Shmuppin’ Through Space
I honestly wasn’t impressed with the first Habroxia. I love shmups of all kinds. R-Type, Darius, Ikaruga…if I get to shoot stuff, I’ll play it, but Habroxia was short, easy, and derivative. It felt like something basic from the NES’ early days. It had a few interesting ideas that were underutilized, and it also felt slow and lifeless. I pretty much forgot about it the second I shut it off after beating it. Imagine my surprise to learn about Habroxia 2.
I had the lowest of expectations while sitting through the prologue. The basic story is exactly what you’d expect. Humans achieve space travel, aliens show up, they’re beaten back…or are they? A few small stills help illustrate the story, which was fine. Not that a shmup needs a story anyway. As long as the shooting action is solid, I’m good.
After the brief introduction, the tutorial began, and…I immediately noticed the differences. The murky dark backgrounds in the original were replaced with multiple layers of stars and planets. The ship seemed to move at about the same pace, but the level scrolled by faster, making the game feel livelier. Even the quality of the music and sound effects had improved. In the first three minutes, Habroxia 2 had already outpaced its predecessor. And that was before I even fired a weapon.
Habroxia 2 completely overhauls the original’s by-the-numbers weapons system. Most notably, it’s now a twin-stick shooter. The right stick aims your primary weapon in 360 degrees. The boost in the original, which you mostly used for dodging, now only boosts forward, but you can break through enemies and debris without taking damage. It’s now an active and offensive move in your arsenal. It doesn’t regenerate, but you pick up fuel to refill it.
A Weapon for Every Occasion
At the start of every mission, you now get to pick one of nine special weapons to use for the mission’s duration. These weapons quickly recharge and can be fired forward and backward. The shot’s strength is determined by the charge time. Each weapon is wildly different than the last. The Vulcan fires quickly in a straight line. The Wave is slow, but its projectiles can be also be used as a shield to block incoming fire. My personal favorite, Laser, fires five solid beams that makes quick work of larger enemies. This variety definitely spices up the gameplay and gives you multiple options for how you want to tackle each mission.
There are also items to pick up while you’re flying around blasting stuff. There are two kinds of shields, one of which is reminiscent of Gradius, a massive beam o’ death, and the original’s bomb, which is now far more explosive. These items pop up pretty frequently so gratuitous usage is encouraged.
Your ship’s firepower is greatly increased over the original—and so are the number of enemies. You’ll have quiet moments at the beginning and ending of each level, but everything in between is hectic and downright frenetic. Enemies come from all directions, firing from all directions, and some of them have ship-seeking shots. It doesn’t reach bullet hell levels of madness, but there’s more than enough going on to keep you busy.
Habroxia 2 uses a map-based level system unlike the menu-based system of the original. Its branching paths instantly reminded me of a similar system in Darius Twin on the SNES. Fortunately, Habroxia 2 branches more than DT, and you have to find the hidden route in each level to access all eighteen levels. They aren’t especially difficult to find, but I appreciate the novelty of it. The same goes for how the game switches between horizontal and vertical orientations at specific moments.
A Map to the Stars
Each level also has bonus objectives. There are astronauts to rescue, enemy bounties to hunt, and boss bounties to claim. Astronauts are a quirky feature from the original game. You just fly into them to rescue them, but it’s really easy to accidentally kill them if you aren’t careful. You have to kill one specific enemy in the level to claim an enemy bounty. There are no hints as to what or which enemy it’ll be, but you can spot it if you’re paying attention. You earn a boss bounty just by killing the boss. When you finish a level, you either unlock a new special weapon or one of your current weapons gets upgraded.
One quick note on those objectives: I’m not sure if you get anything, aside from points and currency, for completing all of them. I finished them before I beat the game, so I’m not sure if I needed them to unlock bonus features or not. Either way, they’re a fun challenge.
You collect credits by defeating enemies and completing objectives. Much like the original game, you use them to upgrade your primary weapons, special weapons, maximum life, maximum boost, and even the in-game items. There are a total of sixty-four upgrades to purchase, and you can even sell them back (for a bit less than the asking price) if you want something else.
Part of the game’s difficulty is dependent on this upgrade system. If you’re good at shmups, I’d encourage you not to upgrade your primary and special weapons too quickly. It doesn’t take too much to turn your little starship into a flying death machine. On the flipside, this makes the game accessible to all gamers. I purchased a few primary and special upgrades and then focused on the items to keep my firepower balanced.
After the Space Dust Settles…
When considering your armaments, you’ll also want to keep in mind that there are no checkpoints. If you die, you restart the level. You’ll lose the credits you accrued but not the objectives you completed. On the plus side, unlike most shooters, flying into a wall isn’t instant death. You’ll take some damage, but you’ll respawn again unless that impact uses up the rest of your life meter. It’s a wise design choice that makes the game accessible, but it might have been nice to have the option to make it hardcore.
After you finish the game, three bonus modes are unlocked. In Boost Rush mode, your ship is stuck in boost and you dodge the environment. There are no enemies. You just fly until you crash into something. It gets difficult pretty fast. I never managed to beat it. You can still pick up a few credits here and there by crashing through breakable walls, but I didn’t find this mode especially engaging.
Unsurprisingly, Boss Rush mode is exactly what it sounds like. You fight all of the game’s bosses in a row, and if you manage to survive that, you fight their powered-up forms. I got about halfway through round two before I bit the dust. Your special weapon is randomly equipped, too. That choice influences a boss’ difficulty. For example, if you’re fighting a fast boss, you probably don’t want those slow mines that you’ll probably get anyway.
There’s also a New Game+ mode. You play the entire game again, but everything is harder. Enemies are more aggressive and fire more shots. Bosses appear in their powered-up forms. If nothing else, it gives you a great excuse for fully upgrading your ship.
If It Looks a Shmup and Plays Like a Shmup…
Habroxia 2 looks, sounds, and feels like a shmup. The developers expanded upon all of their ideas and gave the game an adrenaline shot. The original game doesn’t even compare to this sequel. You might be wondering, though, how the game stands on its own. The answer to that is a bit more complicated.
Despite all of its positives, there are still a few design flaws that prevent Habroxia 2 from reaching the stars. For starters, the game’s plot is just unnecessary. The ship’s pilot, Sabrina, flies off to find her missing father after he doesn’t return from a survey mission. The story takes place during the game’s tutorial and at the end…and there’s nothing in between. Shmups don’t need a story, but it can also work as a framing device in which the developers can experiment with level design. R-Type’s gross bacteria levels are designed like that for a reason, for instance.
Shoot the Core (or not)
Unfortunately, the levels in Habroxia 2 all feel similar. They’re either in space or inside caverns, and there’s very little interaction with the environment. You’ll move up and down a lot while maneuvering around some rock formations, but there’s just nothing exciting about the levels themselves.
That issue alone is significant, but it’s also unfortunately true of the bosses as well. You basically just…shoot them. They don’t have weak points; it doesn’t matter where you shoot them. This means the basic strategy is the same for all boss fights. Just stay away from the boss as frequently as possible and never stop shooting.
The bosses also don’t transform. Their behavior slightly changes once you take off half their life, but most of the changes just involve shooting more bullets or popping up behind you. Boss fights are a key component of the shmup experience, and unfortunately, these bosses just aren’t memorable. There are a few exceptions. The drill boss is far more interested in being a drill than it is in attacking you. The final boss is also aggressive. It has no qualms whatsoever about getting right in your face while also throwing blackholes at you. These experiences are few and far between, though.
Flying Toward the Future
Habroxia 2 is a solid shooter but with unspectacular levels and bosses. Its mechanics and objectives result in plenty of shooting action, but it’s still missing a key component of the shmup experience. I enjoyed my time with Habroxia 2, and I do recommend that shmup fans check it out; however, hardcore arcade shmup fans might find the experience a little shallow. Still, this sequel fixed many of the original’s mistakes. Here’s hoping that another sequel can address what’s left.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.