I’ll admit, I had a bit of trouble finding something to write about this week, so we’re gonna keep it simple with a good, but also simple game. Because sometimes you just want something simple to pick up and play, and Eschatos definitely fits the bill as a fun but simple 2.5D shooter.
GET IT HERE: https://store.steampowered.com/app/378770/ESCHATOS/ (Demo also available)
Also available on PS4, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox360.
GENRE: Good ol fashioned 2(.5)D shooter
Eschatos is a game whose inspirations come from a simpler time: A time when a game didn’t need a deep, compelling story or worldbuilding, and the premise was simple: Aliens are invading the Earth and you’re the brave, sole pilot taking them on. It comes from Japanese developer Qute, who was more known for their Wonderswan Color games (Two of which you can get if you buy the WonderPack version of Eschatos) but made quite the impression on the Xbox360 back in 2011 with this release that featured no region lock. As a 2D shooter, it admittedly doesn’t bring anything overly new or compelling to the table, but in a tried and true genre like this, there’s something to be said about the old saying: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
And Eschatos shows that a good 80s style shooter is definitely far from broke.
Eschatos admittedly does change things up a bit from the norm of what you’d expect for this kind of game, but not in a bad way. At the end of the day, you fly a ship, and blast countless enemies out of the sky while dodging bullets, but what sets it apart is how it focuses less on stocking power-ups and relying on a limited number of bombs, and instead gives you a full toolkit of offense and defense that you can freely utilize without needing to pick up any power-ups or similar items.
You’ve got your standard, forward rapid fire gun that most games of this type have, but also have a secondary fire that focuses more on the sides of your ship, firing spreads at 45ish degree angles to each side. And pressing both fire buttons (or a separate button you can set) will activate a shield that can block incoming fire, and recharges over time when not in use. You also have the ability to freely alter your ship speed, so you can move fast when needing to sweep through groups, or move slow and careful when needing to deal with tighter attacks that don’t leave as much room for error. This is a shooter that just gives you the full toolkit from the beginning, so it’s up to you to learn it and use it to its fullest to survive. The closest to a powerup (in the normal mode) are pickups with an F on them (For flash I guess?) that destroy all enemy bullets and weaker enemies onscreen.
The score system is quite simple, befitting the game’s focus on a more retro approach. There’s no complex chaining, combos, or medals or anything of that type. Instead, the focus is on quick kills: The faster you kill enemy waves, the more points you get. This means an aggressive approach that focuses on killing as fast as possible by being up close to enemies as they appear will be risky, yet potentially rewarding.
Another change-up from what you normally see in this genre is the 2.5D aspect, where you will sometimes get slightly different camera angles to let you see further ahead of your ship than normal, creating a different perspective as you shoot your way through the alien hordes. But what really sets things apart in Eschatos is its seamless transition between levels: There are no fade to blacks between the various levels (Or scenes) and boss fights. While there are a few brief moments where the action pauses and a loading prompt appears, there’s never a fade out or new “Take” as it were. Eschatos is presented as one long battle, starting on Earth, going into space, and eventually invading the alien stronghold on the Moon. Again, at no point is there any kind of fadeout or intermission: Eschatos is one single “take” from start to finish, giving you much more of a feeling of involvement in its campaign. It’s not unlike the oldschool shooter Raiden in a way, which may very well be a game Eschatos took some inspiration from, and I certainly can’t fault that.
I also love the game’s art direction, as it definitely focuses on making the Aliens feel, well…Alien. You’ve got flying saucers galore, for one. You’ve also got all kinds of oddly shaped enemy craft, including giant mirrors and ships that combine to form an oddly heart-shaped craft making up the game’s significant roster of enemies, of which there’s way too many to describe. But I’ll say I definitely have a soft spot for the flying saucer stuff in particular, it really gives this an Alien Invasion B-Movie feel.
But of course, what good is a shmup without some big bosses to blow up? Don’t you worry, a variety of bosses (And mid-bosses) will put your dodging skills to the test. Not quite to the degree a bullet hell will, but you’ll still have plenty to dodge and shield against as you try to bring down the Aliens’ biggest weapons. This game does try to blend a bit of the older and newer “schools” of enemy bullet patterns, using more than you’d see in an older game, but they’re a bit faster than the massive, slow screen filling patterns you would see in something by Cave. And of course different difficulty levels will make things easier or harder as needed, so there’s definitely something for everyone here.
Now, one place that deserves extra special mention: The soundtracks. Yes, with an S at the end. While you get the standard soundtrack of course, there’s also an arrange soundtrack DLC you can buy for a somewhat more modern take on the game’s music. Regardless of which soundtrack you use, both are bangers that utilize a very oldschool arcade synth style that fits perfectly with the retro styled shooting Eschatos offers. It has a very late 80s/early 90s feel that is right at home with the Alien blasting and bullet dodging you’ll be doing, and this game wouldn’t be the same without it. I certainly can’t say one soundtrack is better than the other, because at the end of the day it’ll come down to personal preference, but both sound incredibly good. It’s definitely the kind of “pump you up” inducing music you want for a game like this.
But if you do want to compare…
Both videos courtesy of Durandana on Youtube:
Stage 6-11 Theme: SURVIVE (Original)
Stages 6-11 Theme: SURVIVE (Arrange version)
I’ll admit, I have a preference towards the Arrange soundtrack myself because it blends oldschool synth with a few modern instruments and samples, creating a unique blend that is just music (heh) to my ears to hear while blasting my enemies to bits. But again, both are good in their own ways. While the arrange soundtrack certainly isn’t required to enjoy Eschatos, I do personally prefer it, and recommend it.
So, what kind of staying power does Eschatos have? It doesn’t have a lot of extras, as this is a pure arcade styled shmup, but it does offer some things for an enthusiast: The Arrange Mode which features a different scoring system and power-up system that has a bit of a tactical decision element to it: Every Powerup you grab improves your firepower, but reduces how much charge your shield can hold, which means less shield usage overall. So you’ve got a balancing act of offense vs defense to worry about. Time Attack gives you a timer you’re constantly racing, and while you don’t have lives to worry about, every death subtracts several seconds from the clock, while bigger kills like minibosses and bosses will refill it, and quickly clearing out weaker waves of enemies will freeze it. Original and Arrange mode also provide an Endless Mode which, as the name implies, has you seeing how long you can go until your eventual demise. There aren’t any extra levels or special course to unlock, just the game’s base campaign, but to be fair, this is a $15 (In the US) game, which is an absolute steal for something of this level of quality.
At the end of the day, Eschatos doesn’t do anything particularly new, but it does things incredibly well. It’s a polished 2.5D shooter that brings back the glory days of 80s/90s arcade shooting with a great visual presentation, absolute banging soundtracks, and a tried and true gameplay formula.