In some ways Hydorah is what sets PC gaming apart and makes it unique. Sure, there are little free gems on other platforms, but somehow they seem to lack the passion and that level of attention to detail that developers like Locomalito put into their creations. Hydorah is a ‘free traditional game’ and Locomalito’s love letter to the retro space shooter genre, a game which doesn't lambast you with donation buttons or ad pages. If you ever recall playing a game that had you throwing your controller at the TV in frustration, well this game is sitting there going ‘hello remember me?’ Think of this game as the bastard son of the classics the developer says... quickly followed by ‘Prepare to Die!’
The launch intro is strikingly familiar with those who have played Starwing on the Super Nintendo, as is the set branching paths on the star map. Though as useless as Slippy was, as least he provided a brief moment of cannon fodder, which is less than can be said for the assistance you get here. Forget Contra spreading your way though levels here, ship control is the key to survival in this game. Your ship’s pea shooter will slowly upgrade in the style of classic Metroid as you beat each stage boss. You can then select which primary and secondary weapon is most appropriate before each level begins, and not by freebie power ups handed out during the level.
As indicated, this game is unfathomably difficult for new players and will take attempt after attempt to get past each stage. Success eventually comes in the form of persistent trial and error, though not before the creator has his fun by making certain levels collapse in on you in a novel, but frustrating way of suggesting ‘YOU SHALL NOT PASS’.
Fortunately you have five save attempts for each of the ten stages to the final boss, not including the secret stages for collecting those all important ship upgrades. Most useful I found being the instant shield at the start for obvious preservation of sanity reasons.
Hydorah comes across as extremely familiar, but refreshing in the way it deals with exploring the legacy it stands on, think of what Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series did in building on an established foundation and pulling them all together. Of course the example with Hydorah isn’t quite as dramatic, but I can see what Locomalito’s intentions were while playing through the game.
Still, I can’t help but feel as though the developer missed an opportunity in not fully lampooning the genre he’s having fun with here. Granted the insane difficulty space shooter was a staple of early modern video gaming; but Hydorah tips its hat to the ridiculousness of the genre instead of having a giggle with it. It’s all here as you might expect ‘mysterious alien force with no explanation’ check. Awkward Scottish military accents? Check. A single ship against said invading force? *facepalm*
Other pilots unable to work overtime?
Maybe Locomolito can be forgiven, as he was busy making the entire game I guess; but going in the opposite direction would definitely make the game more unique. However Hydorah’s cutesy 16 bit charm and short addictive levels more than makes up for any gripes of familiarity over originality, and have I mentioned the masterpiece that is Gryzor87’s soundtrack? I won’t lie, more often than not this was a reason I’d still be enduring the humiliation of not being able to last ten seconds of a new stage just to listen to as much of a new stage’s song before quitting in frustration.
With a few minor tweaks, I wouldn't be at all surprised if I saw this game appear on Steam, as although not for everyone, fans of the genre wanting punishment would surely lap this up. Heck if I was Sony/Nintendo I’d buy the rights for this straight away and make it available to download on their handhelds to compete with cheap smartphone games. Just buy a protective case if that ever happens.