One reason why the shoot-em-up (or shmup) has lasted the entire lifetime of video games is that they tap into a primal skill set and simplicity of purpose: shoot and dodge until there’s nothing left. While sub-genres have surfaced, the basic premise is unchanged and it’s still as appealing now as it was over 30 years ago. Procyon by Deadly Red Cube is the latest iteration on the theme of sending a lone ship against a legion of enemies, and, while it may not be as transcendent as others in the genre, it more than distinguishes itself on pure gameplay.
If you’ve ever played a shmup before, then you know what you’re getting into with Procyon. This game is, as you could guess, about an alien invasion that can only be stopped by a single pilot (or one of five since that’s how many lives you have) taking their fleet out piece by piece. The story is inconsequential during gameplay and is told via cutscenes between missions. It’s pretty amateurish, as far as voice talent goes, however it’s at least humorous and knowing in that it makes fun of itself more than anything, so it’s admittedly a lot better than it could have been.
Procyon eschews power-ups for strengthening your ship. Instead, it gives you everything you need right from the beginning and expects you to rely on skill. You have two gun types, plus the ability to use an overpower ability to make them stronger. This ability drains quickly and recharges slowly, so being able to use it effectively and efficiently is essential to your survival. One other feature of overpower is that it also can shield you from enemies temporarily, which is vital on higher difficulties.
Speaking of difficulty, no discussion on shmups would be complete without touching on this. There are four levels from the start, with Easy being no problem at all. I burned through on this mode in no time at all, only having to restart a level a few times, while Normal provided a hard but fair challenge. The biggest differences between the difficulty levels of Procyon is the speed and durability of enemy ships. Hard mode is for hardcore twitch players only. I appreciate that it strives to not only provide a huge challenge, but also an entry point for newcomers.
One feature of video games that normally gets held against them is their short length. This is generally not an issue with shmups because they are designed to be brief, action-packed, and consumed in smaller portions with the degree of challenge being what stretches out the experience. Shmup or not, Procyon is a very short game, consisting of five levels, each with its own gigantic boss. This game is pretty customizable to any type of player, from its varied difficulty levels to different gameplay modes. You have the option of playing in practice mode, standard mode, or even in a one-life-to-live survival mode. It provides some variety, although the game itself never really changes.
By default, Procyon is a left-to-right game like Gradius, but you have the ability to change it to Portrait which changes the view to more of an arcade view like Ikaruga. It’s a nice touch and the change in perspective definitely affected how I played the game. The only issue with it however is that you really do need a large monitor in order to appreciate the Portrait view as it comes up pretty tiny.
For $4, it is a total deal to pick up Procyon. It looks great, has a mildly amusing story, and is a solid shmup that is customizable for beginners and veterans alike. Ikaruga is still the reigning champ of this genre, and there is no danger of a game like this one unseating it. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with having this game as well.
[+Variable difficulty levels] [+Colorful and creative] [+Wry humor throughout] [+Multiple modes and challenges] [-Portait mode could be better implemented] [-A little short, even for a shmup]