During the lifespan of the PS2 the ‘classic’ shoot’em up genre had been going through a bit of a revival, where there was once very few to choose from there were suddenly a veritable plethora of different ways to have your eyes exploded by never decreasing waves of seemingly insurmountable alien forces. Steel dragon Ex is a repackaging of the Shienryu games and released at a budget price with the promise of yet more mind melting action.
What we are presented with is the now obligatory ‘classic’ version of the game and a new version complete with semi 3D make over. Though upon playing the two it is hard to tell that the games bear any resemblance to each other, they could just be two randomly thrown together shooting games, as even the core play dynamics are greatly altered in the newer version.
The original version of the game consists of the standard vertically scrolling shoot’em up ideal. Move left and right avoid missiles; pick up power ups, you all know how it goes. However, the game does offer a couple of interesting features. The best of these is the highly unusual lighting weapon, sort of a unique take on the idea of homing missiles. Lighting is shot out at the desired target and then arcs onto nearby targets as well, draining them of energy until the charge has worn off.
Once lightning has been fired you have to wait for the charge to wear out before you fire another one, which in essence removes the shooting aspect of the game, leaving you to fly around avoiding the missiles and bullets heading your way. However, apart from the odd nice feature there is really nothing here to make the game stand out from the many others of this nature. Furthermore, the screen seems to scroll at an awkward pace meaning you are never quite where you want to be.
While the original version of the game offers little not seen elsewhere it is still fun, the remake is truly terrible. First of all it is devoid of any form of challenge- we managed to get all the way through to about level six on its first go without losing a single life. There are more ships to choose from, and different characters available to pilot them, each with there own smart bomb style move, but one of the ships is so over powered to be farcical. Sit in the middle of the screen, hold down the fire button and dodging the odd large ball of blue is all that is required to get through the levels. When bosses appear they take up the whole screen, but unlike other titles can be hit in any area to cause damage meaning you can just weave around looking at your own ship to avoid any incoming fire with the fire button pressed until they explode.
Let us see, what other token gestures we can throw into the remake mix. How about score multipliers and tokens that appear when enemies are killed? Yes this game has managed to copy aspects from more or less every market leader out there and has managed to implement every one of the things it has taken in a far less effective way. Couple this with the same strange scroll pacing as the original version and you just end up wondering why they bothered.
Overall, Steel Dragon Ex is as average as average can be. The original version of the game is ok for the occasional play, but the remake is absolutely terrible. The title launched at a budget price of around fifteen pounds but you can get R-type final and Gradius V why would you bother? You could even pick up shooters of higher quality cheaper than this, the compilation of 1945 1 and 2 came in at ten pounds and unlike this, is excellent fun to play. The bottom line is, with so much choice out there this really does not have what it takes to warrant being in your collection.