DYSTORIA Review: Stick With What Works on the Grid
There's nothing like starting out the night by getting yourself sucked into an arcade cabinet run by aliens, am I right?
That’s the situation the protagonist of DYSTORIA finds himself in at the start of the game, promptly being asked to pilot various alien ships on a variety of levels in this strange, Tron-like world. Developed and published by Tri-Coastal games, DYSTORIA boasts “mind-blowing sci-fi imagery and 360-degrees [of] gameplay." While I’m not sure if I’d go that far, DYSTORIA does have a fascinating sense of style that makes it a blast to play for at least a couple of hours.
The game's mostly about you inside your ship, traversing strange labyrinths, each more diabolical than the last. Each has their own diverse color scheme, enemies to fight, and puzzles to solve. Sometimes the entire level moves along with you, and sometimes there are odd platforming bits through which you have to navigate, leaving you with a few points where you have to pause and actually think about what you’re going to do next.
It’s not mindless. Instead, it's far from it. Most the time you need smarts to find everything, and it’s required for you to collect three orbs in order to open a portal to go to the next level. But sometimes, the game decides to have you eliminate all the enemies in a single level instead.
This is where things get a little messy.
On the levels that are just about collecting certain items and then fighting off the bad guys, everything goes fine. It’s fun to explore all the areas and find all the interesting secret places, and there are countless hidden areas and small power ups that help vary the action from level to level. Compared to that, the “eliminate all the enemies” levels just don’t work as organically with the rest of the game's elements -- especially as well as the initial levels do.
Before, it was about skillfully avoiding enemies in order to collect items to complete the levels. If you wanted to, you could kill all the enemies for bonuses at the end of the level, but it didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things because all you had to do was collect.
You can customize your ship to make this sort of thing go easier, but the biggest problem is that the controls don’t feel as though they were meant for facing off against hordes of enemies, one right after the other. Once these things catch wind of you, there’s no way of getting away from them, and you’ll quickly find yourself getting overwhelmed, even on DYSTORIA's lower difficulty settings.
It could be asserted that it takes skill to avoid all these enemies and complete the level. Nonetheless, the way it’s designed speaks of something else. Your ship controls like you are drifting a car; it’s not a solid thing because it is in zero gravity, and high maneuverability is needed in order to get through the levels prior to this.
Thinking outside of the box is essential to finding all the different sorts of trinkets in each level, as well as completing the level itself. While this thinking can also be used to avoid enemies in those levels, the problem lies in the fact that there’s so many enemies and they’re locked onto you like a bloodhound, even in the early parts of the game. You float about a level, shooting things and spinning around when typically your enemies take far more than one hit to contend with.
It’ll take you far more tries to finish these levels if you just so happen to die than any of the previous ones. This is only made worse by the fact that unlike other similar games, you have to proceed level by level rather than being able to skip around and choose which sort of puzzle or stage you want to solve next. That means that you have to go back and grind up the previous levels to get bigger guns in order to be able to progress, which swiftly grinds DYSTORIA into a state of tedium that it didn’t need.
DYSTORIA is a game that’s great when you’re just cruising through the levels, minding your own business while solving intricate 360-degree puzzles, but when it decides to be a horde shooter game, it falls flat. It’s a half-way decent ride to the cosmos that I’d still recommend, if only for the novelty of it.