When I was growing up, video games didn’t have to make sense. You had your good guys, and pretty much everything to the right of you was a bad guy. You didn’t question why they were bad guys or what exactly what it was you were fighting, because you were too busy putting bullets in them before they did the same to you.
When I got to the end of a sea base level of Majestic-12 and found myself in a life or death struggle with a dolphin in a mech suit, I knew I was playing one of those kinds of games.
Majestic-12 is a zany dual-stick style shooter being developed by Exis interactive. It essentially plays like a love letter to the arcade days long gone, with a focus on fast-paced, stylized action. I had a chance to sit down and play the 4-player co-op game with two of the title’s developer at PAX, who were more than happy to walk me through the game and show me the ropes.
The basics are incredibly easy to grasp – move with the left stick, and point the right stick at whatever you want to die. Though we were playing with Xbox 360 controllers, the game fully supports a typical mouse and keyboard setup, in which case a cursor will appear on the screen and allow players to aim their shots.
Of course, there are some nuances to the game to keep things interesting. A shield can be activated around your character to absorb incoming fire. There’s a limit to how long you can keep it up, and there it has its limitations – it won’t stop purple-colored attacks, for instance – but it’s a good go-to defensive maneuver. As an added bonus, any shots fired while you’re shield is up will home in on your last target, a move the developers say was influenced by the auto-targeting gun from the movie The Fifth Element.
In addition to these maneuvers, you’ll also have access to a weapon pick ups, which can be stored and switched between at will. Contra-style power ups will also drop, giving your shots benefits like the all-might spread shot. You even have access to a screen-clearing bomb, though care needs to be taken, as the resulting flash will temporarily white-out the entire screen.
Some levels, however, will put your character in a spaceship, switching the game up from a dual-stick shooter to a side-scrolling shoot-em-up. The same basics apply to this mode as they do to the normal game, only now you’ll have to contend with obstacles and tricky pathways as well as enemy fire. Some parts of these levels seem very much inspired by bullet hell style shooters that require well-timed shield use. There are tiny shades of a game like Ikaruga in these segments, though the action isn’t nearly as chaotic.
Visually, Majestic-12 keeps it simple, with bright colors and cartoonishly squat character models. Environments have an arcade-style feel to them, filled with robots, mechanical constructs, and oh so many lasers. The side scrolling levels take a page right out of Gradius, featuring environments that come in from the top and bottom of the screen. The whole game feels like something you’d see in a 90’s arcade, though upgraded with a fresh visual coat of paint.
If you’ve got a group of friends that love old-school arcade shooters, Majestic-12 would definitely be a title worth looking into. The game features online and local support with drop-in/drop-out play, which means getting a game going with your buddies should be a painless process. The game is slated to launch on Steam this summer.