PLATFORM: PS4, PS VITA, SWITCH (REVIEWED) | RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
When booting Ultracore up for the first time, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was originally intended for 16-bit hardware, because that’s exactly what it was! Originally programmed by Digital Illusions all the way back in 1994 with Mega Drive / Genesis, Sega / Mega CD and Amiga releases all planned, the plug was pulled on development by publishers Psygnosis when they realised the market for this type of game was dying out due to the imminent release of the all-powerful wave of 32-bit consoles looming ominously in the horizon. So the all-but-totally-completed Ultracore (or “Hardcore” as it was known back then) lay dormant on some hard drive or other until it was finally released to the public in 2019. Now with ports to Nintendo’s Switch and Sony’s PS4 and Vita consoles, this spectacular run n’ gun experience can be enjoyed by everybody.
Anyone familiar with the frantic action of games like Gunstar Heroes and Metal Slug will know what to expect here, but with the European-style slightly ‘floaty’ controls the most obvious direct comparison would probably be with the Turrican series. The circuitous level design and necessity for finding key items and solving rudimentary puzzles is also somewhat reminiscent of cinematic-style platformers such as Blackthorne and Flashback. Levels here are also pretty huge, with a large amount of secrets hidden within.
Controls are tight and responsive and, despite the age of the game, never feel clunky or outdated. The addition of (optional) twin-stick shooting controls is certainly a welcome one and goes some way to making the experience feel a little bit more modern. Other than that, however, Ultracore is 100% authentic to how it would have been released, were it to have come out in 1994. This is both one of the game’s biggest strengths and biggest weaknesses. The challenge that Ultracore provides is as taxing as it is addictive. Glorious gameplay, harsh but fair difficulty, huge immersive levels and twitch shootouts that will test your reactions like never before keep you wanting to come back for more, but the lack of variation in backgrounds, enemies or any kind of save feature can sometimes make it feel hard to justify doing so (the most egregious issue being the inability to save your game). We understand the desire for authenticity, but perhaps this is one area where some sort of compromise could have been met.
At its (pardon the pun) ‘core’, Ultracore is a truly wonderful game, let down only by the fact that it is literally a game from 1994 masquerading as a game from today. We have absolutely no doubt that had it been released when originally intended it would be heralded today as a classic in the genre, but as it stands, when pitted against the bells and whistles of modern trimmings, we can only really give it 7/10.