Drifting lands is what happens when Gradius has a baby with an RPG and you get an interesting story, classic SHMUP gameplay, and waaaaay too many pieces of equipment to keep track of.
At it’s heart, Drifting Lands is a SHMUP. For those of you who don’t know what a SHMUP is, there’s a long history behind them. But basically, you play as a ship that has no control over how the world moves, and you get to move in two dimensions to while firing at everything that moves, with an emphasis on points and general badassery. If you want to know more about SHMUPs, click HERE to read Luke McMillan brag about getting his PhD in arcade games. That being said, this is a lot like the “bullet hell” type SHMUP we’re used to, such as Gradius and Ikaruga, while also being a total departure from them by giving you a health bar, the ability to repair yourself, and shields that will recharge.
The graphics are that similar space flight with crazy bright colors and sweet animations we’re used to seeing out of the genre. Most SHMUPs have boring vacuum of space backgrounds or repeated cityscapes, but, this game is different, with cool backgrounds like mountains, tornadoes, and other interesting things. Graphically, the game reminds me of Ikaruga, and that’s a good thing. The music is that “epic” synth type music you get out of games about science fiction and aircraft. It’s cool, it’s not overly distracting, and it gets me into a rhythm that the game doesn’t instinctively support through mechanics (that I can tell) but, it’s still cool. All of the abilities are clearly different from each other, and it’s fun seeing your “Spear Attack” or “Blade Attack” animations blow up enemy ships.
As far as game design goes, this game achieves something extraordinary without being as pattern based as a game like Ikaruga. There aren’t areas where you HAVE to absorb attacks, because you have the option of trading out abilities for other ones. The game gives you 4 buttons to change action-abilities, which are distinct moves that do different things. A couple of which are very close-range, almost melee weapons. This isn’t something I’ve seen a lot in SHMUPs, and it’s a worthwhile addition. Along with the ability to pilot a ship that tanks, the melee attacks are really powerful. It almost feels like I’m playing a diablo clone done in the style of a SHMUP. The ability to remove your safeguards for more powerups, such as removing auto-retreat for another ability, or your hull repairing skill, allow you to die easier, but, also make your ship more powerful, and, on the normal difficulty mode, if your ship explodes, you lose it, and all of the upgrades and equipment it has. This can set you waaay back, without losing mission progress, making the game harder and harder if you fail often enough. That being said, I believe the game is actually beatable without upgrading anything.
The most unique thing about this game in comparison to other SHMUP titles is that the storyline is something I was actually interested in hearing about. The game has a neat cutscene system, with characters that talk and have motivations, and the storyline itself reminds me a bit of Battlestar Galactica, with a big ship called “The Ark.” It’s home to your rag-tag group of adventurers, who actually don’t really like each other. You’ll have lots of options in who you want to help, and you’ll be told all of their motivations, be it petty jealousy, long-standing family rivalries, or other reasons to operate against each other. This makes the game world seem alive, and it’s something I wish more games spent time on.
If you’re a fan of action RPGs, SHMUPs, or games with a unique and compelling story, you’ll be able to lose some time in Drifting Lands. I enjoy the genres enough – but, one thing I found difficult, was playing for long periods of time. It’s not that the game isn’t fun, it’s that the upgrade paths are long, and getting too powerful would ruin the game. It’s not a negative, I don’t think, but, SHMUP gameplay is SHMUP gameplay, so, you’ll be spending a lot of time dodging bullets and shooting things out of the sky, and in that way, the game does get repetitive. This is normal for the genre, and it’s not a reason to dislike this game. Overall, I would say the game is worth the $18.99 USD it sells for, and, at the time of this article, it’s on sale for 20% off. Go ahead and try it if you like action RPGs or SHMUPs, you won’t be disappointed.
Disclosure: We received this game for free.
Developed by: Alkemi
Check out their website: Drifting Lands