Project Sylpheed Demo, from Xbox Live

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Well, wow. It’s nice. It’s totally different from anything I’d have expected from the Sylpheed name, but it’s nice.

Unless I’m somehow horribly misremembering, the original Sylpheed was a nicely polished 2D/3D shmup. This is a 3D railless shooter in the vein of Colony Wars. Controls are interesting on the Normal mode (I wasn’t man enough to mess with Professional). Light touch on the left stick gives yaw, while a bigger movement gives a lateral roll. You can look around independently with the right stick, or slave the cam to a targeted enemy by clicking it. Fire controls are basic, with the primary weapon being selectable between 3 equipped types, and a smaller secondary gun on the nose. Several big, bad-ass gun types are available in the demo that you’re openly told won’t be on your starting fighter (in fact I think some of them may be slated as DLC). The ship can also perform Jedi-like special moves, including slowing down time briefly, firing all weapons in a concentrated barrage, or accelerating and focusing the frontal shields to ram an enemy capital ship. Evasive rolls and auto-programmed Immelmann maneuvers are on tap as well (though the ship turns so tightly the latter almost feels wasted).

The demo gives you some smattering of plot dialog and a single, 15-minute mission. The objective is to guard a convoy of resupply vessels, but you’re really just flying around and shooting things. Smaller fighter craft are differentiated by brilliantly glowing aftertrails – blue for your buddies, red for foes (damn convenient of them to use color-coded reaction mass that way, eh?). Some of those higher-end weapons thrown in as demo goodies really come in handy here, allowing you to lock on to up to 60 (not a typo) independent targets, or multi-target vulnerable points on a cap ship. Mega-powerful charged torpedoes also help make quick work even of enemy destroyers.

There’s a formulaic but neat shield-energy dialectic in the game. Your shield protects you from most of the damage from incoming fire, but you also use the same energy for your afterburner and special moves. Generally – maybe because of the enhanced weapons – you don’t seem to get hurt much, unless you get in the way of a capital ship’s main guns (which can happen, mind), so there’s plenty of juice for moves if you want them. Save the ram attack, I didn’t get much use out of them. It wasn’t hard to run up kill counts of around 50 fighters and 8 cap ships in my tries. Experienced flight gamers will probably manage more.

The game’s look is decent. I’d honestly have expected a little better, but the space backdrops are certainly pretty. Weapon effects are mostly solid, with some explosions looking a little last-gen IMO. Sound is good, with a long (I never heard it loop) techno-themed mix running during the battle. The actual composition reminded me of Gyruss, which I found enjoyable. There’s plenty of voice-over too, though it has noticable repetition.

This was enough to intrigue me. I’ll definitely be replaying the demo and may look at the final game. It’s stuff like this that really makes me love digitally delivered media.

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