Ultracore Review – Ultra staying power

Ultracore is a title that brings with it everything we loved about 16-bit shooter titles turned platformer. It brings the stylized gameplay of Contra and Shinobi while also delivering an all-new experience you’d swear was inspired by Terminator and Shinobi III.

+An ode to all things 16-bit including both soundtrack and gameplay
+Controls are simple and easy to use
+Every boss and level plays entirely different from the other
+Cross-buy on PlayStation 4 and Vita

-No save feature, only a password system (is it a con for retro fans?)
-Enemies slightly lack in variety and pattern

While I’m working on a few other reviews at the exact same time as this one, I’ve come to recently appreciate the reemergency of 16-bit games. They’re something straight out of my childhood that, somehow, has remained a cherished part fo me and the things I enjoy.

When I was a kid, there was a series I’d grown up with known as Ultracore, which first appeared in 1994 as an expected release for Amiga, Sega Genesis, and Sega CD in 1994. It was a game, that somehow, despite being canceled, leaving the game in limbo by Digital Illusions (now known as DICE).

Ultracore somehow finds life two decades later

Somehow, more than two decades later, the game’s nearly complete data has been found, leaving developers a real chance to do something special with a game that was meant for those generations. Now with a second chance.

This isn’t something you’ll hear about very often outside of the SNES Classic title Star Fox 2 that emerged through both SNES Classic Mini and the Nintendo Switch Online services. It’s really odd, but somehow, these games bring back everything great as well as bad about the video games of those generations.

You’ll find that the classic retro roots are there from challenging 2D action romp-filled moments to the fact that there isn’t any form of autosave system which leads to you having to write every little password down you can. It also plays just as you would expect for a game of its time.

This includes using the ability for rapid fire pick-ups, upgrades, and levels, while only a select few, are distinctively longer than what you would expect from most games of this type. The tossback to its retro roots exist as well. There’s the music, level design and difficulty that will knock you around when you least expect it.

Ultracore sticks to its retro roots, which means retro problems exist, and leave room for improvement

One of the main issues here, to some, may not be an issue. Ultracore, at its core (pun?), does usher in a few issues from its generation. This means saves are non-existent. Even with the game code having been completed, you could have at least expected a save feature, but rather, Ultracore opts for a password-based system you’d see in games like Mega Man and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

For you to proceed where you left off, you’ll want to screenshot the levels you wish to continue, or at least write it down in a notebook. Despite the game being short, it is hard, it is punishing, and you won’t find any other way of it being said to be just that. This doesn’t make it any less the better than it already is.

The controls are extremely responsive, on point, and make your button presses all-the-more important. Everything reacts as you would expect, especially with the twin-stick control option that is already in the game and doesn’t need to be activated at any given time. It’s always there and always actively running as you play.

One thing that did stick around between the Genesis and Sega CD jump is the music. The classic chiptune soundtrack can be traded out for the games more modernized synthwave soundtrack, which fits the atmosphere just as you would hope it would: Perfectly.

The gameplay is fair, it’s fun, but again, it is surprisingly retro

Much of the thing you have to remember here, this is a retro game, one that was meant to release in 1994. It plays like it too in many ways. Your jumps are weighted, grounded on your ability to time everything the best you can. This means attacks, jumps, platform movements, and even taking an elevator down to the very nedt level.

Lives also matter as does your health, ammo pick-ups, and of course, the weapons you find throughout the game while fighting off various robotic enemies you will encounter. Each comes with their own attack patterns, how you must defeat them, and how much damage they can deal with each and every attack.

When it comes to leniency, you do have to appreciate the fact that Ultracore is rather lenient on its checkpoint system, making it so you aren’t backtracking through an entire map once you do. You’ll often be placed in the room you came from or a section in which you had just cleared for the very first time. It’s a nice little feature, but it does leave much to be desired for when you run out of lives or contiues and have to enter a password to go where you left off before.

The Conclusion

At the end of the day, Ultracore is what you would expect from a game to release at the time it was being developed. It’s short, its five levels bring with them varied degrees of challenge but it also brings with it a sense of elegancy we’ve lost over the years in modern games.

 PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation Vita
Platform Reviewed: PlayStation 4
Developer: DICE, United Games Entertainment GmbH
Publisher: Strictly Limited, United Games Entertainment GmbH
Release Date: Available Now
Cost: $19.99

Even with that said, there is still room for improvement, which includes a quicksave system in case you have to take off and go. It also leaves room for the want to see more of it such as a Time Attack mode or other little additions to it. If that’s not your cup of tea and you want a truly retro experience, well, here you go.

Our review is based upon a retail version of the game provided to us by the publisher for the review. For information about our ethics policy please click here.

About the Writer(s):


Dustin is our native video game reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the borders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook where he interacts with his followers quite a bit!

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