Habroxia 2 Review
The launch of the PS5 had a nice plethora of launch games from the likes of a classic reborn with a fresh coat of paint and a familiar yet new web-slinger of Harlem. Although as far as I could tell, it was missing its smaller scale, gameplay focused arcade game that the PS4 got with Resogun. Lillymo Games is no stranger to great games with the likes of the original Habroxia in 2019 and Twin Breaker: A Sacred Symbols Adventure in 2020. Habroxia 2 stands to be nothing short of great bringing beautiful pixel art, satisfying gameplay mechanics, and a soundtrack that nails the tone of this retro-styled old-school space shooter. Disclaimers before we head into my full thoughts on Habroxia 2, to start I was provided with a review copy of the game for PlayStation 4 but was played on PlayStation 5 via Backwards Compatibility. I am also a patron of the Last Stand Media Patreon that is primarily run by Colin Moriarty, who owns a majority stake in Lillymo Games.
While pixel art isn’t that rare in games today, Habroxia 2 presents its art in fantastic fashion. The game is colorful, vibrant and really draws the eye whether you’re looking at the enemy ships you’re combating or the environments you find yourself in throughout the game’s levels. Something I especially took note of was the detail within various aspects of the environment. Meteors that are sprinkled across levels not only act as a utility for the chance to drop power-ups, but they are also detailed in such a way that takes account of the depth and shadowing that I appreciated during my playtime. One of my favorite aspects visually was the game’s main menu that called back to Final Fantasy 7’s open world in a way. It’s a static image that unravels and changes as you complete levels across the galaxy. Levels are represented by literal twinkling stars that shine brighter to indicate a level that has not yet been beaten or a level that has objectives still left to complete. Blue stars indicate your next main mission and it all just has a visual styling that personally stood out to me. It creates a sense of uniqueness that you don’t see in games today that chase pixel counts and frame rates. Habroxia 2’s music is catchy, really catchy at that. Levels throughout the game have intricate chiptunes that expertly accompany the pace and threat level of enemy ships. The game proves that having killer boss fight music is critical and makes the fight just as memorable as the means taken to overcome said boss. I’m pretty certain that the song that played during the credits, titled ‘Return Coordinates Locked,’ is the main theme for Habroxia 2. However, if it isn’t, it absolutely should be because it stands out in the best way possible as my favorite track in the game. Other standouts are ‘Zero Hour’, ‘Edge of the Penumbra', ‘Arrive//Engage’ and so many more. I loved figuring out levels as they are but hearing them through the game’s music made the experience that much more enjoyable.
With the understanding that Habroxia 2 was developed by the small team at Lillymo Games, I expected to encounter a few things here and there in terms of performance hiccups. Despite that, I’m proud to report that I didn’t encounter anything that compromised the game's playable integrity. The game runs great from frame rate to stability having seemingly no issues of the sort that could feasibly affect these aspects of Habroxia 2. As of the writing of this review, I played the game using backwards compatibility on PlayStation 5 even though technically it is a PS4 game. PS Vita codes were not made available to North American reviewers, but I have to imagine, given Lilymo Games’ former games on the platformer like Twin Breaker coupled with the overall scale of Habroxia 2, that the performance would be ok on the PlayStation handheld.
Habroxia 2 tells a story that continues after the events of the original Habroxia, but I wouldn’t worry about feeling lost on the plot. It’s a limiting narrative as the game has a clear focus on its addicting gameplay, and I was completely fine with it. You play as a young pilot named Sabrina in search of her father as an SOS message echoes into the depths of space that calls upon her to save his life. It’s nothing especially detailed or captivating, but it does the job by serving a little explanation as to why the vibrantly blue-haired woman takes up the task of journeying into the great unknown.
As stated before, the main menu map sets itself apart from other games in today’s age. But a different story plays out within the menus. The menus are as any menu should be in 2021: clear and to the point. No unnecessary animations slow down the menu in any way and no music plays aside from the much-appreciated music selection. It’s refreshing considering some of the biggest games in the industry miss the mark at including this aspect. Level design and enemy placement start out challenging but over time get super engaging and satisfying. Throughout Habroxia 2 levels lie plenty of opportunities to attain health, boosts, special weapons, and more. The game shines bright when your health is low in the heat of battle and a Health power-up appears in the debris of your attacks. Special weapons add a multitude of useful get-out-of-jail-free-card abilities like a massive laser beam or a barrage of bombs to clear the playspace. You’ll fight your way through expertly designed levels that contain secrets and different avenues to head towards that may uncover new bosses along with providing great replayability. This may be a greedy point, but I really would’ve loved to see more ways to play a level with different ways to steer off the main path. Most levels seem to only have one alternate path but I would’ve loved to see it expanded, perhaps for a potential third iteration in the franchise. I do have a single gripe in terms of level design, which is that the game is essentially broken up into two strings of missions. However, to get the second string of missions to appear, you must defeat all of the bosses within the first string of missions, even the ones that stray the main path within levels. I feel that the game doesn’t effectively convey this and although it became apparent after closer inspection, it wasn’t as clear as I thought it would be.
Habroxia 2 oozes with style from its pixel-based graphics and incredible soundtrack, but for me what makes the game stand out is its weapons and upgrades. As you play you unlock different weapons to use on your ship that vary from simple Vulcan Cannons to the shotgun-esque Scatter Shots. My personal favorite is the Rockets. Seriously, they’re homing rockets that deal a ton of damage. But you don’t have to just pick one weapon. You choose two weapons before you go into a given level, one forward weapon, and one rear weapon. Essentially, you have three weapons with the primary fire of your right stick, your forward weapon with R1, and your rear weapon with L1. While it sounds like a lot to juggle, the control scheme proves that it’s anything but complex. I started to get the hang of the controls, and that added to the overall satisfying feeling of combat. Chipping away damage using my primary fire followed by the finishing blow with Rockets along with using Scatter Shots on the rear to fend off any other ships trying to get the upper hand was incredibly fun and easily accessible due to the game’s fast loading times. The weapons even upgrade overtime to the sequels of their original names indicating clearly that as much as I love Rockets, Rockets II is a whole other beast. The upgrades don’t stop at the natural ones you’ll earn, but an entire upgrade list exists to give you an extra edge. Ship Upgrades can be exchanged with points garnered in levels to enhance your base health, strengthen your Pick Up Magnet so power-ups float faster towards your ship, and increase your primary weapon spread to forgive sloppy aim. Habroxia 2’s ship upgrades can even bolster the effectiveness of the power-ups themselves, allowing the laser and bombs to pack a bigger punch along with having stronger and more resistant bubble or orbital shields. It sounds like a lot to manage on paper, but in practice, it feels streamlined and offers great depth where it’s most useful.
Do not be mistaken: Habroxia 2 is no cakewalk in terms of difficulty. But that’s what made the game stick to me personally. Even when you’re stuck on a level you’re gaining points to empower yourself via the upgrades that made a tangible difference. Along with that, I really felt myself get better at the game due to its refined and thought-out control scheme. Shooting behind me while dodging fire and using one of my forward special weapons felt like second nature after a few hours into the game, which was something I thought I’d never be able to do early on. What I’m getting at is that due to Lillymo Games focusing on expanding the gameplay mechanics from Habroxia 1, they’ve cultivated a gameplay loop that is full of enjoyment. From trying out different weapons and upgrades, New Game Plus and Boss Rush Mode (which is endlessly fun in itself), Habroxia 2 expanded to bolster the best qualities of its predecessor. It did what I wish a lot of other sequels would do: refine and expand upon what the game before it accomplished. While one could argue that Habroxia and Habroxia 2 look similar, I find the sequel to play vastly different than the original back in 2019. With the gameplay of the series being its main pull, it’s nice to see the developers understand that and invest in not appearances or different modes, but in the gameplay itself.
Habroxia 2 is full of action-packed gameplay that exudes what it takes to be amongst the best retro space shooters in 2021. From its pixel art, soundtrack, and expansive upgrades, Habroxia 2 will keep you engaged from your first battle to the final boss. Although it’s not the flashiest game to play on your last generation console or brand new hardware, Habroxia 2 does excel at what games should excel at gameplay. Habroxia 2 doesn’t overstay its welcome, clocking in at about 6-7 hours to beat with 10-12 being required to 100% the game. It does so with a value proposition that aligns its low cost with excellent game mechanics. Habroxia 2 is the Resogun of the PlayStation 5 that will keep you coming back for more, and it deserves to take up space in your game console during this first half of 2021 in games.
And that’s the Borderline Bottomline for Habroxia 2.
Review Written by Kevin Diaz