Did you ever watch Voltron, Mazinger Z, or similar mecha anime and think, “Man, this would be great as a side-scrolling shoot ’em up?” If you ever thought that, then your childhood dream has come true with Supercharged Robot Vulkaiser. Every visual piece of this Vulkaiser looks like it came from an anime or an early video game adapting an anime, the costumes looking like they jumped straight off the pasty cel-shaded bodies of the Voltron Force. The story is treated to viewers with quick anime-inspired still images for maximum nostalgic value, which is a nice touch given that story is so blindingly not the focus for shoot ’em ups that Stevie Wonder sees it.
As you could most likely tell by the rhetorical question posited above, Supercharged Robot Vulkaiser is a side-scrolling shoot ’em up (from here on called shmups), a type of game where you control a character on screen and dodge a Chris Christie-sized amount of bullets. The Vulkaiser Force mobilizes to stop an alien invasion, the lead character manning the titular robot who fires a simple stream of beams to take down foes, while the other members of the Force pilot separate VulFighters that combine with and power up the robot in question. These modules appear during gameplay in similar fashion to how shot power ups in your average shmup, and selecting the right ones at the right time can make progressing significantly easier.
Each time your Vulkaiser combines with one of the modules, there’s fanfare with an animation that appears which shows the two pilots working together and forming the newly upgraded Vulkaiser. Gameplay-wise, the modules are what most affect how you play, since the Needle typed one will spread additional shots out in a wider angle than just Vulkaiser’s alone, the Missile module will fire rockets that have their own specific travel speed, allowing you to deal damage more efficiently while strafing opposite fast-moving enemies. The Lightning module shoots weak bolts of electricity in an extremely wide arc across the screen while the Drill module doesn’t improve Vulkaiser’s shot at all, it instead forms an exceptionally powerful drill directly in front of the fighter, rewarding you with extremely high damage for sticking close to the target you wish destroyed.
Each module has its benefits, though, considering the Drill makes you nigh invincible against destructible shots- some bullets can be destroyed by your own while others can’t, a fairly common occurrence in shmups, and Vulkaiser is no different. The Missile type is superb against gunships that appear at the lowest or highest point of the screen, since the missiles extend off your fighter vertically before launching at your foe. On top of this each form of Vulkaiser can hold the shot button to perform a charged attack- Vanilla Vulkaiser fires his rocket fists off like he’s Android 16, Missile Vulkaiser fires one large rocket that explodes on impact and has a damaging blast radius. A personal favorite was probably Lightning Vulkaiser’s charge shot, which was a giant laser beam of death that dealt huge damage to most things directly ahead of you, though it does become less optimal as you reach stage 4 and beyond since there will be so many enemy ships on screen at once that a single huge beam becomes a liability over the spread lightning it normally fires.
Additionally, Vulkaiser can only combine with one of these additional modules at a time, so you have to pick which ability you will find more beneficial for the upcoming challenges. Damage taken while combined is actually dealt to the VulFighter to which you’re attached, and while having a second health gauge would normally be a boon in such a game, care must be taken simply due to the fact that if a VulFighter’s ship explodes it will be unavailable for the remainder of the playthrough. Players also have access to a bomb, like in most other shmups, to clear excess bullets off the screen in the event of projectile inundation. In Vulkaiser, however, your bomb changes properties depending upon which module you have combined, so some may be more for clearing out mooks while another is much stronger against bosses.
Being a side-scrolling shmup, Supercharged Robot Vulkaiser is extremely short, most likely in the hope that players will enjoy partaking of its challenges multiple times rather than a single playthrough. It took, at most, 20-25 minutes to completely clear the game since most stages are only 2-3 minutes in length. This isn’t exactly uncommon for games in the shmup genre, but it can be unsettling to someone who purchased the game on a whim, unfamiliar with what the game has to offer.
This isn’t without its problems, of course. As it currently stands, outside of using third party software, there’s no included controller compatibility, which definitely seems odd since movements are tied to the arrow keys on the keyboard, of all things. Additionally, the resolution is quite low, seeming to be 800×600 even while full screen, which is a tremendous disappointment since the game has a decent retro aesthetic that seems it would be fit in a 90s arcade- too bad it isn’t drawn in proper size for any computer built after 2001. There are also some issues with the implementation of Steam achievements, as somehow 30% of players have beaten the final boss but only 0.3% have cleared normal or easy modes. Be mindful of this if achievements are something you’re into.
Overall, Supercharged Robot Vulkaiser is an incredibly cheap, incredibly short and fairly entertaining game. If you’re a fan of shmups and don’t have any other options, Vulkaiser can be a decent way for you to spend a lunch break or so since it has four difficulty modes to lend towards replayability. Those looking for an experience to more invest their time will most likely wish to look elsewhere, however, as Vulkaiser carries the shmup torch of being played multiple times before being put down. The anime aesthetic hearkening back to Mazinger Z and Voltron is also icing on the cake.