DISCLAIMER: As most are aware, I don’t typically write reviews on this site. I have my own strong feelings regarding reviews and their need, or lack thereof, in video game culture. However, I was given a key for this with the understanding I would write a review for it. So, instead of writing something aimed at consumers I chose to write this as a critique for the developers with the intent to help locate what works and what doesn’t work on a mechanical level.
Arcade shooters haven’t really experienced a formula shift in quite some time. Smaller mechanics have appeared here and there but the core gameplay of linear levels filled with enemies that will kill the player in one hit hasn’t changed. Revolution Ace really wants to change that and brings modern mechanics to the genre in an attempt to appeal to a more western audience. Emerging from this combination is a game that fails gracefully.
Arcade shooters tend to fall into the realm of punishingly difficult experiences. Most of this stems from the fragility of the player ship and the drastic firepower loss after losing a life, but it can also be attributed to the ridiculous amount of projectiles on screen in some games. Revolution Ace addressed the first two of these issue by introducing both health and a shield, akin to the Halo games, and permanent weapon loadouts. Before a level begins, the player can edit their ship loadout which consists of shields, weapons, and super weapons. There are minute variations between equipment, such as large shields that charge slower than smaller shields, and they allow each player to form their own playstyle to an extent. Weapons fall into a generic trifecta of bullets doing medium damage at a medium rate of fire, missiles firing slower but doing more damage, and plasma firing fast but doing less damage. There is a little bit of strategy here as, taking a note from Xevius, there are both air and ground enemies. Some weapons will only work on air or ground, while others hit both, and the player needs to balance their loadout to be effective against all adversaries.
Revolution Ace takes an interesting approach to difficulty by allowing the player to determine how important it is to kill every enemy. On Easy, enemies that leave the screen are never seen again but on Normal they come back for a second time with an altered flight path. While dodging enemies on Easy is a viable tactic, attempting this on any higher difficulty will only introduce more enemies and more bullets on the screen. In more traditional shooters this wouldn’t seem like a big deal since enemies usually die in one hit but Revolution Ace gives the enemies health bars as well. Most waves will only present a few enemies but having to focus your fire on each one for multiple seconds presents a completely different feel than, say R-Type.
This game does take a few missteps however. The most egregious is the leveling system. Weapons, shields, super weapons, and slots to equip these items are all hidden behind a leveling system. While this looks good on paper for increasing the longevity of the game, it actually hurts Revolution Ace. This mechanic means that the player never really has to improve to feel like they are getting better at the game. Simply unlocking a stronger shield or a more damaging weapon will increase the player’s chances at survival. This mechanic on it’s own isn’t a problem but when combined with other systems it fails. You see, the change to a health and shield mechanic means that more bullets need to be on the screen for the player to feel in danger. Thus we have enemies like the Spammer, who fires a chaingun in a cone shape, and usually appear two at a time. Their fire takes up somewhere between 1/3 to 1/2 of the screen leaving the player very little room to dodge any other ships. Also, the only way to destroy the Spammers is to get into the hail of bullets as your weapons only fire forwards. This isn’t an isolated situation either. The player is expected to get hit. So how do you balance a game where the player’s health and damage output are variable? The usual answer: you can’t. Thus, the game is nigh impossible at the beginning, when the player is under equipped, and too easy at the end, when the player is a flying death machine.
Revolution Ace attempts to breathe life into a stagnant genre and, for the most part, it does. A quick check on its Steam page shows almost 400 reviews with a “Mostly Positive” rating. However, this genre resurrection is paid at a high price as most of the systems that made the genre popular in the first place have been sacrificed in favor of grinding and a generic power fantasy mechanic. There is obviously a market for this type of gameplay but I don’t see much intersection with the fanbase of the older style of sidescrolling shooters.