Thursday, February 7

Review: Solstice Chronicles - MIA [Nintendo Switch eShop]

As a huge fan of twin-stick shooters the Switch eShop has been a consistent source of joy for me, delivering a pretty wide range of options with different tastes and styles. With there being so much variety already in place when a title comes along with something new and different to offer up it then immediately draws my attention. Solstice Chronicles: MIA absolutely falls into that category, and while it has a bit of a slower pace than I’d prefer it has unique game mechanics that are quite smart and help give the game a feel unlike any other shooter on the Switch.

Starting with the more straightforward, this is a game you can enjoy solo or with a local friend, and has you playing as a marine who has been separated from his unit in the midst of a mutant outbreak and some political turmoil on Mars. As expected, this makes for some crazy-looking enemies and plenty of fodder for some twin-stick shooting fun. However, that’s not the game’s big hook. You’re quickly paired with an AI drone and the early levels attempt to walk you through the game’s unique systems which center around the use of it. However, it may take some experimentation before everything clicks for you since both it and its modes are the real game-changer.

Conceptually most of what the drone does makes sense. You can send it off to scout the level, which will have it bringing you supplies (if you do this early in the level be sure to stop them pretty quickly or you’ll have a pile of ammo and health you can’t use), make use of a shield to help you survive when things get a bit crowded, set off a powerful bomb (that you can survive if you stay in a green band that’s inside the blast zone?), but then you can also choose to taunt the enemy… and that’s where things get more interesting. As you move through the stages you’ll want to keep an eye on the enemy threat level, shown as a gauge on the screen. This represents the potential for enemies to start coming at you en masse. Scouting and setting off the bomb both raise the threat level, but taunting lowers it quickly… just be ready for the onslaught.

This gives the shooting a very strategic component and can be satisfying. When you find a powerful temporary use weapon or are in a spot where barriers can help slow enemies down it’s time to start taunting so you can pick and choose your engagements and maximize your odds of being successful. This system and managing the balance of the threat level on top of the normal shooting action really sets the game apart and is something I’m hoping we’ll see more variations of in the future as it takes the genre to another level.

Even with that as a major positive that isn’t to say there aren’t any gripes. First and foremost I’d say there’s just something in the movement and fluidity of the game that’s a bit on the slow side. Intensity is what makes these games shine and though you’ll get your crazy gunfights and moments of intensity it feels like you’re playing at only ¾ speed somehow. Another issue is that most of the enemies you face simply feel like cannon fodder and even some larger foes are lacking in impact and personality. There are some bigger things to take down, including bosses, but where a lot of games have done a good job of helping to amp up the excitement when you face certain foes Solstice fails to bring that extra flair so it can feel a bit more generic. RPG-like progression is there, and you’ll be able to unlock new perks and choose your own path to a degree but on a general level it was hard to tell much difference in the overall feel as you progressed, again perhaps just being a matter of presentation and flair to help you feel more powerful as you go.

With its very different approach and some new ideas I’m a big fan of most of what Solstice Chronicles brings to the table. Getting a feel for the most effective uses of your drone in a given situation and knowing when it’s best to bring the pain give the player an unusual degree of control over how things play out and that’s just a great idea. While it struggles a bit more in some of the fundamentals and could do with additional refinement and polish this is a game I’d absolutely love to see a sequel to, as with a bit more work it could turn into a real game-changer in the genre.

Score: 8

  • The threat system and degree of control you have over how things play out is interesting and an idea I’d like to see refined
  • Serves up some great twin-stick shooting intensity, and can be even more fun with a friend
  • While the differences in the multiple classes and upgrade choices aren’t as bold and obvious as I would have liked, they do add some variety and replayability potential

  • There’s a degree of sluggishness in the overall movement and flow of the game
  • Far too many of the engagements have an intensity to them but could be more exciting if the majority of enemies you face weren’t so generic