Kickstarted with the promise of delivering blisteringly fast shoot 'em up action in the vein of 1986's Uridium, Hyper Sentinel is true a love letter to classics of the C64-era. The title builds upon the foundation that Uridium laid out 32 years prior, offering intense bouts of side-scrolling fun with the addition of bosses, power-ups, and swanky neon visuals. With retro-inspired indies currently dominating our online storefronts it does beg the question though: is Hyper Sentinel remarkable enough to stand out from the ever-growing crowd?
Arcade mode is the main mode here and functions very similarly to Uridium, as you'll have to zig-zag through laser fire to destroy all the components of an attacking ship. The main challenge is to react swiftly in the face of oncoming projectiles and strategically turn your ship around to escape harm and enable your shields to recharge. Where Hyper Sentinel differs from its spiritual predecessor is through the addition of power-ups and level-concluding bosses known as guardians. There's great variety with the power-ups scattered throughout levels and we especially loved the swinging wrecking balls and dual laser beams. Guardians are a nice inclusion too and offer a decent level of challenge before sending the opposing ship to erupt into a fiery ball of pixels.
Content can seem rather lacking at first glance with just 12 stages available but these are fully available across three modes: Arcade, Survival, and Boss. In Survival mode you have a minute to endure waves of ships, and there's a competitive element as your longest survival time is used to compete on the online leaderboards. Boss mode, as you likely guessed, faces you against the guardian of that level, which we appreciated due to how memorable these encounters are. All of the modes are playable in three difficulties and must be beaten on each to grab that coveted 100%.
The controls are simplistic and after a few plays felt almost instinctive. Everything was tight and easy to pick but what took to master was our reaction time and reflexes which were put to the test especially when playing on the harder 'retro' difficulty. Using either the D-pad or the left analogue stick (on Switch) you can move up and down and flip around to change direction. Using either A or B will fire your weapons and you can boost by holding down ZR. We never felt inclined to use the boost command though, as things felt pretty rapid already and doing so usually led to us colliding with other ships.
Adding to its replay value are medals which function like trophies or achievements. There are five per stage and they require you to complete a task like finishing a level in a set time or destroying a set amount of a particular enemy. For the completionist out there, these can add another hour or two onto your play time and some of them can prove to be quite challenging. As Hyper Sentinel is inspired by classic arcade games, the 1980s score also plays an important role. Between levels there are items you can run into to increase your score and you'll receive bonuses at the end based on your time, skill, and formation. Going for a high score can prove quite risky as it requires you to act fast to keep your multiplier racked up; retreating to let your shields recharge isn't the best option if you're going for leaderboard success.
Hyper Sentinel gives you the option to toggle between C64, Spectrum and CRT visual styles, which we are sure will be a huge nostalgia trip for more experienced players. The monochromatic look of the Spectrum filter did make it more difficult to play though, as everything is signposted so well with colour in the original and kind of blurs together with such a minimalist palate. The standard filter features some great neon sprite work and while it is clearly inspired by Uridium, it looks distinguished enough on its own. On the performance side of things Hyper Sentinel runs at a smooth 60 FPS on the Switch in both docked and handheld modes which lends itself beautifully to the pulse-racing action.
Hyper Sentinel may feel more like a homage than an original title in its own right, but it's still a solid shmup capable of reminding players exactly why the genre rose to prominence over three decades ago. Thanks to some tight controls and pacey action, and the various game modes and medals, there's nice variety added to what is a simple and well-established formula. It's a fun blast from the past and genre fans are going to enjoy it, even if it's not a particularly original game.