Return to Sector Nine, by Pug Fugly Games, is a collection of nine minigames revolving around a single premise: make stuff explode… IN SPACE! It’s a throwback to the old arcade shooters of yesterdecade – you, in one little ship, blasting the everloving snot out of hordes of enemies while dodging walls of projectiles and obstacles as you rack up enough points to beat your top score. Along the way you’ll unlock new game modes, new ships with different capabilities, and all manner of other useful things.
R2S9’s game modes are quite nicely varied. From simply surviving wave after wave of enemies until you reach a boss, to defending a ground-based installation from flying saucers with a wind-powered turret, to rescuing drifting spacemen in an enemy-and-asteroid-infested portion of space, to fending off ship-stealing space jellyfish from a convoy of supply craft, there’s plenty of diversity. Unfortunately, each game mode must be unlocked by hitting a predetermined score in the preceding mode on the list, meaning that they aren’t all available from the outset. While the new game modes are a good incentive to keep playing, it proves to be incredibly frustrating if you’re having trouble with a specific game mode, leaving the remaining portions of the game inaccessible until you manage to attain the point prerequisite. Instructions for the minigames are also given in the form of a short situational briefing, which doesn’t always leave the objectives of the minigame clear enough. However, after playing for a bit you eventually pick up what you’re supposed to do, and all’s well from there on.
And now we get to the crux of it: like the arcade games of yore that it is based on, R2S9 hates you. It wants you to die. Horribly, and often. To give you an idea, note that there is no fire button for the non-turret modes in this game – the ship is shooting constantly. The game thinks nothing of swarming you with innumerable enemies, or blindsiding you with a fast-moving chunk of rock that popped in with no warning from the corner of the screen while you were dodging enemy fire. Yes, maneuvering through a screen full of death and staying unscathed is what shmups are all about, and it will definitely appeal to fans of that genre, but for others, it may prove to be a bit too overwhelming and frustrating. The controls in particular are a bit finicky. Ship rotation in particular is done using keyboard controls, and didn’t feel as snappy and precise as one would expect given its importance in aiming and steering. Considering that mouse controls were used for turret-based game modes, one wonders why the developers didn’t implement mouse rotation for all of them. Nonetheless, the game plays smoothly enough once one gets used to the controls.
Difficulty and control niggles aside, R2S9 oozes polish. It has very nice 2D graphics with loads of great weapon effects, particles galore, and spectacular explosions. The enemies and backdrops are well-detailed and diverse, the sound effects are great, the music is catchy and fast-paced, and the game is wonderfully smooth even when the screen is packed with activity. Shmup fans should love it, if they can forgive the controls, and it’s worth a look if you enjoy a bit of mindless blasting.