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Review: Wolflame

Shooting games - commonly referred to as 'shmups' to the disdain of some - have had something of a resurgence recently. Big names of the genre like CAVE, G.REV, and Taito are resurfacing, braving the crowded waters of Steam in search of wider audiences. Smaller groups, however, such as Japanese studio Astro Port, have been pushing shmups onto Steam for a while longer, and their latest release, Wolflame, offers classic shooting gameplay at a bargain price.

Title: Wolflame
Publisher: Nyu Media
Developer: Astro Port
Platform: PC
Release Date: April 21st, 2016
Players: 1
MSRP: USD$5.99

In their latest release, Astro Port takes a break from side-scrolling mecha blasters to try their hand at a vertical scrolling shooter. Naming inspirations such as Raiden and Twin Cobra, Wolflame puts players in the cockpit of the Siebold, an experimental fighter poised to strike back against an invasion force from an alien force known as the Adorians. As per usual for this genre, it is up to the player blast through wave after wave of enemy air and ground forces, fell enormous screen-filling bosses, and save the day single-handedly.

Traditional plot aside, Wolflame certainly takes a great deal of inspiration from classic arcade shooters, particularly Seibu Kaihatsu's Raiden series. The Siebold's starting weapon and moderate movement speed both echo that of Raiden's iconic red fighter. Its main strength lies within a selection of side-weapons, however, with three different pick-ups available: a red spread shot with homing lasers, powerful green laser cannons, and blue laser arrays that lock-on to enemies upon contact. Side-weapons are collected and upgraded via floating icons gleaned from certain enemies. In a nice twist, two different weapons can be equipped simultaneously, allowing the player to mix and match for a more personalized star fighter experience.

Wolflame Gameplay 1Huge spider tanks are a dead giveaway for Wolflame's lineage.

Wolflame's gameplay is simple and methodical, leaning more towards earlier examples of the genre than more recent 'danmaku' (literally 'curtain fire') variants. The game maintains a decent level of enemy variety, with new air and ground units appearing in every level. True to form, smaller air units will try to get in close and deny space, while larger aircraft fill the screen with aimed barrages. It also doesn't take long for one of Raiden's more divisive hallmarks - the sniper tank - to sneak out of every nook and cranny and fire off super-fast pot shots. The difficulty curve is steep, with the action hitting full swing just before the half-way mark. This should satisfy most, though shmup die-hards will probably need to play on one of the higher difficulties to get a real fight out of the game.

There are no complex scoring systems to be found in Wolflame, either. Points are tallied for every kill, with extends rewarded at fixed score milestones. Bonuses are awarded for collecting gold medals distributed around each stage, along with a generous reward for any extra ships remaining upon completing the game. An incremental bonus is also in place to reward players who have a tendency to hoard their bombs. The simplicity of the scoring stays true to the games' proclaimed influences, although it may turn off players used to more in-depth systems.

Wolflame Gameplay 2Wolflame does hold a few moments of beauty, whether you're a fan of sci-fi vistas or hot plasma.

Astro Port's admiration of Raiden is most apparent in Wolflame's graphics, bearing many similarities while retaining its own personality. The backgrounds are a dead giveaway, primarily depicting open plains and forested areas which segue into military outposts, depots, and ruined residential areas. It even follows the same basic narrative, with the Siebold blasting into space as part of a huge counter-offensive. Glaring similarities aside, the art is quite well drawn, with the player ship and huge bosses stealing the show. The high visibility given to enemy fire is also a wise decision, as few things are more frustrating in a shmup than not knowing what killed you. The player ship in particular has had a lot of work put into it, from the multiple banking frames to the fine details on its side-weapon pods. A good thing, too, given it is what the player will be spending most of their time watching.

On the audio side, Wolflame's sound design is on point. While the sound effects aren't very adventurous, they fit the setting nicely, and echo the styling of its forebears yet again. The metallic screech that accompanies a weapon pick-up is especially satisfying, as are the meaty detonations of the bosses. At the same time, the music leaves something to be desired. The rapid-fire break-beat rhythms and sharp synth leads hark back to the Raiden Fighters soundtrack, however each track tends to be rather short, leading to the music awkwardly fading out and restarting in the middle of a stage. The soundtrack is also rather limited, with what seems to be a mere handful of tracks being reused throughout the game's ten stages. Admittedly, music isn't usually a strong point in Astro Port's work, though it is more disappointing in this case given Wolflame's other assets.

Wolflame Gameplay 3Screen-clearing bombs are one of the simple pleasures in life.

Wolflame is a well-executed vertical scrolling STG that pays almost too much homage to the Raiden series for its own good. It doesn't do anything particularly new, and feels rather bare-bones in comparison to some other recently released shmups. Given the rock-bottom price of admission and the game's inherent replay value, however, there is more than enough bang provided for one's buck. Those looking for a simple, challenging arcade experience will find something to like here, though hardcore danmaku demons will likely be disappointed.

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Audio engineer, sound designer, composer, writer. Hosts a burning passion for the games and audio circuitry of old. Die-hard shmup/STG addict.
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