It's been decades since Williams' arcade classic Defender first released in arcades. Thankfully, its spirit has nine lives and Aqua Kitty's back again to prove it. This time around, the little furry fellow has a lot more than milk mines to defend!
Wait a second; didn't I already review Aqua Kitty? Well, yes, but that was Milk Mine Defender DX. This is a brand new version known as Aqua Kitty UDX: Xbox One Ultra Edition. Seeing as I don't want to repeat myself too much, feel free to head over to my Aqua Kitty DX review if you'd like more information. Anyway, Aqua Kitty is played very similarly to the 1981 arcade hit Defender where you fly back and forth while fending off enemies and saving folks. However, you blast away underwater here and rescue your fellow felines. The simple controls make rescuing kitties from their abductors, destroying massive bosses, and navigating through clouds of projectiles quite exciting. Oh, and you can play cooperatively with a friend, too, which adds a layer of fun to the already enjoyable shooting gameplay.
For those unfamiliar with the franchise, I'll try my best to summarize what's included in this package. Classic and Arcade modes contain 25 stages each as well as a few tough boss battles. As you play, you want to take out enemies efficiently, rescue as many kitties as possible, and protect the milk mines to the best of your ability. Doing so will grant you a better score that you can show off on the leaderboards. These two modes differ in that Arcade mode has a power-up system like the one featured in Gradius and plays similarly to a roguelike. Finally, Infinite Espresso is a survival mode where you can test your abilities as a feline submarine pilot. In the end, all three of these modes are generally played the same yet with slight differences that make them welcome inclusions.
On top of DX's Classic, Arcade and Infinite modes, the main addition to Aqua Kitty UDX is Dreadnought mode. This has you face off against enormous undersea ships. In order to pass a stage, you much first expose the ship's core by doing a significant amount of damage to its exterior. Once exposed, that core will go crazy while shooting loads of projectiles at you so you have to carefully chip away at its life meter until you finally emerge victorious. After completing a stage, you're shown your score which corresponds to how much time it took you to destroy the Dreadnought. While you're playing, you can rescue optional kitties that take away from your total time as well as award you with a shiny icon if you manage to rescue all of them. I must say, this mode is an incredible way to breathe new life into the classic Aqua Kitty formula and it'll give hardcore 2D shooter fans something to strive for.
Other than Dreadnought mode, some tweaks make UDX an overall better experience. You can now change the difficulty without starting a brand new game which is awesome whenever you reach a frustrating stage. Even little improvements like having bombs hurt bosses, infinite mode being easier at the start, a smoother difficulty curve in the campaign, and many visual tweaks add up to make it the best iteration of Aqua Kitty yet. That being said, it's kind of disappointing that my main problems with DX remain unfixed. Namely, when you're playing cooperatively, both players can't move too far away because the camera doesn't split or zoom out to allow you to move freely and independently from each other. Also, there are almost no permanent upgrades, the campaign is short and unvaried, and the audio is still uneven and causes problems such as making it unclear whenever you get hurt.
Aqua Kitty UDX is a significant step up from previous iterations. Although it's disappointing that a few substantial issues remain, there's no denying the amount of fun you'll have blasting underwater foes away as a ferocious feline hero.
- + Great gameplay that's easy to pick up and play and enjoy with a friend
- + Dreadnought mode is a fantastic inclusion
- + Many tweaks make it much more refined
- - Playing cooperatively is still frustrating due to having to stay in close proximity
- - Campaign lacks a sense of satisfaction
- - Uneven audio causes some problems