09th Jul2020

‘Ultracore’ Review (Nintendo Switch)

by Phil Wheat

For those of us unlucky enough (or not made of money) to have grabbed one of the many limited physical versions of retro-shooter Ultracore, ININ Games have finally released the game digitally across all the major consoles – surprisingly including the PS Vita! We’re looking at the Nintendo Switch version which, given the platforms current home to a myriad of indie games and retro re-releases, seems like the perfect home for a game born out of the 16-bit era.

Programmed by Digital Illusions (aka DICE) all the way back in 1994 for release on the Sega MegaDrive and Commodore Amiga, THE 16-bit giants in the UK, Ultracore was sadly cancelled by publisher Psygnosis who, it seems, feared the game would be outdated in a time when 32-bit gaming was very much on the horizon. Originally title Hardcore, the games code apparently sat languishing on the devs hard drive until it was rediscovered and revitalised for the current market last year; and only now getting ported to Switch, PS4 and Vita.

Given its history it’s clear to see where Ultracore‘s inspiration lies. In a generation of games that gave us James Pond 2: Robocod, Flashback/Another World, Gods and – more importantly – Turrican, Ultracore would have fit in perfectly. The mix of puzzles (key collecting, tripping switches and finding secret pathways) and side-scrolling shoot ’em-up is a wonderful nod to games of old. But then if a game WAS from that era, ported to this… can we still say it has captured the feel of the 16-but generation to a tee? I think we can. Especially given that the devs of Ultracore could have easily tweaked the game to fit more modern gaming. But then why mess with perfection?

There are going to be people who say Ultracore feels outdated, it’s not. It’s not clunky, outdated or anything other than a perfect example of an era that was, for me, defined by Turrican. Had Hardcore, as it was known back then, been released then? Well I’m sure it would be held in the same high regard as Psygnosis’ other titles. AS it stands now, Ultracore is an authentic snapshot of early 90s gaming, brought forth to today’s generation and in the case of the Switch, more than at home with this consoles numerous retro titles – be they 8-bit OR 16-bit.

Though to be fair to ININ Games (who also brought us a modern port of Ninja Warriors/Ninja Saviours), this version of Ultracore isn’t totally stuck in the past, there have been some concessions made to bring the game a little more up to date. The biggest of which is the soundtrack. Ultracore has not one, but TWO soundtracks, with gamers given the option to either play through the game with the original music or a new soundtrack featuring more than 20 full-length synthwave and electronic tracks from some of the genres best artists such as Scandroid, Waveshaper, Mega Drive, Fury Weekend, 3Force, Isidor, and Fixions. There’s also the addition of (optional) twin-stick shooting controls – though to be fair I chose to stick with old-school style controls for the true authentic experience.

But as the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it; and that’s certainly the case with Ultracore. This looks, feels and plays like a game from 1994 – complete with challenging gameplay, a difficulty level that, at first, seems unfair but one that opens the game up gloriously once you get used to the feel of the game. The Levels are huge, with plenty of exploring to do back and forth across them, trying to find an elusive pass key or switch and oh-so-many enemies… So much so that, honestly, I did not make good use of the extra weapons available – all of which deplete your ammo – instead choosing to stick with the basic weapon and run and gun throughout the levels, very rarely taking my finger off the trigger!

One thing I will say – and I’ve seen complaints elsewhere about this – I absolutely LOVED the fact Ultracore doesn’t have a save feature. This game is SO retro you have to complete a level and some of the games 5 stages are REALLY long, to get a level code to input next time your play. So, so old-school. Thank god then for the Switch’s instant screen capture button then – I definitely made use of that instead of a pad and pen whilst playing!

If you’re a fan of retro gaming, and if you own a Switch you probably are, then this is a MUST-BUY. Seriously. As someone who grew up playing Turrican I absolutely adored Ultracore… now if ININ Games could just port the Turrican franchise to modern consoles I’d be in heaven. Though I’m nearly there with Ultracore already!

***** 5/5

Ultracore is available on the Nintendo eShop now.


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