As the final seconds of Söldner-X 2: Final Prototype’s “Assassin” challenge winded down, I could feel the sweat from my hands dampen the Vita while my heart felt like it was seconds away from flying out of my chest. There was nothing but fists pumps and sighs of relief when “Challenge Passed” in big green font popped onto the screen. But I had only mastered one tiny section of the game, and there was much more anxiety and fun from this chaotic shoot ’em up to be had. 

Söldner-X 2: Final Prototype is a dynamic game. Its ten stages (including The Last Chapter DLC) will have you shooting down enemies from places like a mechanical flagship, the stars in the sky, and the depths of the ocean. Every stage felt unique, and not just aesthetically. The way you play the game changes towards the end as more obstacles are added, and your death can come from not only those trying to shoot you down, but the frozen icicles of Iya Caves, as well. Fundamentally, the name of the game remains to shoot down everything in sight, and avoid as much bullets and lazer shots as well. But here is where Challenges come in to warp your previous perception of what is normal in Söldner-X 2.

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Challenges task you with goals with various barriers. In “Survivor,” if your health bar reaches its end before finishing three consecutive stages, then you better try again. Want to take on “Evasion Master”? You’d better get used to not being able to defeat any enemies. Oh, and did I mention that you can’t get hit more than three times? Every Challenge will work you to the bone. There is no whining, or complaining. “Practice makes perfect” may be a cliche, but it’s the only way you’re getting out of this game mode alive. What I love most about these challenges are how differently you’ll be forced to approach them, as I stated before. “Survivor” is all about staying alive. Don’t waste your time trying to get an S rank, focus on the impending bullet storm, and how you’ll need to avoid it. Then there’s “Collector,” where getting hit will be the least of your worries, as you’ll be in a hurry to gather 999 chain rings in only one stage. The Challenges game mode is the toughest part of Söldner-X 2; I wanted to rip out my hair after attempting some for hours. But the satisfaction of finally being able to pull off the insane tasks that SideQuest Studios made is like no other.

An issue with Söldner is highlighted with Challenges, though. For some odd reason, basic functions are missing. Why do I have to go to a whole different menu to check what Secret Keys I’m missing? And why can’t I just highlight a stage and have it show me my highscore? Better yet, during missions, there’s no retry button, which sticks out when you’re forced to exit to the main menu, wait for your Vita to connect to the internet, and then finally the game modes load. Failed a mission? That’s too bad. Now enjoy going through the motions of starting from the menu. And the fact that you’re probably steaming from your failed attempt of getting a Secret Key isn’t helping, either.

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Secret Keys are Söldner-X 2’s collectibles, and also the bane of my existence. Each stage has five to collect, and while most are found by blowing yellow-glowing enemies up, others are found by pure luck. Really. I had to play stage 4 more than my fair share until a purple enemy that tries its very best to fly away from me spit out the golden luxury. Unfortunately, Secret Keys are used to unlock new ships, weapons, stages, challenges, and pretty much everything keeping the game going.

If there was only one aspect of Söldner-X 2 I was allowed to praise, it’d be the replayability. There is a ton to do. It doesn’t stop at Secret Keys, in fact, the keys are the means to get to the heart of the game, and to make your life much easier via the Challenges, ie. credits – which let you continue despite losing all lives – and starting a stage with the Shockwave. Factor in the amount of time it takes to master each stage, as well, and you’ve got yourself 20 hours of shoot ’em up goodness.

The dub-step-esque soundtrack fits the futuristic nature of Söldner-X 2. Aesthetically, this game knocks it out of the park. The one-two punch of a stage’s final boss accompanied by that frantic beat seals the deal. Some enemies are as generic as giant circles, but then mechanical squids will come out of nowhere to suck up all the creativity.

Most of the bosses look decent, but I found that their cycles and strategies are varied, and fun. A huge part of the gameplay is rotating through your two-to-three weapons and finding which is most effective in certain situations. I never found any sound logic to it, as powerful beams that blasted through small and medium sized enemies would come up short against tiny exposed areas on bosses, such as an eye. But a lot of how much damage your weapons does is dependent on Extras.

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Extras are your lifeblood. While most can be picked up from fallen enemies, the more useful ones: such as health, a new life, score multipliers, and weapon power ups are received through maxing out your chain bar, which is filled by collecting Sonic the Hedgehog-like rings. Most Extras can be fond in the very front of the Vita’s screen – the direction enemies make their way to you through – and it suddenly becomes a game of risk and reward. Is your Magma Cannon not getting the job done? Just grab that large power up an enemy just dropped. But you’re also low on health, AND you need that highscore to show off to the world? Decision time…

Among its difficult-to-master nature and high replay value, is high score chasing. Just like most shoot ’em ups, this is an integral part of Söldner-X 2, heck, some people buy these games just for the bragging rights of being in the top-ten global charts. Going for the high scores means changing the way you play, yet again. Get used to dodging, shooting, and picking up every multiplier and score bonus Extras that appear on screen.

As a fan of difficult games, I was able to enjoy Söldner-X 2: Final Prototype, despite how angry I’d become after having to retry Challenges more times than I’m comfortable with admitting. Once I got out of the shadow of its rough, difficult start, Söldner-X 2 became one of the more enjoyable and ideal Vita experiences that can be enjoyed in small, ten-to-thirty minute chunks. Or, as I did it, can be marathoned for hours because I just can’t fathom being able to sleep while knowing that every stage isn’t unlocked. Through think and thin, I’ll be coming back to Söldner-X 2 for years to come.

  • Buckybuckster

    Excellent review Will…thanx! Of course this would break when I have squat in the moolah department. Thankfully I have Resogun to tide me over till I’m able to pick this gem of a game up.

  • xxAcesHighxx

    Yep, great review Will. Downloading this entirely wonderful old skool shmup NOW….

    On a completely separate note, can anyone give me some pointers with REMOTE PLAY? The performance I get on my beloved Vita — even when sitting less just a few feet from my PS4 — is awful. I can live with less than ideal button set-ups and even the spot of latency, but the sub-par graphical fidelity I get is waaaaay short of what I was hoping for. It’s like playing on a PSP. Surely this isn’t right?

    I’m In the UK and my internet connection fluctuates between a pretty decent 10-12 mbps — perfectly fine for streaming movies, etc. I also use an ethernet connection as opposed to WiFi. Where am I going wrong?

    Help?!!!!!

  • cannedpete

    Definitely picking this up.

  • leingod

    Awesome game. After Sine Mora, I had an empty spot for a nice shoot-em-up.

  • Steven Johnson

    I recently got this for my Vita for £3, best £3 I spent in ages, well made and addictive.