I love shmups and if you do, too, then here's a fantastic remake of a wonderful Dreamcast shoot 'em up for modern consoles.
Sturmwind originally released for Dreamcast back in 2013. Yes, it's one of those newfangled Dreamcast indies but this version is a remake thus the EX in its title. Anyway, it's played like a typical horizontal shmup and the main appeal is its intuitive and varied weapon system. Basically, you can cycle between 3 weapons whenever you wish: Lichtblitz fires multiple waves of projectiles and is effective underwater, Nordwest shoots in all directions which is controllable by pumping the shot button, and Rudel is the strongest weapon yet it only shoots forward. I found myself mostly swapping between Nordwest when being attacked from all around and Rudel for almost every other situation. Anyway, whenever you take damage, your current weapon gets decommissioned but you can collect power-ups to restore them and yet again to power them up. This system allows you to juggle staying alive as you carefully collect the correct power-ups.
This core gameplay is handled superbly well and I found myself constantly engaged and thrilled as I faced the variety of situations that the stages threw at me. Having to reverse my shot formation in certain encounters as well as deploy smart bombs and charged shots when in sticky situations made my palms sweat as I blasted through waves of enemies while strategically avoiding their projectiles. What more could a shoot 'em up fan want? Throw in wave bonuses and score multipliers and you're left with one supremely satisfying arcade shooter. I just wish I could enjoy it in local co-op multiplayer mode but alas, it's only for 1 player.
Sturmwind EX's visuals are just awesome. Although it isn't as stylish as something like Ikaruga or as charming as Azure Reflections, the mechanical and organic stages are intricately detailed and a joy to observe as you weave through hazards and shoot your adversaries down. Plus, the music is full of energy which helps to create an adrenaline-fueled arcade atmosphere. However, I found the sound effects to be a bit too generic as if they were pulled in from some sort of library which is kind of a shame.
One aspect of Sturmwind EX that is quite mind-blowing for a shmup fan such as myself is its huge collection of stages. Whereas most shoot 'em ups can easily be completed in a single sitting, Sturmwind EX boasts 16 substantial stages across 7 unique environments which is absolutely phenomenal. You can challenge them either individually or via arcade mode on 3 difficulty settings. That being said, the lack of online rankings is very disappointing as I was looking forward to seeing how I stacked up against other players.
Finally, something that regularly annoyed me while playing Sturmwind EX is the fact that its visuals can frequently be ambiguous. This occurs in 2 different forms. First, it's sometimes difficult to distinguish the projectiles when all sorts of commotions and explosions are filling the screen. The bullets actually stay in the foreground but it's still tricky to keep your eye on them when so much is going on. The other example of ambiguous graphics is when you're not sure whether something is a wall or a background that you can merely fly past. Also, considering the stages can scroll vertically as well as horizontally, it can be difficult to gauge where to position your ship.
Sturmwind EX is one of the best shmups available for modern consoles. It's clear that a lot of love and attention went into every detail of its gameplay and world and the result is one refined and super-satisfying arcade experience.
- + Tight and challenging shoot 'em up gameplay with 3 distinct weapons
- + Awesome graphics and music
- + Loads of stages to master
- - Visuals can be quite ambiguous
- - Sound effects are fairly generic
- - No multiplayer or leaderboards