Ultratron thinks it's Dark Souls. 'Prepare to Die', it warns the player's battledroid before it takes to the battlefield in an almost impossible attempt to survive against a constant barrage of evil killer robots.
Ultratron also loves Pac-Man. As well as having to collect 'pellets' as a form of currency in order to purchase weapons and armour upgrades, pixelated fruit will float across the arena, enticing the battledroid and forcing it to scurry through precarious, war-torn patches of turf, just for the love of bonus points – there's even a 'Pac-Mac' labelled upgrade, in case the previously mentioned references weren't subtle enough.
Of course, Ultratron isn't either of these games and, in reality, it's merely paying homage to these classic games of the past that are known for their simple focus on beating high scores and extremely high difficulty levels.
Ultratron is, however, a throwback to the arcade shooters of yesteryear – for the older generation think Smash TV, and for the twenty somethings imagine Geometry Wars: Galaxies.
The developer behind Ultratron is Puppy Games of Titan Attacks fame, itself a modern throw-back with a similar visual style and hue. The studio has again managed to combine its own blend of old school gameplay with some original tweaks of its own; it's easy to foresee Ultratron becoming the go-to game for masochist gamers aplenty.
As with all arcade shooters, the emphasis on story is null and the objective is simple - survive and rake up as many points as possible. Throughout the game there are four levels, each containing ten stages, and at the end of each level the player is presented with the challenge of having to defeat a final boss to advance. A frenzy of different enemies will attack the battledroid, each with their own different attack, whilst others choose to work in set formations and groups. Surviving involves taking advantage of the twin stick set up; the left stick moves the battledroid around the stages and the right stick fires its primary weapon.
With games such as these, it's the subtle things that can make a difference and the developer's approach to how and when upgrades take place is what sets Ultratron apart from other games in its genre.
Collecting pellets after defeating enemies goes into the players' account and can be used to purchase a variety of upgrades at the end of each stage. This is game-changing as it allows players to take on levels in either a defensive and attacking manner, depending on their preferred style of play. For example, should players prefer to upgrade their battledroid's primary weapon and add turrets to its arsenal, they must sacrifice the defensive options at their disposal. However, there's also the option to stock up on lives – always useful, yet never cheap – thus forfeiting the aforementioned and a list of other upgrades. It's these little nuances that add a tactical edge to Ultratron, rarely seen in games of this nature. As for the bosses, although they make for tense battles, they all share a fairly similar design and other than forcing the player to continuously move and shoot, they don't require much of a tactical approach; this is surprising given the context of the game.
The levels that make up Ultratron are consistent with the overall vibe and feel of the game, and although it's hard to criticise it from a visual standpoint it must be pointed out that some of the artistic choices can be the players' own worst enemy, rather than the enemies themselves. Opponents can be near impossible to see during levels 3 and 4, as they are the exact same colour as the levels and bullets that surround them. Losing valuable lives in this fashion feels cheap and it's likely that most lives will be lost during the closing levels due to this oversight.
On a more positive note, the eye-popping neon lights are great to behold, and assuming the player is more focused on the overall experience other than trying to collect points and increase their world ranking, it's hard to fault what is certainly a unique visual spin on games of this class. The music suits the overall tone to perfection, and can possibly be described as pulsating techno with a vintage retro edge. As the stages become tougher and enemies become more relentless in their bid to annihilate the battledroid, the music almost seamlessly matches the mood, heightening the players' presumed already increased sense of anxiety. The soundtrack does have a tendency to become repetitive and more tracks would have been appreciated, but luckily, what is on offer is of a high quality.
Ultratron is an incredibly addictive game and, once played, it's hard to deny its moreish qualities, which in part is due to some innovative new mechanics that help breathe life into one of gaming's oldest genres. Although a lack of levels and some presentational hiccups prevent this from becoming an outright classic, Ultratron's positive points outweigh its negatives, and warrants a look from anyone looking for an arcade shooter that manages to merge the best of old and new.