Game Review

by Todd Ciolek,

Ether Vapor Remaster


Ether Vapor Remaster
Guided by an oppressive supercomputer, the nation of Chaldea is locked in a vicious conflict with a coalition of other countries. Pilot Luca Earlgray sweeps into the battle, owing no allegiances on either side of the conflict. Yet his heavily armed jet fighter proves powerful enough to change the course of the war.

Ether Vapor Remaster may be a fairly recent shooter, all aglow with lasers and explosions and sleek jets of the future, but it's also a look back at the genre's history. The current crop of shooters favors the “bullet hell” system that pelts players with as many neon projectiles at once, but Ether Vapor goes the opposite direction, looking to the designs of an earlier generation. It's a success in both what it does and what it avoids.

For one thing, Ether Vapor isn't stingy with its weapons. In his merciless, one-ship rebellion against the Chaldean empire, snotty young pilot Luca has three attacks available at any time, and each of them can be charged for an alternate attack. Hold the button for a moment, and the straight-firing machine guns become a powerful single shot, the side-mounted cannons create a bullet-eating force field, and the ship's RayStorm-style lock-on lasers fire rapidly on a single target. It's the last of these that proves the most interesting, as the laser can hit enemies and projectiles flitting around in the background or foreground.

Ether Vapor isn't confined to a single view, either. It begins as a vertical shooter, but the perspective switches quite often—even in the middle of boss battles. The game might switch to a horizontal style, a diagonally arranged one, or a head-on approach reminiscent of Star Fox. Then there are times when the game spins everything around you, tasking you to shoot down an oncoming volley of projectiles. These sections aren't part of the standard shooter challenge so much as they're a chance for developer Edelweiss to recreate the Itano Circus: that awe-inspiring scene of a jet fighter dancing unscathed through a storm of smoke and missiles and explosions. It's not quite a Macross Plus dogfight, but Ether Vapor's still impressive.

Most importantly, Ether Vapor's designed with the right mix of strategy and reflexes. The enemies vary from precision attacks to sprays of pink bullets, and it all emphasizes pattern memorization rather than dodging on-the-fly. That's just fine, because you still need to move quick to pull off the techniques you devise. You might use a force-field to sneak through an aerial mecha's bullet storm, or you might just weave around in a panic, hoping that targeting lasers can take out that boss before your agility fails.

Ether Vapor also cares enough to actually challenge you. While other shooter developers throw unlimited continues at players who care mostly about scores, Edelweiss put some thought into their creation. You start with a few continues and get more as the play clock goes up, and as you figure out more of the game, you get more chances to see it. It's an excellent method (commonly used in Treasure shooters) that hearkens back to an age when shooter fans didn't resort to self-imposed hardships.

One of the slicker productions to emerge from Japan's underground game developers, Ether Vapor Remaster shows off solid 3-D visuals equal to just about any shooter you'd find on Xbox Live. It also throws in plenty of contrails, bomb-bursts, and glittering effects. Here we find the game's biggest problem: projectiles aren't always easy to make out. Some enemy shots are brightly colored, but others are barely noticeable when everything's glinting and pulsing and exploding all at once. Ether Vapor allows a few cheap deaths too many, and that keeps it from the top of its genre.

Everything's sewn up with a standard soundtrack heavy on the flute-like hooks (which sound to my nerd ears like the second overworld theme from Final Fantasy VI) and a plot told through pilot-to-pilot babble. The script checks off every anime cliché as Luca cuts a path through Chaldean forces, acquiring an unwanted ally in rebel pilot Sana. Aside from Luca's astonishing lack of any likeable qualities, the story's only notable point is Sana's background aid. She'll occasionally fly by and snipe at enemies with her own ship's lasers, even if it adds to the on-screen mess.

Edelweiss comes remarkably close to a first-rate game with Ether Vapor Remaster, stumbling only due to some unclear visual design. That said, it's an enjoyable shooting workout, all the more impressive given its small-scale background. Aside from those moments of confusion, Ether Vapor is everything a decent shooter should be.

Overall : B
Graphics : B-
Sound/Music : B-
Gameplay : B
Presentation : C+

+ Stages flow well and legitimately challenge players
Visual overkill occasionally makes everything a blur

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