Dimension Drive might be a familiar name to some, but unfortunately it wasn't always known for the game itself. A news story broke in May 2015 about the crowdfunded project from Dutch studio 2Awesome, but it was for the wrong reasons. What the two man team experienced was agonisingly documented as their project was short of the required goal, only to be seemingly rescued before the relevant donation's account was outed as fraudulent. Needless to say the campaign was promptly relaunched, and the pleasing end result is that the game is now available on the Nintendo Switch.
Turbulent history not withstanding, Dimension Drive is a 2D, vertically scrolling space shooter following female pilot Jack, who has acquired a fragment of mysterious technology from a well travelled and all conquering alien race known as the Ashajule. Jack is the sole survivor of one destroyed civilisation. Flying her ship - the Manticore - and accompanied by on-board artificial intelligence system V.E.R.A (British soap opera reference only just barely resisted), they venture out on a journey to rid the universe of evil.
The thing is that this technology allows space craft to shift between two inter-dimensional planes. Rather than serving solely as a plot device, the dimension shifting Macguffin is important to the gameplay, too.
In one respect it is easy to reminisce about old school shooter experiences like R-Type or even more recent bullet hell titles like Sine Mora EX, as Dimension Drive on paper sounds like another to simply get in line - it isn't. Not completely, anyway. You will be frantically dodging incoming enemy fire, avoiding structural obstacles and trying to pick up green energy blobs or other power ups. Enemy ships dart around the screen, relentlessly firing in waves, spirals or circle patterns. So far, so familiar. It would be easy to dismiss this as another generic shooter until you see a screenshot, or more specifically see it in motion. While it does invoke feelings somewhere between tension and exhilaration - like trying to pull of a perfect loop de loop to avoid a screen filling tractor beam or being involved other such intense space dog fights - Dimension Drive has one ace up its sleeve that sets it apart from its competitors.
The hand drawn characters presented in static cutscenes - along with parallax scrolling levels - are detailed and polished, even if some obstacles are more difficult to make out as the game progresses. The mix of crunchy guitar riffs and meandering synth soundtrack are equally accomplished. Taking full advantage of 16:9 and the Switch's widescreen display, Dimension Drive's battlefield is split equally into two, akin to any racing couch multiplayer, except you are in charge of both.
If this brings back memories of Star Fox Zero's dual screen shenanigans, let it be known that while it is easier to deal with here it might require the same perseverance. By tapping B your ship will cross over from one side to the other, with the corresponding position on the other screen displayed as a small purple orb. After a few stages you'll earn new abilities that will allow you to shoot behind and slow your craft's speed. Each of the worlds feels distinct, but as the different sides are asymmetrical, sometimes it is difficult to distinguish structures from background when things get hectic. One misplaced or mistimed transfer will result in a spectacular, explosive end.
In the early skirmishes there a couple of brutal difficulty spikes, and it might be painfully tough to get to grips with. It's like memorising the twists and turns of a race track. Rhythmically alternating between screens to navigate laser gates, impassable architecture or weaving in and out of tight alcoves to retrieve the last power cube is integral to progressing, and this micro-management - combined with the genre's gameplay tropes - isn't easy to master. With practice, however, there is plenty of opportunity to accumulate high scores. The reward for switching between the two planes to take out all possible enemies and gather all the power ups is not only numerical, though.
Dimension Drive isn't a game you should be content with giving up on easily, or merely stumbling through; that said there is a level of coordination that will frustrate or even overwhelm some. Its relentless attack patterns and environmental hazards - and demands for rapid reaction speeds - can result in satisfaction like all good shooters, and push the player to develop their skills and read the game in a new way. This certainly leads to real high points, though we should note that the broader design doesn't always excel in the same way as the concept - take away the dual screen hook and it is a competent but not revolutionary shooter.
In addition to the single player campaign there's also a two player cooperative mode where two pilots can tackle levels from the main story. For the less-skilled audience it can turn into a confusing and hilarious mix of ridiculing each other's abilities. Get better though, and it turns into an immensely gratifying synchronised experience. Have you ever tried to play both sides of a splitscreen multiplayer game? The rational answer is no, but Dimension Drive requires the same level of simultaneous manoeuvring in order to fully appreciate it.
It's not been the smoothest of journeys to release for Dimension Drive, and nor will yours be through its initial twelve stage campaign, but it is a polished and engaging shooter that asks more of each player. This is definitely not a 'turn your brain off at the door' kind of bullet hell experience, but it's worthy of the effort. Failure will be frequent, and frustratingly so in the early stages, but it's not cheap and beating a section or level never feels unattainable. There is a specific type of coordination required that will take time to perfect, and for some it might overwhelm, but Dimension Drive is a game that can be as rewarding as it is demanding.