Andro Dunos II feels like it could have come out 30 years ago, hot on the heels of the first game. That’s not to say it feels dated—it certainly doesn’t—but rather, that it feels authentic in a way that few “retro-inspired” games do. NeoGeo shmups have a unique feel and vibe, even among other games of that era, and that’s difficult to replicate, but Andro Dunos II captures it flawlessly.
The enemy designs, the particular style of pixel art, and the interface all channel the chunky, colourful NeoGeo style, but the authenticity runs deeper than superficial throwbacks. The feel of your ship’s movement, the shot types and power scaling, even something as seemingly mundane as hitbox sizes—difficult things to really pin down—just feel right. And when you’re making a shmup, especially a retro-styled one that doesn’t have all the flash and systemic complexity that have become standard in the genre since the turn of the millennium, that sort of fine tuning of the fundamentals is 90% of the battle. Andro Dunos II gets it spot-on.
Which isn’t to say it lacks depth. One of the defining features of the first Andro Dunos was a weapon system that let players switch between different shot types on the fly, and that returns here. The regular shot, reverse shot, spread shot, and laser each have their uses, and deciding when to use which weapon plays a big role in both survival and scoring. Strategic upgrading is important, too: collecting a shot power-up will level up the currently-equipped weapon, so there are some important early- to mid-game decisions about which weapons to prioritise, and whether to spread the love or focus on getting one or two to max level. Collecting bonus items also gives you up to three “level ups” at the end of each stage, which you can distribute between weapons as you see fit.
It’s a system that seems simple at first glance, but allows for a welcome degree of strategic depth and variety in playstyle. Hyper Shots add another layer to this: at the tap of a button, you can temporarily enter a superpowered state, but when it ends, your weapon temporarily drops to level one while the hyper shot recharges. You can still use any of your other weapons at standard power, though, so there’s an incentive to switch weapons frequently. Andro Dunos II doesn’t have the sort of elaborate scoring system that you often find in modern shmups, but the weapon system fills that role, to an extent: score comes down to killing every enemy that crosses your path as quickly as possible (and collecting bonus items), and that comes down to how you manage your loadout.
With seven stages ending in increasingly climactic boss battles, mastering the ins and outs of the game will take some effort. There’s a wealth of creativity in display in every stage, in terms of both the setting and the different enemy patterns and hazards, from underwater caves that teem with sea life to an asteroid field where you spend as much time trying not to crash into things as you do shooting down enemies. Bosses stand out, too: appropriately gargantuan and imposing, with attack patterns that aren’t overly complex (this isn’t a bullet hell) but no less interesting for it.
Things starts fairly easy, but smoothly ramps up the difficulty to some brutal—but extremely satisfying—final stages. Death sees you lose a level from your currently-equipped weapon, striking a nice balance between making failure feel consequential and not leaving you completely disempowered. For those who want an easier time, the Journey difficulty lets you keep all your upgrades when you respawn.
Where Andro Dunos II falls a little short is in some of the bells and whistles that have become standard in shmups. There are no online leaderboards, no two-player mode, no display settings or option to disable the border wallpaper, and no button remapping beyond a couple of different presets. Level select provides basic practice functionality, but a proper practice mode—with customisable settings, different start points, and so on—would go a long way.
In some ways, though, the lack of those sorts of nice-to-haves almost helps with that whole nostalgic arcade vibe that Andro Dunos II so flawlessly nails. If I didn’t know better, I’d have guessed that it was actually a forgotten relic from the ’90s, and a particularly timeless one at that. For a two-person indie studio licensing a sequel to a 30-year-old game, that’s one hell of an achievement.