STAFF REVIEW of Overdriven Evolution (Xbox One)

Tuesday, October 3, 2023.
by Adam Dileva

Overdriven Evolution Box art Ever since its earliest forms, I’ve always been drawn to shoot-em-ups, or shmups they’re so lovingly referred to as. There’s something about being able to navigate a screen full of bullets and destroying all your enemies in your path. While I’ll always consider Ikaruga the pinnacle and the best shmup of all time, I’m always looking for the next best thing, and sometimes you find those diamonds in the rough unexpectedly.

The latest from TOMA Game Studio, Overdriven Evolution is the latest in the crowded genre, so I was excited to see how it stands out apart from the competition; if it was memorable and if there’s enough replay value within. Like most shmups, you can expect large bosses, tons of enemies, and hundreds of bullets on screen at any time. What I didn’t expect was just how much extra content and modes was included, but more on that shortly.

As to be expected with these types of games, yes there’s technically a story to try and capture your attention, but let’s be honest, we play shmups mostly for its challenging gameplay. There’s some sort of alien race that’s invading so of course it falls upon you to save the universe. I know, probably one of the most overused and tiresome tropes, but it’s basically you versus the invading Kruuthian Empire in your solo ship.

Being a vertical shmup, the screen will automatically be scrolling upwards at a set pace while you can maneuver all around trying to avoid the onslaught of bullets from handfuls of enemies. You begin with two different ships to choose from, looking slightly different from one another, with another unlockable as well, though don’t really expect any differences.

Many shumps will usually give you some sort of weapon that can be infinitely fired and maybe a screen clearing bomb, and it’s mostly the same here as well. The big difference is that you’re also able to convert your regular pew-pew into a focused and powerful laser, but there’s a catch. While this laser will make quick work of most enemies, even quickly drain boss health bars, you move incredibly slowly and are reduced to 20% of your shields. This of course leaves you vulnerable to enemy fire, which the screen is almost always full of.

Much of a shmups difficulty lies in the accuracy and size of your ship’s hitbox. This determines how forgiving the game is before it decide that you hit that stray bullet. Thankfully this seems to be quite forgiving in Overdriven Evolution, as the hitbox seemed to be quite small. Even when you do inevitably collide into some enemy fire, your health bar is beefy enough to take a good amount of hits. As for enemy attack patterns, it’s all quite basic, as even boss attacks weren’t all too difficult to avoid, as I never really felt too overwhelmed.

What I didn’t expect was being able to change the color of your attacks and any given point. I thought this was going to be some sort of Ikaruga-like mechanic where you were going to have to shoot specific colored enemies with opposite colors or something of the sorts. Sadly that’s not the reason. Every so often you’ll come across these white orbs that can’t be destroyed. They’re usually in a group of three or four and one of them will be colored. Because of being able to change your attacks to different colors, you will then ‘paint’ these orbs said color that you shoot. Match three in a row and they’ll disappear, usually letting you pass or uncovering a secret path. Trying to do this in midst of the regular chaos that’s happening on screen with hundreds of bullets isn’t the easiest thing to do though. It feels as though maybe this mechanic was a bigger part of the game earlier on but was left in for some reason and easily the weakest part of the experience.

Bosses are usually the highlight, and it’s no different here. Sure they aren’t the coolest looking or all that memorable, but the multi-phased battles are fun, as is taking on something other than the regular cannon fodder that fills the rest of the adventure. Even their large attack patterns weren’t all too challenging save for a few instances.

Even when you complete your first playthrough, there’s reason to go back; finding hidden collectables and of course, rising up the online leaderboards for bragging rights. With four difficulties to choose from (Easy, Normal, Hard and Nightmare) and a number of different modes to play, there’s a surprising amount of extra content to enjoy even after you save the universe. With seven extra modes, there’s surely something you’ll find enjoyable:

Story: Choose your difficulty and save the universe. Pretty standard stuff.

Arcade: Here you’re only given three continues, so can you get through all the bosses of the Kruuthian Empire?

Manic: No health bar. You got hit? Well, you’re dead.

Challenges: Here is a list of ten curated and specific challenges taken from Story Mode, but with a twist. Can you beat a certain section without getting hit? Can you beat a specific boss under the time limit? These are just fun and challenging enough to entice you, as well as achievements.

Boss Rush: Who doesn’t want to simply battle against the best parts of the game back to back? Take on all bosses back to back to see if you can emerge victorious.

The Line: My favorite extra mode that is simplistic in nature yet works. There’s a red line behind you slowly filling upwards towards the screen. If you or an enemy hits that line, game over. This means you need to make sure you destroy every enemy, but have a much smaller playfield to maneuver in since it can fill a large section of the screen.

Color-Reflex: Easily the mode I enjoyed the least. Remember me describing the color matching with your shots and the white orbs? This whole mode is dedicated to that, and worse, there’s 56 separate levels to do so in. Sure some will enjoy these levels, but the whole color matching mechanic just seems out of place and certainly not worth its own mode.

While it’s not always uncommon for a shmup to have multiplayer, it is much rarer to have one with four player local co-op. That’s right, you and three other friends can play together locally across the whole Story mode, though if you thought hundreds of bullets on screen was overwhelming playing solo, wait until there’s even more happening on screen at once. Of course the lack of online play is disappointing, though expected from a small developer.

Aesthetically, Overdriven Evolution looks... fine. There’s nothing really that stands out, as it can be hard to appreciate the visuals in games like these when you’re so focused on dodging hundreds of bullets. The animations from your partner in between levels is poor at best, but at least there was some sort of effort to have something extra. The soundtrack is similar; fine but forgettable. With some tunes happening in the background there’s not much dead air, but that’s a low bar to set.

Because of the effort to add all the extra modes, there’s certainly some replayability, and the online leaderboards always had me checking my score after a run. While I’m sure some shmup fans will have a fun weekend or two with it, it’s probably a bit too bland for me to remember in the future.

**Overdriven Evolution was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 6.5 / 10
Gameplay: 7.5 / 10
Visuals: 6.0 / 10
Sound: 6.0 / 10


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