As someone who isn’t old enough to remember the 90s all that well, never mind the 80s, dipping into retro games or classics has typically felt like something I just needed to do. Thanks to the power of emulation, I’ve now suffered through Ice Climbers and grown to question the classic status of more than a few games from that era. And while I absolutely don’t agree with my particularly grouchy friend, who once theorized that nobody really knew how to make games until around 2005, I have admittedly found myself struggling to eke out much enjoyment from a good number of these historic titles.
In recent years, with the exception of the C64 and SNES Classic, my main entry point to retro gaming has been the indie market. Some of these games opt to dabble selectively in the pixel art and general aesthetic of the era, whilst others almost act as unofficial sequels to some much beloved, near-forgotten gems of a bygone time. Hyper Sentinel falls into that latter category due to its clear gameplay and stylistic ties to the Uridium games.
Within seconds of starting the first level, you’ll be thrown into a large scale 2D space battle, with enemy ships whizzing past and explosions aplenty. We don’t really get given much by way of context or backstory, but I never really felt like I needed to know more about the world or why exactly I was there. That being said, it might be a bit too easy to get lost in the chaos within this introductory stage, although it shouldn’t take too long to suss out the tight, simple controls and mechanics. Basically, it all boils down to destroying parts of a large dreadnought ship in order to leave it vulnerable, at which point a boss enemy will appear.
These bosses stand out as the real highlight, with many of them requiring different manoeuvres and solutions to beat. Upgrades can really turn the tide of battle and they’re generally quite inventive and fun to use. Where the game falls down is in its general lack of variety and repetitive dreadnought design. Most of these ships require the same sort of movements to beat and house the same sorts of enemies. It’s disappointing considering that destroying these gargantuan ships is what you’ll be doing for the majority of the game. They can be fun for a while, but it doesn’t take long for the entire package to start feeling a little underwhelming.
It’s stripped down and to the point, almost to a fault
This is compounded by the easy exploits within the gameplay that come close to feeling like cheating. Eventually, it became the case that I was making a great deal of use of the moment of invulnerability that changing directions grants you. This can lead to some daft looking to-ing and fro-ing, as you wait for your health to return. Sadly, the game doesn’t really give you much incentive to avoid this tactic, beyond the overly basic score multiplier. After making this discovery it can be hard not to rely on it, and the game’s ability to challenge you is lowered significantly as a result. Whilst you could perhaps argue that it’s a gameplay feature rather than an exploit, it really does grow to hinder the experience, regardless of intent.
Your long-term enjoyment of the game will also depend largely on whether or not you care about leaderboard scores, as there aren’t that many levels on offer. Hyper Sentinel does somewhat make up for this with its inclusion of other gameplay modes, but it would have been nice to see some more varied and enjoyable content.
The art style, sound effects, and various optional filters all help to cement Hyper Sentinel as a straightforward followup or homage to the Uridium games. As someone who has no nostalgia associated with this style, I found it generally appealing to listen to and look at, although I did eventually have to turn the sound off after the constant bleeps and bloops became an irritation.
In the end, I found it a hard game to love but an easy one to enjoy, at least for a couple hours. It’s stripped down and to the point, almost to a fault, and the aforementioned gameplay issues will no doubt irritate those who wish to play for any extended amount of time, but I think you can tell that this was a labour of love that comes tantalisingly close to giving fans a genuinely satisfying spiritual successor to two beloved 80s classics.