Listen, if a twin-stick shooter hits the Nintendo Switch I’m going to want to play it. After falling in love with the original Geometry Wars on the Xbox 360, it’s become a genre that I always want to get my hands on with the quick-paced action offering the kind of excitement that I just can’t get enough of. Naturally then, the release of Solstice Chronicles: MIA appealed to me from the get-go. Blasting an assortment of creatures on Mars in twin-stick shooting action? Count me in. Whilst the game certainly has its fun moments though, it doesn’t really do anything you wouldn’t have seen before and just feels a bit too ordinary to stand out in what is a very crowded genre.
Solstice Chronicles: MIA puts you in the role of a marine who finds himself trapped in a colony on Mars that has been affected by the STROL virus – a vicious disease that turns people into blood-thirsty mutants. With the help of a Drone named Saffron, you have to battle your way past the enemy threat to safety and find out what exactly has gone wrong to cause the problems here in the first place.
It’s all a bit run-of-the-mill as far as sci-fi narratives go, but it does its job of keeping you interested in the story. Don’t get me wrong, I never really found myself that invested in what was going to happen, but it was nice to have all the shooting of mutants contextualised and to have a goal to work towards. Also, the interactions between the protagonist and Saffron made for some quirky and fun moments, which certainly gave me a few chuckles in-between all of the rampant shooting.
Gameplay-wise, Solstice Chronicles: MIA offers exactly what you’d expect from a twin-stick shooter: you use one stick to move, the other to aim your gun, and then press the trigger buttons to unleash bullets upon your enemies as you battle across each of the game’s twenty levels. One interesting addition to the game is the Threat Level, which constantly increases as you progress through a level – if it builds up high, you can expect an even stronger onslaught of enemies to come your way and for your life to become a heck of a lot tougher.
This threat level actually ties in with your Drone companion. See, Saffron isn’t just tagging along for the fun of it, but actually has a few abilities to help you out with too. However, these abilities can affect the threat level in various ways – the ‘scout’ ability where Saffron scours the levels for resources will increase it for example, whereas the ‘taunt’ ability that lures enemies towards you momentarily will drop it. Then there’s the ‘bomb’ ability which offers a handy explosion at the expensive of an increased enemy threat, whilst the ‘shield’ protects you from incoming attacks momentarily.
Balancing out your Drone’s abilities with the Threat Level is imperative to success in Solstice Chronicles: MIA, and knowing when to use (or not use) particular abilities will be vital if you’re going to live. Don’t get me wrong, it’s never something that the player will need to get too stressed out by with the game proving pretty forgiving for the most part as far as enemy encounters are concerned, but it does mean you’ll have to think a bit strategically if the Threat level gets too high.
You’re also in control of your character’s development, with four classes on offer at the start of the game whose stats and skills you can improve upon as you progress. The ‘Assault’ class offers a balance of speed and power, the ‘Demolition’ class focuses on using explosives and all-out power attacks, the ‘Terminator’ is more agile and utilises more advanced technology than the other classes, whilst the ‘Hellraiser’ is a lot more defense-orientated than the rest. There’s enough variety on offer in the classes that you can easily pick something that suits your playstyle, whilst being able to level up and improve upon them and your own general skills is a plus too. Admittedly, some of the skills you can unlock definitely felt more useful than others whilst some I’d struggle to really see the benefit of at all, but it’s still enjoyable to feel yourself becoming better equipped and more powerful as you work your way through the game’s latter levels.
Everything comes together nicely to make for a fun experience, though there was nothing about Solstice Chronicles: MIA that helped make it stand out. It has a few good ideas in place such as the dependence on the Drone and the changing Threat Level, but they never really affected the gameplay in a way that made it feel distinctly unique. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s bad game, but it did leave me wanting a little bit more from it – especially since there are plenty of other titles in the genre that have their own unique hook that make them worth playing.
One new feature that’s come to the Nintendo Switch version of Solstice Chronicles: MIA is the local co-op, which allows two players to work together to take on the game’s enemies. It’s a neat addition and offered a fun way to experience the game’s campaign, with twin-stick shooters always proving to be a blast with a friend. There’s also the Survival mode which allows you to take on wave upon wave of enemies if you prefer, though I’ll admit that once I was done with the campaign there wasn’t a whole lot of incentive to keep me coming back for more afterwards.
Visually, Solstice Chronicles: MIA looks decent enough and has some eye-catching lighting effects on show. However, it’s some way from being the prettiest twin-stick shooter I’ve played (it’s hard to compete with Housemarque’s work) and some aspects of the game’s visuals can be a little underwhelming and repetitive in design. At least it’s never ugly though and it manages to both run well and look nice on the Nintendo Switch’s portable mode too, which is a big plus in my eyes.
I had fun playing through Solstice Chronicles: MIA, especially in local co-op with a friend, but there’s no denying that it plays things safe as far as its design is concerned. Sure, the Drone and Threat Level are neat, but they don’t change things up all that much as far as blasting enemies away is concerned. Add to that the somewhat mediocre visuals and repetitive setting and it makes it hard to feel too blown away by the game overall.
Solstice Chronicles: MIA certainly isn’t a bad game though and it managed to offer enjoyable twin-stick shooting action – it just doesn’t really do much you wouldn’t have seen before (and done better) in similar titles in the genre.
Publisher: CIRCLE Ent
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC