DYSTORIA is quite a blast. I mean that literally. It’s a sort of mashup of Assault Rigs and Descent, with a little bit of Tempest thrown in for good measure. You’ll spend much of your time flipping a little ship around laser-bright wireframe arenas, blasting space beetles and collecting neon trinkets.
Unlike Descent, your ship in DYSTORIA remains constantly affixed to a surface, but you can manoeuvre up, down, and around pretty much any surface you come across. The game’s levels are quite maze-like, giving you plenty of gravity-defying opportunities to slide and dodge the many projectiles that enemies will send your way, and allowing the designers to hide upgrade parts and collectables in lots of hidden nooks and crannies.
It’s a nice little adhesive twist that sits comfortably between single-plane shoot-em-ups and six-degrees-of-freedom blasters. Most of the levels in the game task you with locating three orbs to open an exit portal. It’s a formula that works, with the game throwing in enemies to distract you and provide a little opposition. Ship parts required to upgrade and unlock new vessels are nestled in secret corners, and later, larger levels have you unlocking new paths and areas to track down the aforementioned orbs.
DYSTORIA is at its best when it allows you to play it as an exploratory puzzler. It could perhaps do with a few more objectives, but once you wrap your head around the map, it becomes a nice little collect ’em up, especially when the levels become a little more complex and you have to use your brain a little bit more to get from one area to the next.
When it comes to combat, though, DYSTORIA begins to lose its shine. Playing with a controller or keyboard and mouse, I found ships to be a little too slippy and not quite as responsive as I’d hoped. The camera aggressively shifts as soon as you flip your ship, which can be a little jerky and momentarily disorienting. This is not good when certain enemies have the capacity to do serious damage with a single shot. Ultimately, during nearly every combat encounter, I found myself almost wishing DYSTORIA was a regular 6DOF game. It doesn’t help that some enemies float overhead, and you can’t adjust your aim on a vertical axis to compensate, or that a handful of levels are actually combat-dependent and force you to eliminate every last enemy.
The other major issue is that there are only a handful of enemy variants and a noticeable paucity of marquee showdowns. Although there’s a pretty enjoyable boss right at the end, DYSTORIA is a game crying out for more setpieces to break up the levels. Despite the increasing level complexity, there’s little difference in what you’re actually doing as you progress. It would have been nice to have a few more boss battles to shake things up a bit.
That all being said, if you simply take the game as it is, DYSTORIA presents a solid little retro package for arcade fans. The game loop works well – you’ll play through levels, unlock better ships and weapons, and return to take care of optional objectives, in quicker times, and increase your score. There’s no direct multiplayer, but there is some fun to be had with trying to best one another on the level leaderboards.
The throwback presentation is excellent, especially the soundtrack, which is all 80s synths and retro electronica. The weapon effects and environmental sound work are similarly superb, with enemies often revealing themselves through idiosyncratic bleeps, drones, and whirrs before you can see them. Combined with a simple, elegant wireframe approach to visual design, it’s clear that Tri-Coastal are really gunning for an audience that remembers Tron rather fondly. This is packaged nostalgia through and through, and although not particularly imaginative, it’s certainly very effective.
Less effective is the plot that tries to sneak its way into proceedings. There’s an awkward intro sequence that’s basically cribbed from The Last Starfighter, and the game tries to give you some context for why everything is happening, but it doesn’t need it. It’s half-baked and rather detrimental to be honest. Thankfully, you can pretty much ignore it completely and just get back to farming glowing orbs and blasting space bugs.
I hope Tri-Coastal make a sequel. There’s lots to like here, especially if you fancy taking a trip down Nostalgia Avenue, but there’s also lots to improve upon. Better handling, more varied enemies, improved camerawork and multiplayer shootouts would elevate DYSTORIA significantly. But what is here is still worth a look if you fancy a perspective-shifting, gravity-defying, pick-up-and-play action throwback.
Developer: Tri-Coastal Games
Publisher: Tri-Coastal Games, IndieHound
Click here for all of my video game reviews. Review copy provided by publisher. Click here to check out the scoring guide.
Six degrees of adhesion
A well-presented nostalgic blend of Assault Rigs and The Last Starfighter, DYSTORIA's mind-bending premise makes for an entertaining sci-fi action puzzler. But it's let down somewhat by uninspired enemy design and a lack of variety.