Sora (空) is a Japanese word for “sky”. It also happens to be the name of the protagonist in an upcoming indie bullet-hell shooter developed by Orange Juice and published by Fruitbat Factory. Sora takes place on a planet torn apart by war. Out of the chaos a girl is born with a natural instinct for combat. She is compelled to fight, yet she knows not why (kind of like my mother-in-law).
Sora‘s premise is simple: shoot and dodge your way through ever-increasingly difficult waves of enemy ships. The game features an optional tutorial, which is presented on a matrix-style grid. The text-based instructions are a bit wordy and hard to follow at times, so most of your learning will be by doing. Move your little Sora character using familiar up, down, left & right directional keys. You’ll also want to map a “sprint” key to evade oncoming enemy shots. Be warned, however, sprinting causes Sora‘s shields to heat up. If they overheat, she’ll take more damage when hit by enemy fire.
During the tutorial you’ll learn about weapons, of which there are three:
Long Range Laser: Instantly fires at a locked-on enemy ship. Although it doesn’t inflict heavy damage, it provides an instant strike that cannot be parried by the enemy.
Long Range Missile: Fires at a locked-on enemy ship, but with less speed than the laser. Enemies can fire at it, blowing it up before it reaches them.
Melee Sword: Sora must fly close to the enemy to inflict damage. This makes her vulnerable, but a skilled player can actually morph the melee attack into a variety of power combos! If you get into trouble, try performing a quick “sprint-evade”. Remember that sprinting causes your shields to heat up, so frugality is key here.
Before long the tutorial will become fast and frenzied, with bullets and missiles flying everywhere. So when you feel you’ve learned enough, it’s on to the main game!
The first stage has you soaring through overcast skies, dodging new and varied bullets, pellets, energy orbs, and rockets. The enemy ships are also sturdier than they were in the tutorial, so you’ll want to conserve your sprints and heavy missiles, lest you overheat too soon.
The real fun for me was in discovering new environments and enemy tactics. I’ll keep the number of screenshots limited, so as not to spoil them. A few extra screens can be seen on Sora‘s Steam Store page. The game officially releases on January 5, 2016.
So what, if any suggestions can we give for future development? Let’s make a list:
1. Keyboard mappings are awkward. Gameplay requires you to switch attacks and maneuvers quickly. So unless you have very long fingers, you’ll find your gaze darting from screen to keys often. Of course, you can avoid all of this by simply using a console controller, which seems to be the developer’s intended way to play.
2. The game lacks mouse support. I’d much prefer to attack with a click, rather than a key press. Again, the controller mitigates this issue.
3. There’s no easy way to review key bindings. About halfway through the tutorial I wanted to look at my mappings. I pressed ESC, and was given two options: restart the tutorial or restart the entire game! Eventually, I did remember where all the important keys were.
4. There doesn’t seem to be a natural way to quit the game. Only by pressing ALT-F4 or switching to the desktop and closing the game manually was I able to do this.
Of course, these are first impressions. If there are some special ways around any of the above, I’d love to know them.
At the moment, pricing information for Sora is available neither in the Steam Store nor on GamersGate, where this title will also be sold. If you like the idea of a sweet moe character battling her way through sheer bullet hell, I’m sure you’ll find value at any reasonable price!
So is Sora worth it? I would say yes. It’s that casual, yet addictive arcade experience that will keep you coming back. A few tweaks to the interface and controls will go a long way to boosting the overall score.
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