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Red Siren: Space Defense

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Genre: Action
Developer: IsTom Games
Release Date: June 4, 2019


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Switch Review - 'Red Siren: Space Defense'

by Cody Medellin on Dec. 31, 2019 @ 1:00 a.m. PST

Red Siren: Space Defense is a side-scrolling, sci-fi, shoot-'em-up space war game with futuristic robots, tanks, spaceships, war mechas and huge battle machines!

For PC and console players, hearing that a game started on mobile phones is slowly starting to become a non-issue. Like the state of licensed games before it, the early days were filled with underwhelming titles, but the quality of titles coming from the mobile space has been good enough that people start to look at them with surprise rather than disdain. Titles like Cat Quest, Donut County, and Oceanhorn show that a game is good as long as it's tailored to the strengths of the target platform. Unfortunately, Red Siren: Space Defense doesn't push that narrative forward.

Unlike a ton of other modern games out there, Red Siren doesn't bother with a narrative. After the initial loading screen, you're immediately thrust into the map screen, where you can either start the mission immediately or upgrade your ship. Once you're in the game, you pilot your ship left or right, eliminating all of the enemy forces that are approaching your base. You start with a machine gun that has twin-stick-style, 360-degree shooting with infinite bullets and no cooldown. Whether you succeed or fail in your mission, destroyed enemies translate into cash, which can be used to either upgrade your ship, buy new weapons like missiles and bombs, or upgrade weapons to fire faster or deliver more damage.

Your initial impression of the game will be disappointment in the presentation. The first time you see the map screen, the game struggles to show it at a stable frame rate. Go to the upgrade screen for your ship, and the frame rate also tanks there whenever you cycle through weapons and equip them on your ship. The game shows up at a very low resolution when docked, producing a blurry screen that still sports a lot of jagged lines. In combat, the game surprisingly doesn't slow to a crawl when enemies appear on-screen and there's a lot of gunfire, but your hopes for a smooth 60fps are dashed since the game barely holds at 30fps in these scenes. It also doesn't help that the environments are so limited that you'll cycle through them all way before the halfway mark. The one consolation is that at least the backgrounds are busy with battles, so your endeavors don't feel like they're occurring in a vacuum.

Audio appears fine at first, with decent music and good sound effects for your weapons. Only your weapons seem to produce any sounds, as enemy projectiles go by silently. The voice of the AI telling you about your mission and if an enemy group is destroyed is nice, but since your mission never changes, this can get very repetitive very quickly. The most damning thing is that the audio is quite unstable. There are times when everything is fine, but suddenly, the game will only play audio out of the right side of the speaker. There's no rhyme or reason for it, and this was observed on both docked and portable mode, so the equipment isn't at fault, but it is bad enough that your expectations for the title drop significantly.

For the most part, the gameplay is fine. The shooting feels nice, and enemies are spread out well enough that you won't worry about them reaching the base often. That's a good thing, since the base has no visible energy meter, so if you let enemies creep up close to the base or you hold down your fire stick while passing by, it becomes a crapshoot about whether the whole thing blows up. Get to around the 10th level or so, and the game suddenly increases dramatically in difficulty. Periodic fire from enemies transforms into something from a "bullet hell" shooter; it's problematic since you don't have a nimble ship and some of the projectiles are difficult to see since they blend into the background. Your gunfire does little damage, and even though your ship has regenerating health, it isn't fast enough to counteract the damage.

Your first reaction to the big difficulty spike would be to upgrade the default machine gun and your ship. The problem isn't that each upgrade is expensive, but you'll need several of them to see a stat boost. Investing in secondary weapons seems like a good idea until you learn about their slow cooldowns and the small amount of damage they deliver until several thousands of credits are applied to make them seem decent. You'll soon realize that there are only two purchases that matter: buying the best ship and buying the best machine gun. For that, you'll need to grind. The good news is that the prices are much more achievable compared to the game's original mobile incarnation, so the grinding isn't severe to the point where you'll clamor for microtransactions. The bad news is that you're still grinding because every other purchase feels useless.

That padding argument seems rather valid, as Red Siren suddenly becomes super easy once any of the two upgrades are made, let alone both of them. More enemies appear, but they fall apart quickly, and the only way you'll die is if you intentionally let yourself get hit by the ordnance thrown at you. From there, trekking through the game's 25 levels becomes a breeze. The funny thing is that the game presents you with the ending text blurb whether you win or lose on the last level. It's a fitting bug for a title that already has a bug where you can place the cursor on the map beyond the 25th pip to get an invalid level warning.

Red Siren: Space Defense is one of those games that you'll entertain for an afternoon only because you found it at a deep discount. The core shooting is fine until you hit the difficulty wall, and while the grind isn't as bad as the mobile version, the fact that you'll play the early levels multiple times to earn enough to get something more powerful can halt the fun. Other issues, like the hard-to-see projectiles and near-useless secondary weapons, also dull the fun, while the upgrade system only succeeds in infuriating players who won't realize when an actual stat upgrade will occur until after they've already sunk a ton of money into the system. Combined with the flaky presentation, there's no reason to give Red Siren a look unless you've absolutely raided the library of all other shooting games, have some spare Gold Points to burn, and have absolutely nothing else to do.

Score: 4.0/10

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