Repetition of tropes within a game genre is a pretty common problem that doesn’t always spell doom for the games within it. Indeed, the merging of genre styles has given plenty of games a fresh angle over the years. You don’t have to change that much in these cases, with a little tweak here and there making for a satisfying, if underwhelming experience. Yet some genre types have it a lot harder than others. Shoot-’em-ups, and indeed their subset of bullet hell where gunfire fills the screen, is so ingrained in gaming history by this point that it takes a pretty novel approach to stand out. It’s exactly why a game like Velocity 2X remains one of the best modern examples: familiarity and freshness, hand in hand.
At this point I’ve played so many bullet hell shoot-’em-ups in recent years that I feel exhausted just looking at screenshots of them. They do still hold a place in my heart that nestles close to beer and the first coffee of the day, but I just need something inventive and exciting at this point in order to enjoy them properly. Xona Games’ Score Rush Extended is the latest contender; can it do what so few of its kind manage nowadays and innovate and excite in a genre that’s ridiculously long in the tooth? Well, Score Rush Extended is stubborn in that regard, but the way it sticks to its old-school guns makes for a surprisingly good iteration of the classical shoot-’em-up.
Score Rush’s storyline, if you can even call it that, is inconsequential: all you need to know is you are a object that shoots enemies that are shooting at you so much that you can barely weave through the bullets. Without even trying, Score Rush breaks you out into a sweat within minutes, as the screen begins to resemble a children’s ball pool, with all the colored globes of murder splashing around the place. It’s hard enough to try and steer your way through the river of gunfire before you even start to take into account the fact that you need to shoot back, and shoot back fast and accurately.
That’s definitely Score Rush’s biggest hook. The pure intensity thrust upon you so quickly is amplified by the delightfully chugging metal soundtrack by Dragon Music that almost seems to be encouraging you to unleash your bullet-based fury upon. There’s no waffle about why you’re destroying the enemy; the goal is simply to survive as long as possible and get as many points as you can. If anything in Score Rush matches its intensity, then it has to be its sense of old-school purity. Forget all the plot waffle and character-building—just shoot and move. It really is that simple, and Score Rush Extended embraces it in such a way that it feeds off that nostalgia-soaked gameplay loop, making it both incredibly accessible, and maddeningly tough.
The controls are what most makes Score Rush feel accessible. There is little fat left to trim with just the analogue sticks for movement and shooting, and the right shoulder buttons for slowing your ship’s movement and unloading your limited use, screen-clearing bomb. This allows you to concentrate on what matters the most; dodging gunfire, because as I may have already mentioned, there’s a lot of it.
The base modes for Score Rush Extended are simply a Score Rush mode that is literally just surviving wave after wave of neon-lit enemies and blasting them to whatever digital hell they emerged from, with each wave being punctuated by a boss fight. The other mode, Boss Rush, does away with the regular enemies and just serves you up boss after boss instead. You don’t get much in the way of help, but what you do get is three lives, the chance for additional, smaller ships via power-ups, your bombs, and the occasional slice of good fortune.
There are modifiers for these base modes that make an already tough game into something bordering insanity. Dual Play gives you two ships to control at once, which is frankly a ludicrous thing to consider early on, but if you fancy upping the challenge, it’s there. You can also play with up to three other players, and while I think it’ll find an audience that revels in its screen-filling chaos, it felt a little too much for me. It’s already hard enough to see what’s going on when flying solo, but this ramps that up to levels that cause more confusion than anything else. One for the super-skilled, quick-reflex brigade methinks, though I’m personally not quite ready for that level of destruction. Once my hand-eye coordination returns to its mid-20’s peak. I can at least say that it isn’t an unfair challenge, just an incredibly difficult one that some will really enjoy mastering.
While the back-to-basics gameplay works wonders for Score Rush Extended, the presentation could probably have done with a few more sprinkles from the pretty glitter box. The overall design of the player and enemy ships is pretty basic stuff, and in a way it makes sense to be simplistic with so much going on, but it also sometimes makes it difficult to see everything you need to see. The barren black wastes that pass for backgrounds are disappointing too. A little color variation would have been nice, but again, I can understand the reasoning behind it. It’s just little things that could have pushed this up a notch.
I’ll be completely upfront in telling you that I didn’t expect much from Score Rush Extended. Even after playing for twenty minutes I wasn’t entirely sure who it was for, but then it clicked and I ended up having plenty of fun with it. Yes, it’s basic-looking. Yes it’s bollock-achingly tough, and there’s little to it in terms of added content, but you know what? It works. The visuals are pretty much the only thing I’d like a change to. The rest is pure, old-school bullet hell that keeps the core experience simple enough to allow players of differing abilities a chance to enjoy it for what it is. It’s not going to set the world alight by any means, it’s just a pleasing throwback with a great soundtrack and a good amount of challenge.