Ultionus: A Tale of Petty Revenge

A game by Last Dimension for PC, Mac, Linux, and Ouya, originally released in 2013.
Ultionus: A Tale of Petty Revenge is – as the title suggests – a tale of petty revenge. Selena S, hero of the galaxy and disliker of overcoats, is updating her “Spacebook” profile while returning from her latest galaxy-saving mission. Upon doing so, she is promptly trolled by a fellow known as The Space Prince, and so she swears to enact her revenge by fighting her way through seven enemy-packed levels so that she can raid his palace and kick him in the crotch.

As far as plots go, it’s about as throwaway as they come, although this was to some degree intentional, as the developer modeled the game after computer-based action titles of the late 80’s and early 90’s. In games of this era, story almost always took a backseat to the action. Those that did provide a story generally only offered motivation for the hero of the tale to fight his or her (but usually his) way through countless enemies.

Everything here, from the story, to the visuals, to the scantily-clad heroine is inspired by these action-based titles, offering colorful worlds, enemies in need of termination, and a strong but unnecessarily well-endowed heroine wrapped in revealing skin-tight spandex.

The game begins as a horizontal shmup, with Selena’s ship travelling toward the planet of The Space Prince, accompanied by her robotic companion, Balzac, who hovers near her ship. You move the ship around the screen, blasting waves of enemies, as is typical of the genre. There are only a couple of enemy types: green ships move in various formations and chuck the occasional bullet, while red ships move onscreen, stop to fire a large projectile, and then drop down and move straight across the playfield. Occasionally, a few asteroids are worked into the mix, and these absorb a lot of hits before being destroyed.

Holding the FIRE button allows the ship to fire off a regular stream of bullets, but rapidly tapping the button allows the player to fire much faster. There are no ship upgrades, nor are there any complex scenarios, nor even a boss encounter; the scene is in place simply as a means to disable your ship and cause you to crash. If you are destroyed at any point during the level – referred to as Zone 0 – you will crash land on the planet below and begin the game proper in Zone 1. If you do manage to make it all the way to the end of the shooting sequence, a series of wide laser blasts comes at you from offscreen. When one of them eventually hits you, you will crash land as well.

On the ground, Selena kicks herself out of the burning wreckage of her ship, only to immediately encounter a giant hairy snow beast which bursts forth from a snow-covered rock pile and pursues her to the left. At this point, you have no weapons and no way to deal damage to the creature, and so you must run away, with your buddy Balzac trailing behind. As you run, you encounter smaller snow creatures that you can jump over, and they are destroyed when Balzac touches them. When you reach a ledge, you have no choice but to jump, falling down into some sort of industrial complex below the surface. Here, you encounter your first checkpoint and a weapon in the form of a ray gun.

Selena has a non-variable 1.5x jump, and she can fire her weapon while standing, crouching, or jumping, but not while running, and this gives the game a somewhat deliberate pace. Pulling the trigger while running will bring you to a stop where you can fire to the right or left, and upwards in either direction at a 30 degree angle. As with the ship, tapping the button allows the player to get a bit of extra speed out of his firing rate, but the difference here is less noticeable than the standard continuous fire option. While you can’t run and gun, you can shoot while in midair, and you can fire upward or downward at a 30 degree angle while jumping. This helps you to take out some of the sky bound enemies and makes up for any blind spots with your standing firing options.

Very early in the going, you will encounter an antigravity device, giving Selena a variable 3x jetpack-assisted jump and allowing her to cross larger gaps and reach greater heights. While there are numerous items and upgrades to be had, this is the only powerup that is given to the player outright. All other upgrades are entirely optional and may only be acquired through exploration.

Most of the levels have alternate paths, allowing the player to take the more direct route to the boss, or a more challenging route. Often, the more challenging route is in the form of a “high road”, where falling will drop the player back down into the “low road” without the ability to return. While you are free to choose your path, many of the level designs purposely prevent the player from backtracking into a previous area if he moves forward too soon or missteps and falls into a pit. This makes the explorative approach more challenging, but also more rewarding.

By thoroughly exploring each level, players will encounter “S” medallions, locked doors, and opportunities to free your friend Balzac from various forms of captivity (Balzac gets separated from you during the opening chase sequence). Only by exploring these alternate paths may the player discover the game’s true ending and final sequence.

Discovering a medallion allows the player to unlock a door leading to a hidden character who will offer to sell you one of two powerups. You may either purchase a defense-based clothing item or an offense-based weapon upgrade. You only get to choose one, and you can’t return to the shop to make additional purchases, although you will encounter similar hidden shops in later levels, once again offering an offensive or defensive item choice. Weapon upgrades include explosive projectiles, rapid fire, and a 3-way shot, and they may only be purchased in that order. While these upgrades are entirely optional, powering up your weapon can help you to make short work of some of the game’s tougher enemies and bosses. Of course, you’ll also need enough money to afford them…

The player’s score is represented as a dollar figure, and each enemy you destroy adds to your score. In addition, there is a point multiplier that grants you up to a 6x bonus for each enemy you destroy without taking damage yourself. This lets you rack up money very quickly, and it is yet another reason to attempt to survive the opening shmup sequence. In addition, since most enemies respawn indefinitely, the player can find a safe area to pick off easy enemies to fill his pockets.

That’s not to say that enemies don’t pose a threat, however; on the contrary, most ground-based enemies move as quickly as you do, and flying enemies can be tough to target, particularly when being swarmed by other infinitely-spawning foes, and when mixed in with platforming challenges. This can make it difficult for inexperienced players to hold onto their starting allotment of nine lives, although a level select option allows players to return to previously-visited stages without the need to start again from the beginning.

Life-restoring checkpoints appear at regular intervals, but you can only take three hits before being killed, as represented by a heart icon in the HUD that decreases in size with each hit. Discovering a heart in the environment grants Selena a 1UP and restores her health, although finding these hearts often requires the player to explore dangerous environments, offering great rewards only to those who take great risks.

It’s worth noting that the game provides an easy mode as well, which grants the player infinite lives, and halves the number of hits it takes to destroy enemies. However, the score multiplier maxes out at 3x in easy mode, making it somewhat more difficult to increase your score and purchase upgrades (but easier to stay alive while doing so). On the other hand, this also gives players a relatively penalty-free way to explore environments and look for alternate paths.

There is a fair amount of variety between the levels, with each level offering a unique visual theme with gorgeous organic environments and a variety of detailed and well-animated enemies. Although the methods for dispatching enemies remain largely unchanged throughout the experience, the game offers its share of surprises and interesting encounters. For instance, one area has fast-moving sea serpents that rise up out of the water on either side of you and they can kill you in a single hit. One level takes place entirely while riding on the back of a charging beast, requiring that you shoot enemies, grab hearts, and even face the end-level boss while on the run.

Bosses come in several varieties, each large with detailed animations and numerous attacks. Unlike the rest of the game, getting killed during a boss fight does not return you to the most recent checkpoint but rather to the boss area. What isn’t immediately apparent, however, is that the battle itself is restarted as well. This is particularly true of the first boss, a large flower that pukes acid, attacks with vines, and spawns support flowers to attack you on the ground. Since this boss does not display any kind of graphical change when damaged, resetting the battle gives the appearance that the player is continuing where he left off, making it seem as though the boss requires dozens and dozens of hits before being destroyed. Many of the later bosses take battle damage, which retroactively clears things up, but this design choice makes for a particularly frustrating first encounter.

While Ultionus is inspired by late 80’s and early 90’s computer action games in general, its design was most heavily influenced by a game known as Phantis (a.k.a. Game Over II) from which the heroine borrows her name and skimpy outfit. The original Spanish release starred a female character, although the game was ported into other territories with a male lead on a rescue mission.

Phantis also mixed shmup and shooter-based platforming mechanics, and even had a section where you ride on the back of a beast. Several of Ultionus’ environments were borrowed from Phantis as well, particularly Zone 1 which features similar visuals, level design, and enemies as Phantis, essentially duplicating the entirety of Phantis’ on-foot sections in this first level. Other similar elements appear throughout Ultionus, including dragon-like enemies rising out of the water and spawners near the top of the screen that regularly emit flying enemies.

Even the design of the HUD and gameplay area is directly influenced by Phantis, with a limited play area and large HUD displaying inventory items and score. In both games, the player’s health is represented by a heart that decreases in size as the player takes damage. Both games refer to levels as “zones” and both feature long jetpack-assisted jumps. Even the “S” medallion is borrowed from Phantis, and finding it allows the player to open a locked gate with an “S” symbol above it, and this design is reflected in the locked door found in Zone 1.

Ultionus: A Tale of Petty Revenge was developed by Andrew Bado, a.k.a. DarkFalzX, under the Last Dimension label. Andrew has also worked professionally in the industry for many years, creating pixel art for numerous titles, including Shantae: Risky's Revenge, Pier Solar, Monster Tale, and GunLord.

In-game music was provided by Jake Kaufman, a.k.a. Virt, who has composed music for dozens of titles, including Contra 4, the Shantae series, the Mighty Switch Force series, Retro City Rampage, DuckTales: Remastered, and Shovel Knight. An ending credits song was composed by Luke Esquivel, a.k.a. A_Rival, a longtime remixer and original chiptune artist, and composer of the Street Fighter x Mega Man soundtrack.

Following the release of Ultionus, Andrew went on to create Mystik Belle, a game that is equal parts metroidvania and point-and-click adventure. The game stars a young first-year witch named Belle MacFae who is studying at the Hagmore School of Witchcraft, and she finds herself falsely accused of ruining the Walpurgisnacht brew. Her mission is to travel the school grounds and the surrounding lands to assemble the ingredients needed for a replacement. This is accomplished by earning environmental navigation abilities to access new areas, per metroidvania conventions, as well as discovering items and solving inventory puzzles, per point-and-click adventure conventions. Check our full coverage of Mystik Belle here.

Andrew is also responsible for the development of Legend of Iya, which was in development at the time that Ultionus and Mystik Belle were released. Some of the technology and gameplay elements in Ultionus were used to test elements that would be used in Legend of Iya. Andrew also previously developed a game called Maziac, and some of its design was also used to test elements planned for Legend of Iya.


Alex Cohen said...

Quite a cool blog ya got here! I loved this game on the Ouya... shame there aren't more indie games like this. Dug the soundtrack, too.

AJ Johnson said...

Glad you like the site. It's true that there aren't many games out there like this, but it's nice that the indie marketplace supports such a variety of ideas.