While twin-stick shooters are relatively common on rival download stores, the Wii U eShop isn't blessed with many. Tachyon Project, then, offers to fill a gap with its arena-based stages and frantic gameplay, and it does so in decent style.
Presented top-down with a flat perspective, this title is undoubtedly visually arresting - neon colours are accompanied by chunky shapes that will bring Geometry Wars to mind, and it hits its marks. Though a well-worn and simplistic visual style, Eclipse Games deserves credit for some nice touches and attention to detail - it's immediately apparent that this title sits among the higher standard releases on the eShop.
The twin-stick shooter formula is a simple one, but Tachyon Project does well to flesh it out. The main attraction is a Story Mode, in which you play as an AI that's looking for its 'parents', or creators to be more accurate. In truth it's rather unrelated to the actual gameplay - sure, the storyline may say you're hacking a police database, but it looks like another rectangular stage with a change in colour scheme. Nevertheless, the effort of adding a storyline shouldn't go unappreciated, as it adds an extra flavour to proceedings.
Far more important is the levelling up mechanic. Though you start out with a simple craft you unlock new weapons and abilities that are then used to customise the ship. From early unlocks like a proximity mine and improved health, to extravagant lasers and beyond. With boosts to be earned in weapons, ship speed, health and secondary weapons there's not only an increase in power but also in strategic options. You can either try to equip yourself with the most powerful weapons, or you can opt for precision - once these power-ups are unlocked you can experiments as much as you want.
Of course, actually unlocking everything is a particularly stiff challenge. This game is hard, though evidently our reviewer over on Pure Xbox has greater skills than this writer. Though the Story Mode only has ten levels, they're split into multiple objective-based checkpoints that gradually introduce a daunting range of foes and even boss encounters. This writer is perhaps best described as 'decent' at twin-stick shooters, though certainly not an elite player that tops leaderboards. What is certain is that this game ramps up the pressure quickly.
For the most part it's a fair challenge, and we certainly won't penalise this for being difficult because it's targeting a certain demographic. Some stages simply require a lot of practice, and the fact that a death can be shrugged off with a checkpoint restart is welcome; on the downside your points total reverts to zero, and a number of upgrades are locked behind your cumulative campaign score. The difficulty can often be overcome with persistence and focus, though on some occasions it can be deemed a little cheap - sometimes the game's approach to upping the ante is just to flood a small area with a crazy number of enemies. Occasionally foes spawn underneath you, too, which doesn't always seem on the level.
Nevertheless, the 'beat this if you can' challenge can be intoxicating, so even with slow progress there's enjoyment to be found. The gameplay is solidly constructed and balanced fairly well, encouraging aggressive play. Rather than a health bar you're working in terms of time - destroying enemies earns vital seconds, while hits take them away. That means that an impressive run can end quickly if you get caught in a group, while on the flipside you can accumulate a large buffer of time if you wipe out a lot of weaker foes with a well placed bomb.
For those with the skills to beat Story Mode there's a + option, while the greatest replayability may be found in Challenges. These set interesting requirements, such as the need to stay stealthy and shoot accurately. Each comes with an online leaderboard, and depending on the challenge you can even tackle them with a buddy in local co-op. The game is stylish and fun enough that it's not infeasible for it to become a go-to quickfire title for short bursts, or an alternative if you have friends around and want to blast stuff against a backdrop of pumping beats and colourful explosions.
Overall, then, this is a title that gets a lot right, especially if you like tough shooters. There are a few downsides, however. Occasionally we saw slowdown (beyond deliberate moments where the game does so stylistically) when the screen became crowded - not severe by any stretch, but not quite ideal for a shooter. This game also hung up a few times and crashed our system, though an update seemed to process recently that may help address that problem. Finally, the GamePad implementation is lazy as the mirrored image doesn't have any sound, so if you're playing away from the TV you'll do so in silence.
On one level Tachyon Project is quite a cruel game, making old writers with slowing reflexes question their gaming abilities. More importantly, though, it's enjoyable and represents the work of a development team committed to producing a quality download title. From solid mechanics and smart gameplay to online leaderboards and neat touches like stat tracking, it immediately sets its stall as a game worth investing in.
Though there are a few flaws and the difficulty level makes it a game for those with fast thumbs, Tachyon Project is well worth consideration on Wii U. For fast-paced twin-stick shooting action there aren't many better options on the eShop.