If you blend on-rails conventional Star Fox action with the Death Star run from the first Star Wars, then drop in some psychedelic visuals, you're starting to get a feel for Futuridium EP Deluxe. MixedBag makes its Wii U debut with its colourful shooter that's done the rounds on multiple platforms, and it's a welcome slice of quality on the eShop.
The core idea is simple - each stage is a rather small area in which you make repeated runs to shoot blue orbs, unlocking a core that you then blow up to escape. It's a simple matter of manoeuvring, shooting and boosting, with the Y button used for an immediate 180 degree turn; the latter is integral to how you play. In some cases you may go the length of a course and then loop back to target orbs you missed, but in trickier moments you may be flipping around frequently to dodge incoming projectiles or to make it through tough gaps.
The core hook here is that you're doing all of this in a time pressured situation. Your equivalent to a health gauge is an Energy bar that slowly depletes, and if it runs out it's game over. That's the case, at least, in the standard difficulty setting in the 'Deluxe' mode available at the start, but you can switch to a slightly easier option which slows the meter down and also gives you the grace of continuing on an empty gauge if you avoid death. Getting blown up becomes very frequent later on in the game, so even the easier setting is a tough one to clear.
Despite the level of difficulty, this is a title that is sure to appeal to those with quick instincts and skills to match. You can put the simple yet incredibly useful control scheme to work in the pursuit of speedier clearances, and there's motivation to do more than simply get through each level. Completion of each stage brings medal unlocks (some of which are inconceivable to this player), and racking up orbs also unlocks more skins, goodies and game modes, including 'Classic' Futuridium in which you play without the boost. Your scores are also recorded online, for the most competitive gamers out there.
The overall gameplay is solid and, when you're in a groove, a lot of fun. Successfully weaving through a tricky spot and dodging danger is a thrill, and the presentation plays its part in drawing you into the experience. The visuals start to blur and distort as you get further into a set of levels, forcing greater concentration, and the pumping soundtrack that varies from loud electronica to calmer sounds can be cycled through with the right analogue stick. Though it looks great on the TV, we found ourselves popping headphones into the GamePad for short play sessions on the smaller screen.
Level design is mostly strong, with twists on enemies and environments keeping players on their toes. There are a few mis-steps, though, where it feels like the ship you're flying isn't quite up to the task with its relatively slow turns in mid-flight. At times the balance between true difficulty and unfair design is a tight one, and the fact that you have to clear 10 stages at a go to reach a new area in Deluxe mode (five areas bring 50 stages in total) is harsh in the latter stages. Some will definitely encounter some frustration.
For those keen on the challenge, though, there's plenty to enjoy here, with medals and unlockable bonuses to take on. For the right audience this is certainly an enticing download, with terrific production values and a smart concept to make it tick.
Futuridium EP Deluxe provides a fresh experience on the eShop, with vibrant visuals, a pumping soundtrack and a neat twist on its genre. It's also reserved for skilful players, with demanding stage designs being at turns exciting and frustrating. For those that are up to the challenge, though, this is a stylish and enjoyable effort that's well worth a look on Wii U.