Any day is a good day when there's a new Dreamcast release. Granted, this was released physically last fall for Genesis and digitally for Switch, PS4 and Steam, and the DC also has an official ROM release for those that want to burn their own copy or use DCHDMI or GDEMU, but the physical copies for Dreamcast have just shipped and that's what I got of course.
I want to start with the packaging, which is great. Nothing official from SEGA on it, but it emulates your region of choice very well. It has a full color manual with reversible art work, which I don't know if I've ever seen for a DC manual, that has a ton of info in it on ever aspect of the game. The only thing it's missing is a page for the Twin Stick controls, which it officially supports.
The game itself is a small, arena shooter. You march through seven areas each with multiple rooms. One path always leads to the area's boss and the others lead to dead ends. However, when you have to backtrack a room or two, enemies do not respawn. This game was first released on the Genesis, so the graphics are classic 16-bit, but the DC version gets CD quality sound and a couple other extras like being able to shoot while rolling and having your score on screen at all times. In true rogue-like fashion once you restart the game either from turning off the system or dying too many times, you have to re-upgrade your character and the level layout changes slightly both in which rooms show up when and enemy placement.
You have your standard machine gun which runs out of bullets after a certain amount. When you're close to running out, an ammo pick up with spawn somewhere in the room giving you time to grab it. If you do run out of bullets there's an auto-melee when close to enemies. There's also a series of more powerful weapons that randomly spawn at fair intervals and each has a 20 second timer, so shoot as much as you can until it runs down. Enemies are in the vain of 'Alien' and other sci-fi classics, but there's a varied amount and they'll keep you on your toes, especially when a couple can spawn from below ground with no warning. The bosses are standard 16-bit era fare, and they are each different, but once you know their patterns, they are easy to take down. Rolling is your one other move, and you have to master it to get far. As mentioned, in between areas you can upgrade your character (either a male or female soldier with slightly different stats, and the whole game can be played co-op) with the dog tags picked up from killing some enemies. By the end of the seventh stage it is possible to have a fully-upgraded character if you've collected enough dog tags.
Pretty much every control option is supported, from the standard DC pad to the official ASCII fight pad, the official DC arcade stick and the official Twin Stick. I solely used the Twin Stick, which is probably the best way to play, because this is a twin stick shooter at heart. You control movement with the left stick, shooting automatically by pressing the right stick in the desired direction (8-way shooting), roll with the right trigger and use your grenades with the left trigger. There's no page for the Twin Stick controls in the manual, and the buttons aren't labeled on the Twin Stick, so there is some trial and error to get the controls down. While I would've liked tighter shooting angles (it feels like you miss A LOT), it all works well.
I do have a few gripes though: the music, while excellent, is short on tracks and the loops are short too. Even focusing on game play, the loops were evident. You character's hit box is a little too big. There are times you will take a hit either from an enemy or their bullet when you clearly didn't touch them. Your bullets and enemy bullets are also very similar in design and color, so they can get lost in the action resulting in many, "what just hit me" moments. If you try to roll while up against a wall, you usually can't and will stay still. As mentioned above, certain enemies come up from the ground with no warning and it feels cheap. The game auto-saves, but there's no indication when it happens and there's no menu option to manually save/load a file. But my biggest gripe has to do with the fundamental drive of the game: the high-score system.
An advantage over the Genesis version (and early, non-patched digital versions) is having your current score and high score displayed on-screen at all times. However, there is no leaderboard of any kind. Nothing to access from the main menu, the settings menu or even one that scrolls after the game. Considering other DC indie games have ONLINE leaderboards, this is a really curious omission. Likewise, playing on Easy or Hard goes towards the same high score. So for example, I set my high score on the Easy difficulty, but when I switched the difficulty to Hard, my Easy high score was the one to beat. And since I haven't beaten it yet, I have no idea what my best Hard high score is. The whole point of this game is to chase high scores, because it's not very long and mastering the game is how it's designed. So to omit or break the high score system is baffling, frustrating and maddening on a certain level. Now, DC games can be patched by way of the scarce SD Card adapter or if you're using the ROM, but that vast majority of DC owners only use physical discs, so this will probably never be rectified.
That said, it's still a really fun and highly recommended game for the Dreamcast. It is well made and technically sound, and, bottom line, fun. But the lack of any sort of leaderboards or even separate high scores when playing each difficulty just makes me shake my head.