DYSTORIA has an interesting introduction that shares similarities with the likes of classic 80s movies such as ‘Tron’ and ‘The Last Starfighter’ (the location of the arcade cabinet is a nice nod), with a young man finding the ‘DYSTORIA’ arcade cabinet and getting zapped up to a mysterious craft in Space. On this craft he is challenged to prove humanity’s worth by shooting his way through a myriad of levels in a six-axis style shooter with a classic 80s arcade vibe. If you haven’t seen the 80s movies that so clearly inspired DYSTORIA you might not appreciate it as much, but I’m a fan so I had a smile kept on my face throughout the entirety of my adventure.
There are some clever moments in the game’s story that keep it interesting, with plenty of messages coming through to your in-game terminal that keep you guessing at what’s actually going on behind the scenes. It adds a neat bit of context to a genre that’s often missing it, offering small tid-bits of information that breaks up the gameplay in between all of the shooting.
DYSTORIA’s gameplay reminded me of a mixture of ‘Descent’, ‘Battlezone’ and classic beach ball puzzler ‘Kula World’. ‘Kula World’ might be an odd point of reference, but it actually fits; you’ll be working across maze-like maps built up of different shapes, with the player able to traverse across maps from all directions and angles with no worries about gravity. It’s actually the gameplay dynamic that most of the game is based upon, with collectibles hidden all over the map and demanding a bit of anti-gravity exploration in order to find. The solid level design really compliments the gameplay, with a wide range cleverly structured maps that feature a ton of hidden nooks and crannies to venture through in the game.
DYSTORIA demands you search areas from all perspectives, though I did find this could be a little disorientating. Whilst it’s a neat gameplay dynamic in principle, everything happens so quickly that just one sudden turn can easily see your ship flip across the edge of the map on to the other side, resulting in you losing track of where you are. It isn’t so common on the simpler level designs, but when the more intricate levels kick in you’ll notice it a lot more often.
It’s a little difficult to keep track of where exactly you are and with maps made up of multiple layers you’ll quickly find yourself lost and clueless to your position. The wireframe style of graphics and lack of visual landmarks doesn’t help either, with almost all areas of the map looking so similar it’s hard to distinguish a location. To the game’s defence there is a map view that you can access that gives an indicator of where you are, but even that wasn’t great considering everything looks the same.
Levels play out with one of two goals: collect three hidden orbs or eliminate all enemies. They’re incredibly simple objectives but at the same time are incredibly fitting given the arcade nature of the game. Admittedly it could get a little samey with just two objectives to work for, but they offered enough to keep me entertained throughout the game’s thirty levels.
DYSTORIA’S difficulty could be a little overwhelming though, especially with the relentless enemies who stop at nothing to wipe you out – classic arcade shooters were known for being tricky affairs though so at least it’s consistent. It was far too easy to get surrounded by enemies and wiped out. I’ve already mentioned that the game’s maps could be a little awkward to follow, so when you’re surrounded by gunfire and can’t quite work out where it’s coming from it could feel a bit tedious. There’s not much room for error either, with your ship not able to take much damage before it’s blown to pieces. This is something you can rectify with the better ships you unlock as progress through the game, but still, get caught out by a few enemies and there’s nothing you can do but accept your death.
It doesn’t help that the combat mechanics of the game could feel a little clumsy. You’re not able to aim up and down, which seems bizarre given the whole anti-gravity wall-climbing nature of the game. You literally have to line your shots perfectly, with the game sometimes requiring you to get up real close to an enemy in order to take them out – mix this up with the tricky difficulty and it leaves you with plenty of frustrating moments. It’s a shame because when you get into a fair fire fight with an enemy there’s plenty of fun to be had, but as soon as those enemies go out of your reach but can still shoot at you things start to feel a little unfair.
As you progress through levels you earn salvage which can be used to unlock new ships that each have their own advantages. It gives you something to work for, adding a sense of replayability to the linear mission style. It’s great to see a decent variety too, especially since the game’s starting ship is pretty boring. It won’t take long before you’re manning more impressive crafts though – including a few that might look incredibly familiar to ‘Star Wars’ fans. Let’s just say Han Solo wannabes will feel at home when flying the Protofusion ship…
Visually DYSTORIA looks like a modern take on the wireframe visuals that were popularised by titles like ‘Battlezone’ and ‘Tempest’. Naturally it looks a lot better than the aforementioned titles though, with more detailed environments and vehicle models as well as more striking neon colours that offer a rich vibrant feel to each area of the game. I had a lot of love for the aesthetics; especially since DYSTORIA successfully re-create the vibe of a classic arcade game (albeit with a modern lick of paint).
DYSTORIA has plenty going for it with its intriguing sci-fi premise that’s clearly inspired by the classic movies from the 80s, whilst it’s slick neon style and good level design ensures that the game will keep you interested until the end.
A lack of variety with the visual style of these levels can make levels difficult to navigate though, whilst the disorientating controls and demanding shooting mechanics brought a lot of frustration too. DYSTORIA is certainly not a bad game and there’s plenty of fun to be had with it, but it didn’t do enough for me to consider it a great game.
Developer: Tri-Coastal Games
Publisher: Tri-Coastal Games, IndieHound
Release Date: 21/02/2017