REVIEW : Ultracore (PS4)

REVIEW : Ultracore (PS4)

REVIEW : Ultracore (PS4)

In 1994, DICE nearly completed a sci-fi run and gun action game for the Sega Genesis, Sega CD, and had an Amiga variant in the works. At the time, Psygnosis was to be a creator but was being taken over by Sony. Hardcore was a victim of circumstances and had the poor timing of being developed very late in the fourth-gen of consoles. For 25 years it was cancelled, until April 2019.

REVIEW : Ultracore (PS4)

DICE happened to be working on a 2D action game that would not get released due to the shifting industry’s focus on 3D graphics. Hardcore as it was known; was so close to completion and was shelved until Strictly Limited Games saved it from being lost in limbo.

REVIEW : Ultracore (PS4)

Rebranded as Ultracore, the new publisher would even attempt seeing this lost title to completion and making versions compatible with current-generation gaming consoles such as the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4. After all of this, is this relic from the 90s worth the wait?

REVIEW : Ultracore (PS4)


For an Amiga game that was cancelled, Ultracore looks amazing. It seems even better in action with its parallax layers that run in the backgrounds and the chunky debris that interfuses in a flurry from destroyed robots. Some of these effects might have been added to this completed version; as they look much too taxing to ever run on a SEGA Genesis.

REVIEW : Ultracore (PS4)

Most of the English and German creators at the time had only 16-bit workstations which were just not proficient of what arcades could do presently. This meant that the artists had to work with extreme colour restrictions and had to be very conservative and creative with every pixel. The result is the very recognizable aesthetic that is evident in Ultracore. 

The visual style of Ultracore looks like what you’d get if you blended Heavy Metal Magazine with a 1980s sci-fi manga. The mechanical designs are best defined as a cyber-nightmare; highly modern and full of moving parts to get caught on. Every area is teeming with dozens of droids, moving turrets and bi-pedal machines that are keen to charge the hapless protagonist.

REVIEW : Ultracore (PS4)

Dirty traps and unfair tricks happen a bit too much. Some of the platforming requires pixel-perfect precision jumping, and not clearing the leap will almost always result in losing a life to a kill-surface or deep pit.

This a game from the days when trial and error was a more acceptable form of artificially padding out the title’s length.

It is recommended to never stop shooting ever, because of how many threats can be on screen at any moment. 

One feature that has been added to Ultracore’s mechanics as a 2019 release is making the adventure a twin-stick shooter. The right stick can be used to fire in about eight directions, with an additional jump button mapped to L1. This is very convenient since the odds are completely stacked against you, and there are limited lives and continues. You can beat Ultracore with only the face buttons, like how climbing Everest without gear is technically possible.

REVIEW : Ultracore (PS4)

Not using the right stick for easy firing means having to clumsily aim while firing with a face switch. This is trickier than it appears and usually results in somewhat less control while walking and shooting. 

There is no shortage of firepower to deal with enemies- between the basic weapon upgrades, rocket launchers, and various laser weapons.

Bosses have easy to follow patterns and don’t take more than 10 minutes to dispatch. The player-character has a decently sized health bar that can take several hits and the levels hide just enough health packs to get by.

REVIEW : Ultracore (PS4)

Ultracore is generous with how much time is given and more is easily acquired as a pick-up. However, having this creates too much pressure to do any exploration at all which is a shame because the stages can be big.

Each level is structured with several locked doors that require keys, and terminals to enable bridges or platforms. Exploring these areas can be overwhelming at first. 

Ultracore does not have any progress saving at all and requires players to make a record of the level code upon stage completion.

By not having stage select, Ultracore frustratingly has an extra step of having to enter a level code at the start screen. There was a reason why this practise ended a long time ago.

Why anyone would play Ultracore is for its intense action, not for its anaemic story. Aside from a few screens of flavour text between stages or a few dialogues with a few nameless soldiers, there is not much one can gleam.

Sound and Music

Ultracore’s sound and music have that distinctive metallic SEGA Genesis texture. The score is a selection of pulse-pounding, heroic Euro-techno beats.

Having such exhilarating music for a game like this is key to keeping the player on edge so their reflexes never dull. The developers were so confident in the music, they even put a tracklist in the manual for players to refer to.

The sound design from games like this had a unique quality to it. Explosions had a warmth synth bass that didn’t even really sound like an explosion, but it somehow made sense. It adds to the cyberpunk aesthetic of the atmosphere, making it feel more authentic.

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review-ultracore-ps4Ultracore is a very solid 2D action game if a bit unfair at times. Retro game enthusiasts would adore the deftly crafted pixel art, and classic run and gun gameplay. This is not for the faint of heart- some challenges may seem impossible, but they can be completed. Hardcore may have been a more appropriate title. For legal reasons Ultracore could not be called that, despite it truly living up to that moniker. With an honest handle like that, it is safe to say that it was worth the wait.


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