Back in the forgotten, misty year of 1994, a game called Hardcore (developed by Digital Illusions, now better known as DICE) was previewed in game magazines for Mega Drive, Mega CD and Amiga. Then, thanks to the encroaching next generation of consoles, publisher Psygnosis canned the title when it was borderline completed. And now, with the new name Ultracore and following a period of hardware exclusivity as a pre-loaded title on Analogue's Mega Sg and a proper, physical release via Columbus Circle in Japan, this lost 16-bit run n' gun title has finally seen release on modern consoles. The question is, should it have stayed in limbo?
Thankfully, the answer to that question is no. Ultracore was absolutely worth preserving. Finding out it was developed under Psygnosis' watching eye wasn't any kind of surprise; the look of the game absolutely recalls the aesthetic of the company's beloved Amiga titles, such as Blood Money and Leander. As a result, it's comfortingly familiar at first play. This is no faux-retro title; this is the real deal, for better and worse.
Jumping into Ultracore, it's difficult to find an immediate point of comparison; it's very much a Mega Drive-feeling game, but it doesn't have the overwhelming spectacle of Gunstar Heroes or the tight pacing of Contra: Hard Corps. It's definitely its own thing, but there's a snifter of Turrican and Fatal Rewind in there, for sure.
You'll be blasting your way through intricate, maze-like stages rather than linear left-to-right set-piece-laden obstacle courses. Security cards need to be found, switches pulled and secret paths located and utilised to progress. Naturally, this is not easy, with an onslaught of robotic enemies opposing you from the word "go". Seriously, there's a lot of them, but you're able to aim in any direction, as well as hold the shooting button to maintain fire at a target while moving away. In a move that rather defies the game's Mega Drive roots, the addition of twin-stick shooting has also been added. Interestingly, this advantage still doesn't make the game particularly easy, and we wonder if the enemy count was amped up to compensate for this level of control.
Said enemies are a little disappointing, sadly. There are a lot of small, annoying flying foes and little in the way of credible opponents besides the missile-launching walkers that quickly turn up. Some of the enemies are so small and indistinct that they're actually difficult to see against the darker backgrounds, leading to some health loss or even death that feels a touch unfair. Dying, though, is a bit of a slap on the wrist in Ultracore – fall into a pit, for example, and you'll respawn right back where you were.
Stages are laced with secrets, usually hidden within the walls with visual clues as to where they may lurk. You'll also be collecting coins with which to acquire items, such as screen-clearing smart bombs and new weapons, switching them out as you make your way deeper into the game. Pleasantly, though, your default rapid-fire gun feels anything but weedy and is always useful to have by your side.
There are only five levels, but they're large, complex, meaty things with multiple boss battles. Said boss battles are pretty claustrophobic, with aggressively large mechas getting fiercely up in your space, but your freedom of movement goes some way towards mitigating this. Unfortunately, clearing these bosses and progressing through the game leads to our most major issue with Ultracore – there's no save feature.
As was usually the case back in the 16-bit days, you'll need to use a password system to retain your progress, and in 2020 that's kind of a tall order. Sure, you can put it in sleep mode, but even the Arcade Archives releases have a save state feature; if they added twin-stick, we feel as though they could have added the ability to save your game, too. Still, it's definitely fun and it's not so prohibitively long of a game that it's going to really put you on the spot to finish it in a couple of hours or so. Difficulty is reasonable throughout, too, though it ramps up for the final two levels, as you'd expect.
Aesthetically it's quite a treat – the graphics, as noted earlier, have that trademark, European-style aesthetic, with just a shade of Bitmap Brothers-style flair. The soundtrack is cool, too, with options for both the original FM chip sounds and a brand new synth-style score from multiple different artists. As good as the Mega Drive sounds are, we'd recommend the new OST for your playthrough – it's a bit of a banger.
it's really cool that a cancelled 1994 game can get a new lease of life like this, and Ultracore is a good example of its genre. The lack of a save feature, though, is a black mark against it – we can't understand why such an option wasn't included, given other modern features (twin-stick control, the switchable soundtracks) are present and correct. Still, this is solid retro action and a fascinating "what could have been" experience. Of course, in this case, "what could have been" eventually was.
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Lol at no save feature. We want you to experience the pain of writing down passwords. Everyone loved those.
@mesome713 I can't remember, is that an O or a 0. Or an I or a l.
OHHHH how I yearn for the days of yore.
Ah. "Ultracore". All the lameness of the 1990s distilled, refined and condensed into a single title.
ahahaha ahahaha I gEt iT bEcaUse thE cOmpAny iS nAMED dIcE aNd u SaId RoLl oF tHe DiCe Hahahaha best comedy since "blue bloods"!!!!111!
I'd like to get it as I prefer these types of shooters than the likes of Contra. These old style Amiga games some were hit or miss but when they hit they HIT just like with the Turrican games and the art style is different to what people are doing with retro style games now but...damn that price is a bit much for a game where the new devs didn't really do much else on top of what was already done. Gonna have to wait for a sale.
If you like Mega Turrican then you need to play this game.
Have this pre-loaded on my Mega SG, it’s ok I guess.
I guess you could take a screenshot of the password, but still...
I'm all for including the password system for kicks. Not having a save feature alongside though does necessarily annoying. But then, would anyone ever really enter the password?
I’ve heard about nostalgia, but not putting a SAVE point for God’s sakes is taking it way to far. Having a save feature is the hidden rule of any game
Being able to use your phone to capture passwords is the biggest technological advancement of the millennium.
You know it's bad when a rom that's been floating free on the internet for over a year is considered a new release on the Switch.
Already got this game rom on my Mega Sg, Sega Genesis Mini, AtGames Sega Genesis Flashback, and Mega SD so the no save state doesn't bother me that much.
@Papichulo true true lol
@Papichulo How is that considered bad? The game was also available on PS4 as well. I say the more platform it lands on the more people will get a chance to exprience it. Besides Xeno Crisis did the same thing and was widely available on more platforms as well.
I love how the worst feature and “black mark” against it is the lack of a save feature. Seriously..?! I would just contribute that to the game’s difficulty level. Part of a game’s enjoyment balance is the challenge presented and the journey. Not everything is going to be handed to you in a bread basket, kids. Smh
@mesome713 I mean, back when passwords were even a thing it was so that a game wouldn't require a battery backup.
I'm almost 100% certain that everyone's cellphone has a camera built in. Plus, really? Writing down a small string of letters/numbers is hard?
@TG16_IS_BAE Making a game with a save feature is hard?
@mesome713 Harder than taking a picture with your phone, or writing out a password.
I have this physically for both the Sega Genesis and Switch. All thanks to Strictly Limited Games.
The awesome review makes me sad this didn’t see the light of day in ‘94. Could have been an 9/10 back in the day
@TG16_IS_BAE You don’t even need to take your phone out - just use the Switch’s screenshot button. Problem solved. But also, a completely unnecessary problem in the first place. Why update a Nineties title, but keep the password saving? Cute throwback? Maybe. But it’s also an irritant we left behind a long, long time ago. Just seems a strange choice.
Oh, the joys of writing out passwords for Populous on Master System... is that an 8 or a B? Only one way to find out...
No save feature? Password save? In 2020? That is simply unacceptable. They could have at least put in some slight effort to make this game work for the modern age. Just about every retro title these days at least has a save state feature, it's pretty much an industry standard, heck the weekly Hamster ACA releases always manage to do that and they release them every week!
Password saves are one of those old school things that I have never been nostalgic for. It sucked back then and it's simply awful today.
I played it a.few times on my Mega SG and it's decent. Not sure what the asking price is for Switch but I would pay $20 or under for it.
@JayJ Unacceptable? What if the designers of the game included that feature to be as accurate to the time period as possible? Just saying, not everything needs to be handed to us on platters!
Psygnosis? ACTUAL retro title? Amiga-like aesthetics?
Say no more, I'm in!
Not understanding all the negativity either, when this is an original old title, not some faux-16 bit remake or lookalike. Games simply didn't have these features back then, and this one still not having them or not having them added, only adds to its authenticity of being a lost and ultimately reclaimed title from the 90s.
It's not supposed to emulate something more modern, but apparently, some people don't seem to be able to grasp that concept...
Well yeah exactly. In fact, instead of bitching about it I think it's kind of fun. It's part of the experience of going retro.
The kids will never understand the struggle unless you make it real for them. If they cringe at the thought that they might have to search the house for a pencil and paper then they might not be ready for Ultracore. Sure, go on, take a pic on your phone if you cant handle it.
@TG16_IS_BAE That's a really lame excuse, some things are better left in the past.
@JayJ If it’s intentional, I don’t think it’s an excuse. Just use your phone, take a note, take a screenshot, use the built in screenshot feature on the switch...
@Priceless_Spork I know right? I mean, when I was a kid gaming in the NES days, my friends and I would draw (crappy) maps in RPGs, let alone worry about a 16 digit password.
We also used to try to make up passwords. I once stumbled upon a password that glitches Mega Man X 3 into letting you start with 3 armor chips. Normally the limit is 1 chip, and the only way to get all 4 is by getting a secret at the end of the game, so it made me feel like a hacker LOL
Passwords? Yeah they were a thing as were save points. They sucked sometimes but how can you win if you never lose?
@TG16_IS_BAE That method was outdated 25 years ago!
@JayJ So was I.
I don't mind the old school save mechanics, I just am not sure if this game is for me. That being said though, I love seeing games thought to be lost to time have a new lease on life.
Ah, reminds me of King's Bounty. Now that was the ultimate in writing down passwords.
Looks cool and I'm interested, but if I'm going to pick up a retro number then Blazing Chrome, Sunset Riders and Huntdown are all getting the nod ahead of this tbh.
Passwords were great, they let rubbish players progress despite not being able to get past a certain point. Then when you saw the game through you could decide whether you wanted to really beat the game or take it back to the rental shop . Passwords gave magazines something to print, it was a key part of 80s/90s gaming culture.
Edit: I purposefully played alot of Wii U VC games without using save states, only passwords. games like Cybernator are far too easy with save states, getting that "good run" took some actual skill as opposed to essentially piecing together bits of "good runs". Any Muppet can do that.
I'm surprised to see the resistance to a traditional save feature. It would effectively have the same utility as a password, but be effortless rather than requiring referring to said code. We're not talking about save states here, we're talking about allowing a game save at the same points you are given a password.
Passwords aren't really a feature I look back on with any nostalgia. Someone said it "adds to the difficulty" - how? It adds to the tedium, that's for sure. The function is the same, and they updated other aspects of this title. Why not this one? Have I missed the mark? Do people actually like entering passwords?
@Priceless_Spork Couldn't agree more.
@StuartGipp It's not so much about "liking" entering passwords, it's just about keeping a game in its original form, as it was supposed to be released, all these years ago, at least for me, personally. I obviously can't speak for others.
As such, I don't mind any "ancient"/outdated features to be in there, seeing as it is basically also an outdated game. So, what you're getting is actually a piece of almost forgotten history, restored/finished in its original glory, without any tampering or modernization.
And yes, even back then, a lot of games already had save features, but password levels were also quite common, especially in games made by Psygnosis, I might add, as an Amiga veteran. (on a side note: I still have three of those wonderfully amazing systems lying around here. An A500, an A1200 and a CD32, all still fully functional)
No save, no money sorry. Although I do miss Amiga times, I don't miss those passwords. A great idea would be to have a compilation of Amiga games on the switch.
@Priceless_Spork Couldn't just look up walkthroughs on youtube either, something I think some might take for granted these days.. Even today I don't care how stuck I get in a game, not looking up walkthrough unless I really, really, have to
I think the game that it most resembles is Midnight Resistance.
As for password save, I'm ok with it. After all, most 80/90s action games are meant to be played from the start each time you boot up.
It's a bit pricey for what's on offer. If it's physical, could be worth that price. But I think the limited physical release was a year ago...
Have this little gem on my megadrive, bought it a few months ago.
How much is this game?
@ThanosReXXX I can appreciate that perspective; it's definitely more authentic, but I will stand by it as an oddity for any re-release (or initial release for that matter). To include no kind of traditional save feature is going to be jarring for a lot of players. Then again, how many of said players are going look twice at Ultracore?
Yeah, I guess I could see someone elses solution and then solve the problem but if it's a problem solving game I'd rather not have someone do the thinking for me. Basically I don't wanna be the child handing the controller over to someone else to get through the hard parts.
@StuartGipp That's what I was thinking as well. This is more of a retro-novelty for those who perhaps already knew of this game, back in the day, or for those fans of Psygnosis and/or Amiga games, like me, not so much for the decidedly more modern gamer.
That's also often my objection to a number of these "retro-inspired" games: there definitely is a good number of them that do it absolutely right, but there's also a considerable amount of them that just use it as a slogan or a lure, and then spoil the illusion with far too many modern effects or features that would never have been possible back in those days, and that is what breaks the immersion for me, personally.
But on the other hand, it may be a gateway for newer gamers to ACTUAL retro games, so perhaps it is still a good thing in that regard...
@retro_player_77 they are referring to the fact it's getting such a spotlight as a new game - no other news to speak of besides legos
No save feature, that's awful. But it still looks pretty cool.
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