Razor2: Hidden Skies makes no apologies for its adherence to classic shoot-’em-up formulas. Drop an upgradable ship into a top-down sci-fi shooter, throw a zillion enemies and bullets onto the screen, and challenge the player to balance the equally fine arts of firing and dodging. There’s a reason why this is one of the oldest genres in gaming – there is a legit thrill to narrowly surviving a curtain of incoming bullets while returning fire and taking down a screen-sized boss. But because there are so many shooters like Razor2, to stand out from the pack requires a special something extra – and that’s something Razor2 just doesn’t have.
Technically, Razor2 hits the right notes. Stage after stage hurls thousands of enemy ships at your nose cone, beefing up the difficulty with each advancing level. You can also set the difficulty at the beginning of Razor2, and there is a noticeable difference between the three tiers of toughness. Try the normal setting to get a good challenge without wanting to drive your finger through the space bar in utter frustration. The more ships you destroy, the more coin you pocket to use in the between-stage shop.
The shop is where I had the most fun in Razor2. Not only are you able to buy upgrades for your ship, such as improving the power of the three main cannons – bullet, V-shaped lasers, and homing laser – but also add a number of secondary weapons, latch on extra shield and energy units, and boost the speed. There is a degree of strategy here, too. If you are an offensive player, plowing your cash into juicing the primary weapons – especially the bullet cannon – is a good investment. But I found myself far more reliant on secondary weapon systems like a homing energy blast that was perfect for cooking flanking enemies during boss battles while I concentrated my primary weapon on weak spots.
But in a shooter, I shouldn’t derive the majority of my enjoyment in the shop screen. I should get my kicks when unloading on alien cruisers. Yet the magic never quite kicked in. Enemy patterns are predictable. Bosses, though large, are unimaginative. And everything is so straightforward. There are no little tweaks like Ikaruga’s light-dark system. You don’t have to completely ape old-school designs to keep it old-school. There is plenty of opportunity to pay homage to the classics like Raiden while putting your own clever spin on the shooter.
Razor2 includes a host of medals and in-game achievement as well as online leaderboards for boasting about your alien-killing prowess. These may keep some shooter fans coming back for more and getting a decent amount of value out of their $10 investment. But all players are sure to enjoy the soundtrack, which is an impressive tapestry of orchestral music. Although I may fancy beep-boop game music, even I started wondering how I might rip the soundtrack out of Razor2 for enjoyment outside of the shooter.
Razor2: Hidden Skies is a decent shooter with good production values, such as the excellent score. And I really like the ability to customize the ship’s weapon systems to suit personal play style or the challenges presented by each stage. But the action is just so straightforward and predictable – you have played shooters like this for years – that Razor2 never quite sparked to life.