Review: Ultionus: A Tale of Petty Revenge

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Making an homage to a classic game is often harder than coming up with something new, and I don’t think many people realize that. It sounds like it should be the opposite, except that classic games are often a product of their time. Honestly very few of them age well, and those that don’t are usually held back by designs or mechanics that should have remained in a bygone era. Ultionus definitely suffers from this sort of short-sighted design, and then goes and layers a bunch of other terrible ideas on top of it, like some kind of foul garbage lasagna.

We’ll get to the story later, because the gameplay needs to take center stage here. Ultionus is primarily a side-scrolling platformer, though there are a few space shoot-em-up levels. You shuffle your top-heavy lass through rather open levels, dodging threats with her floaty jump and blasting enemies with her ray gun. The issue here is that because it exists as an homage to some ancient game I’ve never heard of, it controls worse than the Castlevania Adventure on the old GameBoy. Your character is slow, she can’t move while shooting, there are huge delays between her shots (which only get worse the longer you try to shoot at once), and she can only aim straight ahead and slightly up and ahead.

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Some games could make this work, I suppose, but Ultionus instead decides to be “hard as nails” in the nails-on-chalkboard agonizing way. Walking enemies will constantly zoom towards you from either side with hardly any warning, and almost always take at least two hits to dispatch. Then there are flying enemies which love nothing more than to approach from angles you can’t aim at. Coupled with the fact that it only takes three hits to send you back to the last checkpoint, it’s going to take you a load of bullshit deaths to get anywhere in this game. And that’s not even touching on the bosses, which are predictably beefy as hell and have patterns that allow for almost no margin of error.

As for the story… I don’t fuckin’ know, man. You play as Serena, savior of the galaxy and perpetual back-sleeper, as she seeks revenge against an internet troll. I can’t say how it all shakes out because Ultionus is an utterly joyless exercise in frustration, but from the look of it I doubt it’s taking a bold stand against misogyny or objectification. The game over screen has Serena’s ass up in the air like she’s being evaluated at a dog show, which I figured was my cue to peace out. This all gives the game a distasteful veneer of sexism that isn’t helped by the abuse you, the player, take at the hands of enemies. And that’s really the issue here, not the absurd oversexualization of the character but rather oversexualization in the context of being ganged up on by aggravating enemies and humiliated on the game over screen.

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I have a hard time understanding what the creator was trying to accomplish here, but I don’t think they could have made something less fun if they tried. There’s a certain earnestness to the game that makes me think it wasn’t really intentional, but the unfortunate mix of awkward, old-school mechanics and awkward, old-school values makes for a game that feels like it should have been left in the era it was inspired by. Everything from the retro platforming to the titillation has been done better elsewhere, and so it is elsewhere that I strongly, strongly suggest you look for entertainment.

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