I’ve played my fair share of science-fiction games on the Nintendo Switch since it was first launched and if there’s one thing that I’ve noticed that they’ve all got in common, it’s that the majority of them have all taken place on the planet Mars. In fact, I’ve now been there so many times that I can now officially class myself as an illegal alien. Anyway, guess what? There’s a new science-fiction game coming to the Switch and guess where it’s based? Yep, you got it. It’s that red planet again and it’s now become infested in Solstice Chronicles: MIA; leaving you and an insurmountable amount of aliens to battle it out amongst yourselves.
Developed by Ironward and published through CIRCLE Entertainment, this title arms you with a twin-stick shooting mechanic, a friendly drone to help your cause, a top-down, isometric viewpoint and a unique ability to control the difficulty level with the use of a threat level indicator. It may sound like a galaxy full of elements, but all of them combine to produce a very satisfying shooter that revels in an atmosphere that feels distinctly Alien Breed and Dead Space; heck, it wouldn’t even surprise me if I came across Ellen Ripley too as she sent the endless hordes of infected aliens back to hell.
As in a good, old-fashioned clichéd way, the story revolves around an outbreak of the STROL virus, a disease that has spread around the Earth and has now made it’s way onto the planet Mars. It’s here where you reside, as an abandoned space marine amongst the infected species that can range from deformed humanoids, up to giant dog-like creatures, sandworms and armoured life-forms that swarm in waves as they bay for your blood. However, with an arsenal of weaponry and environmental defences set in place, they’re not going to have an easy time of it, although neither are you, but with so many guns and abilities at your disposal, working your way through each wave and corridor gives a distinctly gung-go feeling as you paint the planet of Mars red with a hailstorm of bullets.
The gameplay follows a similar template to titles such as Alien Breed and Diablo; in that the action is viewed from a top-down, isometric level with a myriad of corridors and alien environments to create some tense moments in its level designs. Dotted around the landscapes, a variety of weapons, ammo and consumables can all be picked up and used, as waves of enemies charge towards you relentlessly. Using a twin-stick mechanic, you have the ability to shoot in three-hundred and sixty angles and a handy laser sight to ensure your aim is true. Find yourself in a tight squeeze though, and you can also utilise a melee attack and if need be, sprint for your life.
However, there are a few other factors that can greatly increase your chances of survival or give you an edge in battle. Depending on your chosen class, your suit can possess a number of abilities and upgrades that can have an overall effect on fire rates or even grant the use of more explosive weaponry. On top of this, you also come across a lone drone who can help in a number of ways, either by searching for valuable resources or by creating defensive measures such as automated turrets and fielded barriers. There’s simply a large number of varying weapons and abilities that you can use, and use them you will. Not only to stop the alien hordes in their tracks, but also to maintain a level of difficulty in the game’s rather clever mechanic of a threat level meter.
This meter, which is displayed at the top of screen, determines the number of enemies that spawn around you. The higher the level, the more aliens appear and vice versa. In order to keep things under manageable control, you can manipulate various elements to keep control of your surroundings. The majority of these are activated through the use of your drone, although some effects do have a standoff between damage multipliers and the level of threat each ability achieves. For instance, need a bomb to clear your immediate area quickly, then you can but only at the increase of the threat meter. However, taunt the enemy, which forces a spawn point, the level of your threat decreases. These abilities of the drone pack a suitable punch to get you out of the trickiest of moments; but they do come at the sacrifice of any future difficulty levels.
It adds a layer of tactical challenge to the gameplay, as you try to figure out the best way to keep the peace in a violent way, as well as maintain a decent level of difficulty without being overrun. As you progress through the levels, a series of skill trees can also come into effect with the use of skill points. Successful missions grant you a number of points, which are then used to upgrade suit and weapon capabilities; something you’ll be grateful for as you come up against increasingly larger alien-types and boss battles that require quick-thinking and dexterity to overcome them; as well as an explosive arsenal to fully maximise the firepower at your disposal.
Level designs also play a role here, often creating choke-points and bottlenecks that find you cornered or environments that give the alien species the edge in tense standoffs that genuinely thrill. The graphics also contain a nice level of detail with an aesthetical feel the oozes in a foreboding atmosphere. It’s a challenging premise, but never one that feels unfair; especially if you utilise your weaponry in the correct manner and save the big-hitters for the big-critters. It isn’t necessarily all about running-and-gunning either, as some waves can be avoided through skilful dodging or leading the hordes into waiting traps; useful techniques that help with the game’s need for ammo conservation. It’s a quick-thinking, nimble-fingered, side-stepping adventure that satisfies the itchiest of trigger fingers.
Overall, Solstice Chronicles: MIA offers a nice surprise in a neat package. Its gunplay is tight, as are its control schemes. The gameplay is thrilling, creating a genuine feeling of being a hard-as-nails marine and the challenge contains a nice balance in the use of a threat level that needs to be maintained. Add all of these elements to the delicious atmosphere that the game provides through its glorious settings and you simply end up with a satisfying shooter that entertains throughout its play-time; a premise that’s also topped off with a couch co-op experience should you wish to bring a friend with you. As far as science-fiction gaming on the Switch goes, this maybe a title that has brought me back to Mars, but this time around, this is a trip that I’ll be spending a lot more time on.
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Solstice Chronicles: MIA Review
Gameplay - 7/10
Graphics - 7/10
Sound - 7/10
Replay Value - 7/10
User Review( vote)
You may play as a marine who’s M.I.A., but this is certainly a game that isn’t missing in action.