I have a conflicted relationship with Under Defeat HD. On the one hand, I find the game’s basic systems rather interesting. As a helicopter shooter, as you move from left to right, your ship will turn. Start shooting and you will lock your turning, allowing you to strafe as you fire. The game even throws an option to choose the direction your ship turns as you move. While I initially preferred Reverse (turning left while you move right and vice versa) for the way it set up attacks after evasions, I eventually settled on Normal.
When you’re not shooting, your Option Gauge is filling up. When it’s full, firing will launch an Option (think a small flying cannon) that faces whichever direction you’re facing. There are three types of Options. The Vulcan just fires a machine gun for a short while and has the shortest cooldown after launch. The Cannon is my personal favorite, which multiple heavy shots and moves around to target and destroy anything in its general vicinity. Lastly there’s Rocket, which fires a missile with a wide explosive radius… But it’s only one shot and has an incredibly long cooldown, and not shooting for that long can be incredibly dangerous. You switch between these three by shooting down a particular type of helicopter, who will drop an option powerup that’ll switch between the three types as it floats around (but for me, it was just 5000 extra points every time I grabbed Cannon).
That said, while I love the basic mechanics in theory, playing as a helicopter felt really awkward. I never quite felt like I was moving properly whether I was playing in Normal or Reverse… The helicopter felt huge, and more than once I’d killed myself by moving the tail of my helicopter into a bullet that I’d thought I’d evaded, which results in a really awkward pause where you try to figure out how exactly you were hit before your helicopter explodes. While obviously more plays helped this issue (the game rewards you with additional credits as you play through the game again and again, so it definitely encourages that practice), enough of my deaths felt random enough that I still felt inept even after I put more practice in.
Unfortunately, working against the desire to keep playing is the somewhat drab visual design. I find the game’s use of particle effects for explosions, sparks, and bullet casings very attractive. Even more so in the game’s fit-to-widescreen “New Order” mode (which also includes a remixed soundtrack, which I prefer). Sure, it can lead to a lot of slowdown when things are more chaotic, but those moments add a bit of color to what is essentially a World War II shooter.
However, maybe it’s because I’ve always been a fan of “cute-’em-ups” like Parodius and (to a certain extent) Cotton, but I didn’t feel excited to move from a forest base to a sea base to a snow base as the game progressed. I wanted to get better, sure, but the backgrounds didn’t make me want to push ahead and see what the game had in store next. It’s frustrating that the game is so pretty in its use of effects, yet so bland in its environmental design.
Under Defeat HD’s story leaves much to be desires, too. It’s a alternate-pseudo-history World War II where you play as “the Empire” in a war against the “the Union”… Which essentially makes you a Nazi winning World War II by shooting down Allied ships.
That’s not what bugs me, though, since I think that that could make for an interesting story. It’s just that Under Defeat doesn’t go anywhere with it. This is set up with a soundless intro before the game’s title screen, but aside from some German and English VA in the levels (mostly things like “emergency” and “evacuate”) there’s not a lot of story progression. At the end of each stage, instead of any sort of narrative, there are pictures of the two female pilots. This is fine, but with such an interesting background, I’d like to see a bit more than “there is a war and you’re a cute pseudo-Nazi.”
While my relationship with Under Defeat HD isn’t without its complications, I’m glad that it finally has an English release. I wanted to play it back when it came out for the Dreamcast in 2006. Even though I’m less passionate about it than I hoped I’d be, I admire that it’s trying to do something different.
Food for Thought:
Even though the game itself looks nice, the menus feel really slapdash. I’m particularly baffled by the vehicle select menu that tells you the model number of the helicopter you can use and the color, but doesn’t show you a picture or give you any description of what it does.
Want to try Under Defeat HD out for yourself?. We’re giving away ten PSN codes to download the game! All you need is a U.S. PSN account to download it. We’ll be updating this post with new codes periodically.
GIVEAWAY OVER! Congratulations to everyone who managed to grab a code!