It is the far distant future. Humanity has taken to the stars to escape a dying planet, and, there, they hope to find salvation. Instead, they happen upon an alien race called the Xenox: sentient machines who are focused only on the destruction of all biological life. Humanity engages, and escapes, but not without suffering heavy casualties. For years, the survivors of the human race have hidden in the shadows of smaller planets, desperately looking for a solution to prevent the complete obliteration of their people. In an instant, hope is discovered: a new, modular fighter ship that can adapt, improve and evolve beyond the guns and lasers of the Xenox. You are the pilot. This is PolarityFlow’s mashup shooter that engages and addicts. This is Steel Rain.
With Steel Rain, there are several hats that can be worn, but the primary one is shmup. The game mostly presents as a horizontal shooter, with each planet that you encounter it comprises three stages of bombardment with a boss waiting for you at the end. As you plough your way through Xenox drones and ships, various pickups will be dropped, ranging from money and energy boosts to some awesome damage and speed upgrades, and, most importantly, a color-coordinated weapons upgrade. There are repair kits to fix the damage, overdrive kits to briefly amp out your damage, and plenty of other things that will float into your view. There’s also a lot of indestructible space mines that will damage your ship unless you’re currently shooting a massive laser, so be careful of these and know that enemy ships seem to arbitrarily drop them.
The colour-changing weapons are an important part of Steel Rain, as they loop back to the coins that get collected from nearly every enemy. Steel Rain also is determined to wear the hats of RPG and strategy, which doesn’t mean changing the linear gameplay. Instead, the coins are used to purchase new and stronger upgrades for your ship, such as better armour, new drones to assist your shooting, and even the wing type on your ship. Completing a stage also gets you a skill points upgrade, which can be used to drop into one of the colour hues that your gun might change into. These upgrades cause your weapon of said colour to be more effective, true, but it also adds other passive and active bonuses. It can cause drones to become more aggressive. It can create temporary moments of invulnerability depending on circumstances. If you really want to kill it, you can do a full upgrade on the green hue and actually get a full health recharge if you stop firing for a period of time. How freaking sweet is that?
Issue: the largest and strongest of the upgrades can’t be gotten just from the shooting part of Steel Rain. Instead, every time you clear a planet, you now have the option to colonize. The colonization aspect is a very tenuous and sometimes tedious part of the game that must be done if you want to be the most effective ship possible (and also to use all the game you just purchased). You have to build different structures and establishments within the colonies and then do quests to both assist in research and also protect your new settlements. While this effectively adds a bunch of new levels for you to shoot through, it sometimes feels like it’s distracting from the primary role you have in the game, which is a forward pushing assault on the Xenox. Maybe I’m misreading the mission statement within Steel Rain: perhaps colonization is priority number one, and destruction of the aggressor is number two. I’ve never been in this role before, so I can’t say for certain, but I prefer shmups to Civ.
For what it’s worth, the shooting of Steel Rain is divine. The difficulty level is incredibly strong, even from the lowest level, and players will need to adapt not only to the influx of enemies and would-be damaging projectiles, but also to the way you need to adjust your play style. Keeping with the same colour weapons upgrade is the only way to maximize your power, which means watching carefully and only grabbing the power-up when it flickers to the right colour for less than five seconds. You need to be ready to toggle between weapons for ranged and close combat, because some enemies will be right on top of you and the traditional laser blaster won’t be enough to keep you alive and healthy: you need that laser lance to stab the hell out of things. Enemies will approach from all sides, and the lingering damage projectiles will lazily float amidst all the coins and armour that you could possibly want to grab, forcing you to be nimble with your fingers and quick on the draw to navigate and shoot and still be an effective upgrade. And when you die, you need to just take it on the chin and head to the upgrade bay, hoping that adding this new doodad will be the solution you need for survival.
Steel Rain isn’t much to look at, because the graphics are a simple balance between some modern takes on space vehicles and classic ideology intermingled. I enjoyed all the different worlds and backgrounds that you see as you move further and further along with the Xenox fleet, and the ships, mostly, have enough variety to identify how they’re about to shoot you. It gives you the full feeling of the ancients of shooting, somewhere between Gradius and R-Type, though with more of a cyber fetishism than xenomorphic. Having said that, it evokes exactly what you would expect given the backstory and the forward thinking of the game. Your objective isn’t to marvel at the terrible beauty of the Xenox fleet or whatever, it’s blowing those bastards to the other end of the universe so that your species can propagate and survive despite everything. It’s a damn fine plot line that I identify with terrifically (it’s almost certainly our future), and I think the likelihood of a Borg-inspired battalion laying waste to humanity should look exactly like this.
To be honest, this isn’t my first time playing Steel Rain. I was lucky enough to get it, years and years ago, from a website called Groupees, when the game was still quite young. It was fun, but it didn’t look, feel or even represent a quarter of the game that I see here today on the Nintendo Switch. This is what happens when a game that has a small but fiercely loyal fan base continues to evolve, to connect with its community and to improve in ways that are both developer created and fan suggested. It’s a wonderful work altogether, thoroughly enjoyable from the shmup aspect and probably good for those who prefer the world building as well. It sits well on the Switch, and fans of the bullet hell world will find plenty to dodge and shoot at here, in Steel Rain.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Steel Rain Review
Gameplay - 7/10
Graphics - 7/10
Sound - 7/10
Replay Value - 7/10
User Review( votes)
When it rains, it pours, and then someone dies.