Reviewed: October 27, 2001
Released: November, 2001
Download the demo or purchase the 8-level Internet version.
Solaris 104 is like a time machine that instantly takes me back to the late 80's/early 90's when I was playing games like Silpheed (the original one from GameArts/Sierra). With gameplay that resembles Defender at a pace that exceeds Robotron, Solaris 104 is going to bring a lot of old-school gamers out of retirement and introduce a whole new generation of gamers to the pure and simple pleasures of a good old-fashioned platform shooter.
For those of you thirty-something games out there, Solaris can easily be compared to classics such as Gates of Thunder on the Turbo Grafx 16, or SquareSoft's Einhander for the PlayStation. A more contemporary comparison would be the recently released Silpheed for the PS2.
The PC has never really had a good selection of platform shooters. A quick glance through my library of PC games revealed only one game that even comes close to the style of Solaris and that is Epic Megagames', Fire Fight from 1995. Platform shooters have migrated to the consoles leaving PC gamers with a noticeable void, until now...
Solaris 104 literally came out of nowhere and blew me away with its phenomenal graphics, gameplay, sounds, and special effects that equal any shooter on any console currently available. If you would have asked me last May I would have told you that nothing could ever beat PS2's Silpheed: The Lost Planet for pure graphics intensity in a shooter, but I stand corrected and converted.
Staying true to the console/coin-op mentality of platform shooters, Solaris 104 offers several features that are not commonplace to PC games. The game is entirely self-contained and playable from the CD. This means you don't even have to install it - just pop in the disc and play. The game has very low system requirements considering the amazing feast of audio and visual treats that are about to assault your senses. Any computer capable of running Windows and DirectX 5.2 can play the game, which means if you have a computer built in the last six years you qualify.
The gameplay is amazingly simplistic, yet addicting as crack cocaine. The game is designed so that each time you play you manage to get just a little bit farther before you die. This ultimately leads to the infinite reloading and replaying until all external life functions such as eating, sleeping, and even playing other games is wiped from your thoughts.
Solaris 104 is a side-scrolling shooter that lets you choose one of three ships (Fighter, Bomber, Scout) to take through all the challenging levels on your ultimate quest to destroy the shield generator located on the frozen world of Bothrops. Your choice of ship dictates your overall offensive and defensive capabilities and in part, the way you approach the levels and the bosses. The nimble scout ship will need to do a lot more evasive maneuvers than the heavy bomber that can plow through swarms of incoming ships without scratching the paint job - well not really.
Typical to the genre, you will square off against several bosses that range from difficult to nearly impossible. The goal is to make it through each level without dying and in doing so you will have a small arsenal of weapons to choose from including multi-fire capabilities that can bring down a boss much faster than your default weaponry. Of course getting through each challenging level is easier said than done. Hundreds of ships swarm you in various patterns from all directions and other defensive measures such as SAM sites, plasma cannons, and heat seeking rockets all make your journey insanely difficult.
Control appears to be limited to the keyboard, but I was able to map the controls (few that there are) to my Gravis Xterminator game pad, which not only gave the game a great console feel, but it actually improved my performance. I'm also on speaking terms with my fingers once again.
The levels are divided among four unique world environments that are simply stunning. The backgrounds are gorgeous and the alpha-blended sprites are detailed and brilliantly animated. Explosions, rocket trails, spinning asteroids, lasers, and just about anything else you can think of is included in the vast library of Solaris visual effects.
Between each level is an amazing movie that rivals anything you can see on a console. Just making it to the next level to see what's waiting for you is half the incentive to keep playing this game over and over until you need to get treated for carpel tunnel syndrome.
The sound effects are stripped right from the coin-op shooters of the 80's. Combined with the amazing visuals, the entire game assaults all of your sensory inputs almost to the point of overload. When you finally finish the game (or die trying) you will most likely have a glazed look on your face and a trickle of foam coming out the left corner of your mouth. Make sure to clean yourself up before animal control takes you away.
The promo materials tout 11 stunning levels. I count 14 on my CD even though I am hard-pressed to blast my way through to level 6 or 7 without exhausting my fleet of ships. Count on at least 20 hours of intense gameplay unless you are some sort of arcade gaming god. You can also replay the game and choose a different class of ship for a totally unique and challenging experience.
If you haven't figured it out yet, Solaris 104 kicks some serious ass and I love it. When people talk about "old school" games I can relate because I actually went to that school. I grew up playing Galaxian, Defender, and Dragon's Lair, and whenever I see one of those old machines tucked away in the dusty corner of some airport lobby or bowling alley arcade, I'm always digging for a quarter. Solaris 104 brings the simple pleasure of "blasting everything in sight" right to your desktop with graphics, sound, and gameplay that rival anything your fancy consoles have to offer.