Parent Talk: As an indie release Sturmwind has not been submitted to the ESRB or any other rating board. It features lots of explosions, and some highly unique and creative enemy and boss designs that the very young might find scary, but anyone over 10 should easily be able to enjoy everything Sturmwind has to offer.
Plays Like: Sturmwind is mostly a horizontal shoot ’em up (shmup), however there are sections where vertical scrolling takes place. Core gameplay reminds me of Radiant Silvergun in that you already have all your weapons right from the get-go. The main difference is that weapons can be powered up, and act as your health meter. There are 16 levels spread across seven worlds, 20 unique bosses, and hundreds of enemies. In every way, shape and form this feels like a AAA release from Irem, Treasure, or another popular shmup developer.
Review Basis: Duranik was kind enough to send us a review copy. I played it on and off for about six days until I beat it on easy, now working my way through normal.
AAA quality through and through. There’s no real way of saying it, the video review speaks for itself. This is a game that looks outstanding, as if it’s pushing the Dreamcast to its very limits. There are literally dozens upon dozens of special effects going on at any given time. There are also interactive backgrounds, multi-layered stages, tons of enemies on-screen at once and a rock solid frame-rate. The game warns you when a background comes alive so you don’t accidentally ram into it, and enemy bullets are always clear. If you die, it’s your fault, not the game’s. There’s even a full-motion video introduction! You simply don’t expect to see this level of polish in an indie release like this, no matter how long it may have been in development. This is one game that begs to be played in 480p with a VGA adapter. If you can upscale the image to 720p or 1080p even better. It looks incredible.
+ Wonderful gameplay. The system is extremely simple, and works perfectly. At the start of the game you have access to all three different weapons, LightBlitz (L), NordWest (N), and Rudel (R). You can switch between the weapons on the fly, and it’s required as each one has its strengths and weaknesses against different situations. When a weapon container drops , you can fire at it to cycle between an additional 1,000 points, L, N, or R power-ups. Power-ups take on the form of a drone, and players can collect two per weapon. Weapons can also be fired behind your craft, and so can the drones. A good strategy is to have the two drones fire behind the ship and your main weapon fire in front, but you can mix and match as you see fit. There’s also a charge shot, and bombs, which wipe out everything on the screen.
+ Weapons act as your health meter. Even if you max out all your weapons, as soon as you get hit whatever weapon you had equipped is destroyed. You also have to be careful when using the charge shot because if you hold it too long it will overheat and explode, causing you to lose said weapon. Lose all three weapons and you lose a life. Thankfully you can fix your broken weapon by finding the corresponding power-up from a weapon container.
+ Strategy and switching. Not only do you have to constantly be switching your weapons for strategic gameplay, like using the LightBlitz underwater because it’s the strongest there, but you have to be mindful of which power-up you grab. Let’s say a weapon container drops and you fire it until it switches to N, but your craft is still using LightBlitz, if you don’t switch to NordWest you will have wasted the power-up. It takes some serious getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, the system adds an entirely unique layer of strategy and quick thinking to the game.
+ Wave bonuses are addicting. Shoot every single enemy of a particular wave and you’re awarded a ‘Wave Bonus,’ which you actually see on the screen. If you can shoot all the letters quickly enough before they disappear you’re awarded a star, which acts as a multiplier. Get good enough at the game and you can achieve some pretty incredible high scores.
+ Two distinct gameplay modes, Normal and Arcade. Normal mode features all 16 levels and your progress is saved once you finish a level. This also unlocks a level-select, which is great for newbies as they can continuously replay whatever stage is giving them problems. The Arcade mode features six levels but progress doesn’t save, and there are no continues. This mode is about as hardcore as it gets.
+ Great variety. Most levels work as you’d imagine, where you fly from left to right destroying everything you see, but every now and then things are mixed up and an entire level will be nothing more than a giant boss fight. Some levels add horizontal scrolling, and more.
+ Modern touches like achievements really held round out the package. Most of the achievements will keep you coming back for months to come because of how challenging they are.
+ Online leaderboards. While Sturmwind doesn’t support the broadband adapter unfortunately, it does give you an alpha numeric code which can be entered on Duranik’s website where you can compare your scores with the rest of the world. It’s a really nice touch.
+ Incredible amount of content. Unless you’re a shmup guru this game will keep you busy for weeks on end. From the two different modes, three difficulty levels, to the sheer size of the game, there’s always something to do. There’s also the achievements, and global leaderboards that are always teasing you try again tomorrow.
+ While I already talked about the graphics and overall presentation, the audio can’t be left out. The soundtrack is excellent and features a wide assortment of Compact Disc Digital Audio (CCDA) tracks. I had to add in as it’s a selling feature. Most tracks are techno and synth, which is expected for a game like this, but regardless the audio is extremely well done.
+ SD card adapter compatible. Sturmwind is the first commercially available Dreamcast game to make use of the Chinese-created SD card adapter. Players can save their high scores, replays, and even add-ons for the game. This is a feature I’ll have to try out at some point in the future, as I currently do not own the adapter.
+ Like all indie releases on the Dreamcast Sturmwind is region free, meaning you can play it on any Dreamcast regardless of where you happen to live.
+/- When there are dozens of enemies on the screen at once, and explosions going on everywhere it can be somewhat difficult to see if you’re about to smash into a wall. It’s a very minor gripe that plagues even the best shmups.
– Oh how I wish there was a two-player co-op mode. This game deserves to be played with a friend.
My voice after screaming at the TV for not being able to magically push my ship out of harm’s way.
The Dreamcast was home to some excellent shmups like Ikaruga, Under Defeat, Gigawing, and many others, but there’s just something special about Sturmwind that raises the bar so high. I’m not ashamed to say this, but Sturmwind has become my absolute favorite shooter on the system, and I don’t care what you have to do, you need to play this game. It’s not only one of the best Dreamcast games ever made, it’s the best indie game I’ve ever played, and hands-down the best shmup released this year, and even one of my top games of 2013. Go buy this game, nuff said!
Final Score: 9.4/10