At the beginning of this year, I reviewed a pair of PS4 top-down, twin-stick shooters in the form of Tachyon Project and AIPD: Artificial Intelligence Police Department. Neither was particularly outstanding, and both borrowed heavily from Geometry Wars in terms of their look and feel, but their arena-style gameplay nevertheless still provided me with plenty of enjoyable shoot 'em up action.
One of the notable commonalities of both games is that they feature enemies that mostly don't fire at you. Not so Score Rush Extended. The latest twin-stick shooter to hit PS4 takes the opposite approach to both those games, and features enemies that unleash a tremendous volume of offensive artillery. In other words, it's a bullet hell twin-stick shooter. It also eschews arena gameplay and replaces it with vertical scrolling, although it must be said that it still largely plays like an arena shooter – one that feels a couple of screens wide.
When the action commences, a couple of enemies containing power ups immediately appear and these have to be blasted open to pick up the contents, which either upgrade your main weapon, or add a laser-firing orb to your ship that follows your every move. Unlike some twin-stick shooters that feature different kinds of weapons, Score Rush Extended features just one mode of fire, although it's upgradeable to pretty insane levels that results in what feels like hundreds of laser blasts being spat out every second.
An interesting aspect of Score Rush Extended is that the craft you control is fairly large, but its collision box is tiny – essentially represented by a miniscule black square in the middle of the ship. This means that there's a huge amount of leeway when it comes to dodging bullets, and as long as that black box doesn't get hit, you can get away with the rest of your ship clipping bullets left, right and – well, not center. It took me a little while to get used to this, but once I did I was soon performing what felt like miracle maneuvers, zipping between the dense waves of bullets that were being fired at me. What also helps is that you can slow down the movement speed of your craft to perform finesse moves, which can be very helpful in certain situations like when you're in a corner and are trying to pick your way through the myriad of bullets that are heading your way.
The action ebbs and flows quite nicely. There are essentially big boss ships that are connected by short levels in which swarms of smaller enemies are thrown at you. The general rule of thumb is the bigger the enemy, the more of a bullet sponge it is, and that results in a lot of protracted firefights where you're trying to unload as much laser fire into a boss ship as possible. It's very intense, and requires full concentration as you try to out-maneuver your enemy's offensive salvos while keeping your lasers zeroed in on it.
Ultimately, the game is very straightforward – and this is a deliberate move by developer Xona Games to make something that, according to their post on the PlayStation Blog, is a "philosophically pure shoot ’em up." That basically means no scoring multipliers or other score-boosting gimmicks – Score Rush Extended is a test of your skills where it's all about amassing the largest point total by destroying everything as quickly as possible.
On that level, the game works well, and has a somewhat oldschool feel about it. All you need to worry about is destroying enemies, dodging bullets, and, of course, grabbing power-ups whenever you can. But while the game is simple in concept, it's still a challenge to play. Score Rush Extended presents a particularly dense bullet hell, and no matter whether you're in the middle of a level or tackling one of the bosses, you constantly have to avoid different spread patterns of bullets – sometimes random, and sometimes in the form of complex waves. In that sense, it's a really demanding game.
As well as a single-player mode, Score Rush Extended offers couch co-op for up to four players, and also features a "dual" mode in which you control two ships that are stuck together. While the game is fundamentally the same in dual and single mode, I liked having the extra firepower that the two ships offered. Even though avoiding bullets is more difficult in this format, it does make games quicker, since you're able to dispatch boss ships more quickly.
With its loud, thrash metal soundtrack and busy visuals, Score Rush Extended is an enjoyable, stripped-down shooter that's a great test of your arcade skills. Its controls feel good, and its difficulty curve ramps up quite evenly, with bosses becoming ever more complex over time. This helps make the game one that you tend to improve at incrementally, which gives it high one-more-go appeal. Its classic design also means it's a game that you'll come back to over time, whenever you fancy scratching that shoot 'em up itch, or want to see if you can improve your score on its online leaderboards.
While it won't win any awards for its sound and graphics – both are a little generic – what Score Rush Extended sets out to do, it does really well. Its polished, frenetic gameplay has been nicely tuned to make it an addictive title that should have high appeal to those who enjoy challenging, hardcore shooters.
The thrash metal soundtrack is something you'll either love or hate.
While they're certainly busy, Score Rush Extended's graphics are a little on the simplistic side, and the backgrounds are very bland.
Score Rush Extended might look and sound a little generic, but it's a solid, back-to-basics shooter that truly tests your arcade skills. Its bullet hell gameplay is nicely tuned to be highly challenging and addictive, and it's just plain fun to play. If you're a fan of hardcore shooters, definitely check it out.