RefleX is a tight action intense vertical scolling, bullet hail shooter with simple controls and a shield mechanic to reflect white projectiles to destroy enemies and get big points. Now that’s a mouthful and your spaceship will have a mouth full of bullets, because they just don’t stop. There are few patterns to master here, but everything will fly right for you. So you’ll need to use your skill to dodge or shield to defend you. Its not a one hit death sort of shoot’em up, you’ve got quite a bit of health, but you’re always in peril from ships, lasers, bullets and death rays.
The controls are so simple they could have been done on the original NES controller, one button to shoot and another to shield. So attack and defend. You can’t attack and defend at the same time, defense becomes offense with reflected white projectiles. Using your shield will drain its power and to get more, you’ll be able to recharge it quicker if you stop shooting. You can time your shield to use the minimal amount of power. With your shield drained, your offense is too. You’ll go from a powerful straight beam with a few angled lasers down to a pitiful few forward firing bullets. Its not difficult to stay charged at all times, in fact the shield should be a last resort.
From the start, you’re treated to a vivid light display of colored lasers, movement and beauty. Your lasers are green and enemy projectiles come in two forms, red and white. Red projectiles don’t bounce off your shield, only white ones do. In fact if you put enough lasers into red projectiles you can destroy them. There are also missiles and space mines that you’ll need to destroy, because they can’t be shielded. The space mines will always find their way to you. There are also longer white projectiles that seek you, forcing you to use your shield to reflect them. The great part is they’ll seek the enemies. Watching your enemies explode in a massive array of fire is always a satisfying rush.
The game is full of diverse enemies, larger ships, smaller vessels, tanks, turrets and they’ll all fire in different ways. No matter how crazy it gets, your overpowered muscle ship can clear even the biggest enemies in no time. One of the subtleties of the game is having a weapon with a few angled lasers. The closer you get, the more damage you’ll do, because those angled lasers will be hitting the large enemies. Its risky though, you might take an unexpected projectile. The game does on rare occasion have enemies appear behind you, when your ship can only fire forward.
Each area is broken into two sections, both with a giant boss at the end. These bosses are all unique, have their own attack pasterns, health bars and gimmicks. For the most part, they’re giant ships based on the zodiac signs. So you’ll face Virgo, get charged by Taurus, stung by Scorpio and you will fight Cancer playing video games. All jokes aside, these are creative, monstrous vessels that make up half or more of the game. Sagittarius is so giant that it is the entire area (level) and you need to work your way to its bridge before putting lasers into it. Gemini is two ships that break apart and merge together. All of these bosses are a joy and a challenge to fight. Some do rely on cheap tricks like hiding off screen and fighting where you can’t shoot them.
The only problem is the beautiful graphics is that its restricted to a 640 x 480 resolution and the textures look lower quality. In fact I can see the square outline of cancer’s sprite image. There are nice effects when transitioning from area to area, such as the background will tilt so you can essentially fly up a wall even if its always from a top down perspective. Later in the game you’ll see and fight an armada of giant ships that are part of the background. The background and ships will shift, turn and rotate. Its a good effect that adds something special to that level.
With the shield mechanic, it feels like a forgiving game, but you’ve only got a set amount of lives to make it through to the end. Well in RefleX they’re called souls, so you’re not fighting for your life, you’re fighting for your very soul! In an odd and yet forgiving twist, if you get a game over you’ll unlock more lives. You start with a mere three, but before you know it, you’ll have ten or so. It certainly becomes incentive to keep playing and it makes a tough game easier the longer you play.
When you start the game the music is slow and soothing, but as you progress further the music will match the insanity that you’ll deal with. The action gets fast pace and frantic, but with a sky full of bullets and ships, there’s a sort of euphoric focus that you’ll have. Its this intensity to focus that makes RefleX so engrossing, engaging and fun. Learning that when you see certain things, or hear them to use the shield as a reflex.
Other highlights in the game include a giant hole in the ground that opens up to fire giant projectiles at you only to be followed by the mega ship that fired them. Its a great way to introduce a boss. During the chaos of the Sagittarius stage, its a joy destroying parts of the ship and other giant vessels in the armada. You’ll see ships far in the background fire purple ribbon lasers at you, which take a while to get onto screen and can cut you down if you’re not paying attention. After the Sagittarius stage, the game resorts to throwing giant bosses at you, before it completely forgets about the zodiac gimmick. While flying through areas and fighting lesser enemies is fun, RefleX emphasizes the boss battles.
There are two big issues that I had when playing. Right off the bat, there’s a glaring issue to this excellent game, because its stuck in windowed mode. However, digging through a forum revealed when you hit F4 you can play in full screen, but there’s no way to easily change that in the options. The first time I played RefleX, the controls felt difficult and stiff. It was odd not being able to move in a diagonal direction, but that’s because the left thumb stick of a 360 controller limits you to horizontal and vertical movement. Using the directional pad lets you move in eight directions.
RefleX doesn’t have that much to speak of with bonus content. There’s an area select that will let you replay any area you’ve already completed. The problem with that is once you beat that area, it tells you game over and kicks you back to the menu. It was confusing seeing a game over rather than a congratulations, successful mission! Your high scores are kept, yet what’s odd is my high scores are never saved. I’ve done twenty times the high score and that makes me think its a glitch.
The only thing that can enhance the game other than working high scores is extra ships or different weapons. The weapon balance feels perfect, but extras are always fun. Even if the ships all attack the same, it would still be nice having different ships to chose from in a preferences menu.
For fans of the shoot’em up space genre, you’ll feel a familiar sense of engagement and joy playing RefleX. Its a lot of fun for a cheap price tag. If the game could only have higher quality textures and better resolution, it could be better, but its still a must have.