Solstice Chronicles: MIA is an upcoming top-down twin-stick shooter from the developers over at Ironward. The premise? Simple. You’re a soldier fighting his way through hordes of alien monsters. You can call on a drone for assistance, but that’s it. The rest is up to you. It’s worth noting that Chronicles is based in the universe as Ironward’s previous game, The Red Solstice, which you can read our review of here. Chronicles is still in production, which means I’ve played through all of the game’s currently completed chapters.
Is it good? Why did people think it was a good idea to chronicle the solstices? Who’s missing in action? Here’s what we thought after spending a sizable number of hours chewing through mobs of vicious aliens.
First off, there’s nothing ground-breaking in the gameplay of Solstice Chronicles: MIA. Ironward are making full use of some of the oldest mechanics in the book. However, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad game. Far from it. While I didn’t get the sense that I was playing something original during my time with Chronicles, I did feel like I was playing a well-polished version of an existing genre. Of course, the top-down twin-stick-shooter genre is old, this is just the newest installment into it. But it’s a credit to the genre, and games don’t always need massive innovation to feel fresh.
The gameplay in Solstice Chronicles: MIA is fluid, partially due to the surprisingly intuitive keyboard controls. I’ll admit I struggled with aiming my grenades at first, but quickly realized that the projectiles travel in the direction your character is facing, not your cursor. After a minute of frustration, I figured out that holding the right mouse button circumvents the issue entirely.
I was particularly impressed with how easy Solstice Chronicles handles reloading and object interactions. There’s no clunkiness to be found here. It’s worth emphasizing that the reloading mechanics in Solstice Chronicles: MIA have been tweaked to perfection by the team at Ironward–it’s fast, but not too fast, and stays true to the genre’s arcade roots. It’s this careful attention to the relationship between gameplay flow and mechanics that distinguishes Solstice Chronicles: MIA from its peers, and makes me want to play the game over another twin-stick shooter.
You’ve got a hefty arsenal of guns at your disposal in Chronicles. There’s enough variety to encourage experimentation and situational usage, but Solstice Chronicles: MIA doesn’t overwhelm you with options. The faster firing guns were a personal favorite–you shoot two bullets simultaneously, and the faster you shoot, the more your inaccuracy increases. With some practice, these weapons can take out escaping enemies or mow down two columns of enemies with remarkable efficiency.
When it comes to ammo, things get a bit more complex. All of your guns draw from a single shared ammo pool, which makes total sense because of Martian Science Reasons. I’ll be the first to admit that I fell face-first into a noob trap when it comes to ammo. During my first playthrough, I picked up all the ammo I could at the start, maxing out my reserves. When you’ve got 800 bullets to your name, you don’t expect to run out any time soon.
And then I used a semi-automatic rifle. Half of my ammo was gone, and I’d only taken down two mobs. There’s a resource management element at play here, and making strategic choices about when and how to use your ammo is important. You do find miscellaneous collections of Magic Martian Bullets along the way, but these stockpiles are fairly sparse. With ammo in short supply, the pistol is often the most resource-efficient weapon for taking down regular enemies, but larger and/or scarier aliens will need to be taken out with a bigger gun. I might be alone in this, but ammo management adds depth to Solstice Chronicles: MIA, and I’m hoping Ironward continue to experiment with the feature throughout development.
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Skills and Leveling
Each level you clear gets you 5 skill points, and the number of enemies you killed doesn’t change this number. However, there are hidden skill points throughout the game–perhaps someone more dedicated than myself will achieve a perfect run once Solstice Chronicles: MIA is released.
The skills vary from lackluster to incredibly overpowered. Base skills like grenades are boring, for the most part. If you have great aim and timing, you can get some value, but it’s nothing special compared to what else is up for grabs. The turret skill is insanely powerful, if not outright broken–with a timed cooldown, you can make sure it’s ready to be deployed before progressing to the next area.
The drone that follows you in Solstice Chronicles: MIA has a wide range of skills, and all of them are unbelievably powerful. Unlike the turret, however, you need certain supplies to activate the drone, which makes him considerably less broken. Heads up about the drone: don’t hit yourself with the bomb. It’s got a big radius, so be ready to run fast. And far.
Aesthetics and Mood
Solstice Chronicles: MIA is top-down, and it’s not meant to be a graphical masterpiece. The game isn’t ugly, but it won’t win any awards for its graphics. It’s also not going to leave you wanting, and the bosses are excellent examples of thoughtful and visually striking character design.
The mood was perfect for me. It was that blend between action and horror that left me tense but not frightened. I was always on alert for enemies, but I wasn’t scared. I don’t do well with horror games, and Chronicles was perfect for me. Got my heart racing, but didn’t have me squealing.
Solstice Chronicles: MIA doesn’t offer anything unique or revolutionary, but it plays like a “Greatest Hits” album for the twin-stick shooter genre and I don’t have any complaints about that. The fluidity of the gameplay is remarkable and impressive. It never felt like I was grinding, despite my multiple playthroughs. The graphics aren’t incredible, but they match the setting and leave nothing lacking.
Ironward are still working on the title, but judging from what we’ve seen, Solstice Chronicles: MIA will be great. There is an ongoing crowdfunding campaign for the game, and you should check it out if you’re interested..
Esports Edition was provided with a copy of Solstice Chronicles: MIA by the developer. As with all of our game and hardware reviews, our opinions are our own, and positive reviews are only awarded through good gameplay. Check out our Ethics Policy for more information.