UltraCore began its life as a Mega Drive/Mega CD/Amiga title known as Hardcore in 1994. Developed by Digital Illusions (now know as DICE) and to published by Psygnosis. Due to the change in the market the game was sadly shelved at around 90% complete. Flash forward to 2019 when Strictly Limited Games found the title, finished the game and placed it on the Mega Sg console.
Following that the game got physical releases for PS4, Switch, and Mega Drive but has remained out of reach for those who missed the limited prints. Until now! UltraCore is now live on Nintendo E-Shop and Playstation Network!.,
I’ll be brutally honest from here out, UltraCore is a title for retro enthusiasts, people who grew up with the consoles mentioned or have a love for them. It is for all intents and purposes, a 1994 game playable on current generation consoles with only the minor tweaks.
If my above comments get your Blast Processing boiling then allow me to talk UltraCore with you. The game has a story, it’s told over a few static scenes within the levels, robots are going wild in a facility and you’re the most UltraCore dude around, you got a gun and the robots are allergic to bullets.
In terms of how it looks and plays, the developers coined this as a Euro Run & Gun, they couldn’t have been more accurate. For those in the know, think Amiga titles like Turrican or First Samurai, obviously they got ports but most Amiga action games had a certain “look”. Don’t believe me young ‘un, Google Amiga games then look at the screenshots here!.
The sound in Ultracore is outstanding, the music is the kind that loops but never gets irritating, premium action midi songs. The sound effects nail that 90s arcade feel, it was all about gunshots and explosions, and UltraCore deals them with the highest of quality.
It’s a great looking 16-bit title, the character model animates well, explosions look and sound so nice!. The weapons are diverse enough and the character drawings on the static screens are impressive for its time. Level diversity is a little scarce, there seems to only be factory levels or the odd Cave/Jungle section. It would have been nice to see a little more difference on a stage by stage basis but it’s not like the game is a 50-hour epic!.
Enemies are all of the robotic nature, these come in all kinds of forms ranging from irritating fly to death-dealing warhead launchers. The bosses are fantastic to look at and you will as they hit very hard until you know that pattern!.
The core gameplay of UltraCore is as it said on the box, you run and you gun. While visually it is similar to titles like Contra, UltraCore also throws in a smattering of Doom-style maze and key hunting. There are lots of secrets to find in the levels and some sections offer a little more to explore than others, kind of like a mini Metroid, only if you go through the “right” door then you can’t go back so be weary of missable.
The game controls well, you can switch weapons with a button press, another drops screen-clearing bombs. The shooting mechanic is awkward if you play as originally intended, it’s a twin-stick shooter without the second stick, a lot of messing around getting the right angle and not run off the edge of platforms or into enemies.
Fortunately, the developers decided to throw gamers a bone and allow you to use the second analog stick making for a much more pleasurable combat experience. This is the only favor you’ll get with this game so keep that in mind!.
Being a product of its time and its genre, unfortunately, UltraCore has some downright horrible platforming sections, with instadeath of course. If you’re not in the exact right pixel, you’ll miss your jump and die, instantly. You do reset quickly after death near where you died so it’s not ALL bad.
So UltraCore, supposed to release in ’94 it is bound to have some quirks that aren’t commonplace today and it’s these that hinder it from being 100% recommended to EVERYONE, as mentioned Retro enthusiasts will adore the game.
The game has a lives system, you can lose these pretty quick, you can also find more or buy some with the in-game coins you can find. Run out of these, it’s Game Over. You have 3 continues, run out of these and you’re back at the start of the game hombre.
The game also has a timer, you can extend this with in-game items but you still need a little speed on you while navigating the labyrinthian levels. Run out of time, start the level again son!.
Every time you finish a level you’re given a password, this not only allows you to continue on the stage you’re up to but also tracks weapon upgrades, lives, continues, ammo and coins. There is NO SAVE SYSTEM puzzlingly the developers added the ability to twin-stick the game but not the convenience of a save system. While not the longest system in the history of gaming these are still just as much of a pain as ever, writing them down then having to input them every time you start the game again.
Aside from the Password system, UltraCore is not only an interesting title with its history but a damn good time. It is an amazing snapshot of the 90s era of gaming, with the current revival of 90s arcade gaming it is mind-blowing that we have the chance to play a genuine unreleased Mega Drive game in 2020. UltraCore is love, hard love but love all the same!.
A slice of Mega Drive life, while the lack of a save system does harm it, it’s only a flesh wound & the none stop run and gun action more than makes this a title any retro enthusiast will love.