Under Defeat (アンダーディフィート)

Under Defeat is somewhat well-known for being one of the very last commercially released Dreamcast games ever (that honour goes to another “shmup” - Karasu) but was is it worth the fanfare?

Being one of the final games the game comes in the cheaper, DVD packaging

Under Defeat is the follow up to studio G. Rev’s highly acclaimed Dreamcast shooter Borderdown, and is set in sort of alternate World War II with players taking on the role of two female German-speaking helicopter pilots. Yup, in a controversial twist, players in Under Defeat control the "Empire" with uniforms that resemble those of the Nazi SS, against the English-speaking “Union". The militaristic feel and realism (it’s one of the few shooters on the Dreamcast not to features spaceships) is well represented in the game’s stunning murky, green presentation style which when played through VGA rivals even matches up to some earlier next gen titles on PS3, and Xbox360 – who said war isn’t pretty?

Packaging prematurely boasts that Under Defeat is the last Dreamcast title

It is not all good news though as there is some annoying slowdown, especially after letting of a bomb, but can be forgiven as pretty much everything else comes together so well. Enemy bullets are bright and easy to see (which still won't help you when the screen is flooded with gunfire) and the amount of detail is jaw-dropping. Destroyed tanks and towers will leave craters, trees will sway according to nearby explosion blasts, even cows and birds can get killed in the crossfire! Enemy planes and helicopters will not simply explode, but spin out (according to where they've been shot) and crash into the ground.

The Limited Edition version includes an arranged soundtrack

The game is very reminiscent of classic shooters like 1942, although Under Defeat slightly alters how you use your chopper. Normally with these type of games, your attacking instrument of death can move side to side and shoot directly in front of itself, but if you move the gunship without shooting in this game, it will turn on an angle in the direction you are moving (you can invert this to turn in the opposite direction if you so wish) causing the gunship to face up to a 40 degree angle from the front. If you hold down the shoot button while moving, the helicopter locks in position as it travels across the screen. Let go of shoot and the helicopter will straighten up. It's a simple mechanic, but it becomes a rather key factor to master in Under Defeat. In addition, you also have a secondary weapon, a little satellite that can be fired out when a meter in the corner fills up. It’s a tactical decision, keep your main gun shooting constantly, or show a little restraint (as well as nerves of steel) and reap the rewards of having an extra satellite to assist you in your efforts. However, if a single bullet fired from one of the game’s myriad flying and stationary enemies hits your helicopter then you lose a life, you only get three lives standard and two continues, so it’s certainly a challenge. If things get hairy, you also have bombs that’ll clear out most enemies, but more importantly, they’ll clear out the bullets cluttering the screen.

Bombs should be saved for hairer situations like these!

There are no upgrades available for the main weapon. What you're allowed to manage is the type of special weapon currently in use - vulcan (yellow), cannon (green) and rocket (blue). Certain enemies release items that bounce around the screen cycling through these colours and also red (extra bomb). The game is simply about reflexes and memorisation. Quick decisions will carry you far on the game’s easiest setting, but on Normal you need to learn where enemies pop up and prepare accordingly. It’s not as arduous as “bullet hell” type games like Rajirgy and Treasure titles such as Ikaruga, but there is certainly a challenge.

It’s a good job then that the opening stage serves as something of a gentle introduction compared to what lies ahead because from the second stage onwards the difficulty and intensity of the game rises dramatically with the number of enemies increasing and the gaps between bullets becoming smaller. There are five lengthy stages in total, and even a second "loop" featuring reconfigured stages available for anyone good enough to access it. G.Rev’s game is pleasent to the ears as well; the soundtrack is sweet, full of the melodramatic rock style of old shooters, and fits beautifully handled with the sirens, radio chatter and ambient war noise floating around.

Machinery in the game is very reminiscent of that deployed in WW2

The game comes with both vertical and horizontal view mode options (in the arcade Under Defeat plays out on a vertically orientated monitor) but for everyone that doesn't have a TV they're willing to turn on its side, horizontal mode is the only meaningful choice here. Predictably for a conversion of a Japanese-only Naomi arcade title from such a small indie-studio, the Dreamcast bonuses are thin on the code. Each hour you play releases an extra credit until free play is eventually unlocked. There's also a ton of artwork which seems to get more risqué the more you play, great if you like that sort of thing but luckily the weight of game play and sprawling levels that take dedication and learning to inch forward through, provide the strongest argument to replay the game.

Hurrah, another picture of our female pilot team!
As with most of the titles released in the Dreamcast later years, Under Defeat, especially the LE edition which comes complete with an arrange soundtrack, continues to command a decent price (a price which will no doubt continue to rise) but is it worth the price of admission? Well, personally there are a number of factors to consider. If you are a shmups fan then Under Defeat is quite different to most of the other shooters on the system, and offers a change of pace to the bullet hell titles which the Dreamcast is somewhat renowned for. Secondly, the game's crisp visuals and sublime jazz/rock soundtrack really come together to offer another arcade-perfect Naomi experience which can proudly hold its own against more modern and powerful systems such as the PS3.

Now, if you are a collector then you've got the fact that this is somewhat of a piece of history, appearing a whopping 7 years after the Dreamcast launched in Japan title, and the second to last EVER officially made title (and actually a game even non hardcore shmups fans can enjoy, unlike Karasu). To everyone else, Under Defeat isn’t going to change anyone’s mind about 2D shooters, but it’s relatively conventional setting is a nice change from the norm, and the pace of the game makes the titlle a great introduction to the world of "Shoot 'em ups" - ende der Durchsage!