That’s how long it will take the average gamer to start cursing, the first time they play Under Defeat.
Not at all coincidentally, that's also around about the length of time it will take for them to lose their first life. Fear and panic doesn’t prepend the inevitable expiry, oh no. It just happens. And then it happens again roughly 30 seconds later. If they’re lucky, it’ll happen again maybe a minute after that – and then they’ll be prompted to log their name on the high scores list, and spend one of their paltry three credits in order to carry on.
And it’s at this point that a lot of gamers will truly realise who they are. Are they the type that will curse, curse, and curse some more, before throwing the controller down and giving it all up as a bad lot, or are they the type that will bare their teeth, fix their glare, and growl “let’s do this” as if they’re in a bad Nintendo commercial from the 1990s?
Those that didn’t grow up with the SNES and Megadrive will probably fall into the former camp, it has to be said. Under Defeat is an incredibly, incredibly difficult Japanese bullet-hell shooter, and that’s putting it mildly. Controlling an attack chopper, the usual rules apply, with your goal being to pretty much destroy anything that so much as looks as though it’ll take a shot at you. Unlike other games in the genre though, your craft’s physics have to be pandered to. You can’t shoot in a different direction to the way that you’re facing and – being a helicopter – your moves are generally led from the tail. This leads to some controller-gnawingly frustrating deaths, and some outstandingly stylish gameplay moments where you chop across the screen, narrowly swinging your helicopter around a string of bullets, before delivering a final shot or bomb of your own that takes down the enemy.
In most craft, an “option” attack is also available. This occurs when your Option bar is full, and consists of either an extra machine gun, an extra cannon, or a series of rocket grenades – all of which are controlled and aimed automatically, and which expire after a certain amount of attacks. To recharge, you have to – somehow – find somewhere where you can let go of the fire button for a few seconds. Initially, you won’t pay much attention to this ability, but as you forge through, you’ll find that it’s absolutely invaluable and that it adds an extra dimension to proceedings.
Graphically, Under Defeat is a product of its time, despite the move into the larger resolution. The original game was released into the arcades back in the early 2000s and although everything has a polished Neo Geo-era feel about it, there are absolutely abominable amounts of slowdown to be found every time you release a smart bomb or defeat a stage boss. It isn’t enough to break things entirely, but it’s definitely noticeable and – given the razor sharp manoeuvres you have to be making here – is far from ideal.
Initially, we thought it a little unfair of the developer to lock the credit count at three, and to only allow players to improve their chances by putting the ship count up to five. But we soon realised that although there are gamers out there that will shy away from the challenge and who will want to get their free play on, that would really be circumnavigating the point. With unlimited credits, Under Defeat wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.
You see, when the game does grab you, it just will not let go. The two-button control system, the incredible arcade soundtrack, and that good old “one more go” feel that crops up just as you lose your final ship all combine to mean that while Under Defeat may be one of the stiffest gaming challenges you’ll ever face, it’s also one of the most rewarding. You’ll start out by trying to complete the first stage on “Easy” mode without losing a credit. Then you’ll try to do it without losing a life. Then you’ll do the same on the second stage, the third, the fourth, and the final one – which will probably actually kill you, truth be told.
Even with this in mind, it’s a bit of a shame that the developer has tried to pad things out a little by only providing the original arcade mode as an alternative to the game’s main “New Order” mode. The fact is that these two modes are all but identical to one another, barring the necessary position change of the enemies in that older mode as is required by the differing levels of available screen space. You do get the standard second loop in the form of an “Extra” mode that appears when you complete either the “New Order” or original arcade outings, but this only serves to provide the same stages that you’ve already played, but with a slightly higher difficulty level. There’s a little bit of fan service in the form of an illustrations gallery, but we’d generally expect a little more from a retail package – even if it is only £20.
To class Under Defeat HD as being poor value would be massively unfair, especially considering the going rate for the original Dreamcast version. The likes of Sine Mora and Triggerheart Exelica are available for less money on Xbox Live Arcade, and Dodonpachi Resurrection can be had for next to nothing in the shops, but we’re not convinced that any of those comes anywhere close to providing the pure gaming experience that Under Defeat does. There are some rough edges to be looked past and there could be more game here for those that have played it before in its other guises, but Under Defeat HD is a worthy port.