a combination of these actions to shoot and avoid getting shot. Neutralizing enemies and their incoming attacks scores the player points, and the player’s goal is both to reach the end of the game, and to do so with as many points as possible.
If one were to criticize anything in this regard, it would be only to mention that perhaps the addition of old-school power-ups—for better weapons, the addition of shields, the deployment of fighter drones, and the like—would have helped to liven up what can feel, at times, like rather repetitive gameplay. That’s a small complaint in the scheme of things, however, because what REACTOR does do, it does flawlessly. All of the aforementioned gameplay aspects together transform what is actually a simple shmup into something unique and satisfyingly challenging.
Just as REVOLVER360‘s gameplay is peculiar, so, too, is its presentation.
Everything is blue. That’s an exaggeration, but not much of one. You’re blue, your enemies are blue, most of the environments are blue … Often the only contrast is provided by attacks and explosions. This makes sense from a gameplay perspective, as players do need to be able to easily recognize what’s happening on the screen, and too varied a palette would get in the way of that, but there are solutions other than making everything blue. Old space arcades used the black background of space, usually; that’s not really an option here, but a more muted, natural palette would have been easier to accept.
The blue is a strong, distinctive choice that’s perhaps not for the best. The game’s palette overrides other design decisions, making them all less interesting and memorable than they otherwise would be. There are three levels, each with a different design, yet what you’ll come away from them remembering is that they’re blue.
I do know for sure that one of the three-and-a-quarter levels (the ultimate boss is preceded by a mini level) is a city, which city I’ve decided is a future Tokyo because of the Japanese marquee signs all over the place. Another level appears to be an outpost of the enemy, and the other seems to be an industrial area of some kind. With each level, the player pushes ever farther into enemy territory, encountering more resistance, until they reach their ultimate target.
The narrative nature of the levels and the goal are all speculation on my part, because the game itself tells you absolutely nothing about its world directly. Any story in the game must be gleaned, i.e. imagined, entirely from the context of the game world.
REVOLVER360 RE:ACTOR is very much an epic in the classical sense of the word. The hero is going it alone against incredible odds. Other than that, there is no story—but if there were …
Are these swastikas? These dodecahedrons appear to be sporting swastikas.
In my interpretation of the game, far into the future, cyborg neo-Nazis have subjugated the planet, and much of mankind has fled Earth. Now you, a lone soldier, are returning on a mission to liberate the planet from the amoral intelligences, starting with glorious Nippon.
Belying the primitivistic ideology that underpins the game are its inhuman hue and cacophony, which represent the inhumanity of extropianism run amok. It’s only right that we’re battling these things, the game tells us. At the same time, the developer realizes that the consequences of future technology are inevitable because technology is the result of progress, and the desire for progress is an innate human trait. We come to understand, then, that at the same time they’re battling the cyborgs, the player is battling themselves, as symbolized by their avatar’s own blueness: to fight progress is to fight humanity, and yet progress is what threatens our existence. So long as humanity exists, it will seek its own undoing.
Huzzah! There’s your story, if you need one. It’s unnecessary, however. REVOLVER360 REACTOR is very much a visceral rather than cerebral experience.
There is one overarching design decision that’s simply wrong instead of different: the soundscape.
R360R is a busy game. So much is already happening on screen that adding another stimulant is to the player’s detriment. What would have been appropriate in this instance, aurally, would have been something more subdued and inexorable, something that would have complemented through counterpoint.
Instead, the composer piled even more stimulation on top of the already frantic gameplay experience, leading to sensory overload. It’s annoying and downright distracting. Mute the sound—at least the music—or listen to something more bearable when you’re playing this. Inevitably, you’ll find yourself performing much better without the incessant aural clamor.
It’s noteworthy that the only truly disappointing aspect of the game, the music, was also the only thing that was outsourced. The sound effects aren’t great, either, but they work. The music doesn’t.
One other disappointment is the game’s length. Depending on your skill level when you first pick it up, you’ll probably get through it in about five to ten hours. Once you’ve mastered the three-and-a-quarter levels of the game, you’ll be able to finish a full playthrough in under half an hour.
The competitive aspect of REVOLVER360 does alleviate its brevity by some measure, however. Visiting a level just once will unlock it at the title menu, making it available for subsequent individual playthroughs and scoring. Each time you play, you can upload your score onto an online leaderboard. You’re encouraged to replay the game, and to attempt a higher score, thereby earning a higher place on the international leaderboard.
This doesn’t change the fact that the game is short. It’s not that the game feels incomplete or lacking in this department; it would simply have been nice to have more of it. In consideration of REACTOR‘s replayability, however, this shortcoming gets a pass.
REVOLVER360 RE:ACTOR is a great game. Although its highly stylized presentation may not be to everyone’s tastes, the gameplay is spot on, and its very few shortcomings are either avoidable or offset by other aspects.
The scrolling space shooter genre was due for a revitalization, and REVOLVER360 RE:ACTOR is it.
Buy it, mute it, play it.
REVOLVER360 RE:ACTOR was reviewed using a digital copy purchased by the reviewer. Although a review copy was provided by Cross Eaglet, it did not contain the entire game. The reviewer thought it was important to experience the entire game. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.