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Under Defeat HD review – The long-lost Xbox 360 shmup is now available to download

All retail Xbox One games enjoy simultaneous downloadable releases, allowing gamers to choose between physical or digital copies of their favorite games. On Xbox 360 though, "Games on Demand" downloadable releases are far from ubiquitous and often arrive several months after the same games launch at retail.

Even less common, sometimes an Xbox 360 game that originated at retail in one territory gets released solely as a Games on Demand title in others. Think Resident Evil 4 or Deathsmiles II, both exclusively downloadable titles in America. Now we can add another to that list, because Japanese developer G.Rev's Xbox 360 shoot-em-up (shmup) Under Defeat HD has finally made its way to America via Games on Demand for $19.99.

Find out whether Under Defeat HD was worth the wait in our review with exclusive game play video and screenshots!

The road to HD

Under Defeat started life as a Japanese arcade game in 2005 and then made its way to the Sega Dreamcast the next year. When G.Rev decided to resurrect the game for modern consoles, it did so by increasing the graphical resolution, adding a small helping of new content, and renaming the game Under Defeat HD. Japan and Europe got the game in 2012, and now America finally has it as well.

The game takes place in a realistic military setting, with players taking on the role of two female helicopter pilots. The actual story is told through a dull-as-dirt introduction with needlessly tiny text and no music, making it impossible to care about. At least the ending has music.

Between levels, players are treated to quality anime-style drawings of the protagonists. Some of these drawings hint at a romantic relationship between the two. The character art instills a little personality in what would otherwise be a fairly dry game.

Original and remixed versions

Under Defeat offers two main game modes to choose from: New Order and Arcade. The latter faithfully represents the arcade original, which utilized a vertical monitor orientation. The display utilizes a vertical window with attractive borders on the left and right sides of the gameplay area. Things look tiny this way, but you'll still want to play it for Achievements.

New Order mode is where the "HD" in the title comes in. The game play area has been expanded to take advantage of widescreen displays, with no borders to be seen. The actual view is zoomed in as well, making everything larger and easier to see.

Under Defeat is not a beautiful game in New Order mode, though. The 3D graphics are still fairly basic, similar to what you'd see in an early Playstation 2 game. But nobody plays Japanese shoot-em-ups for their looks. We play them for their skill-based game play and screens full of projectiles to dodge.

Both New Order and Arcade also offer an "Extra" version that serves as the equivalent of the second loop (a remixed run through the game) found in many shmups. To unlock either mode's Extra version, just complete that mode once. I don't notice much difference in either Extra run other than different character artwork between levels, but their associated Achievements certainly make them worth playing.

Players can also choose between Easy, Normal, and Hard difficulty, as well as adjust the starting number of lives, on any game type.

Taking it to the skies

Under Defeat HD is a vertically-scrolling shoot-em-up that supports one or two local players. Although games of this genre often play quite similarly to one another, this one actually differs in a few significant ways.

For starters, the players' choppers can fire either straight ahead or at an angle, allowing them to tailor their aim to lateral threats. In the arcade-style control scheme, pressing left or right before firing will lock in your aim at the appropriate angle. Release and you'll return to firing straight up.

The alternate control scheme (available in any game mode) maps the aiming to the right analog stick, much as with twin-stick shooters. But unlike real twin-stick shooters, you can't aim in 360 degrees – just up, up-left, and up-right. It might sound weird, but it's easy to learn.

The player helicopters never gain new or stronger weapons, although they do have screen-clearing bombs. Instead of bigger guns, each player gets a satellite called an "Option." You have to stop firing for a moment to charge up the Option. Resume firing and the satellite will appear and shoot at enemies for a brief time.

The options can actually switch between three modes of fire, depending on the floating power-ups you grab. They add a small degree of technique to the game, but the limited use and recharge mechanic makes them far less useful than similar items in fellow shmups Gradius and R-Type.

The game itself lasts for five stages, each culminating in a gigantic end boss. Some distinctive elements of those stages include tiny little cows running around in the first stage, a battle against a seafaring battleship whose explosive demise causes water to rain down on the screen, and a snowy stage littered with craters. Several stages have great music, particular the first and fourth levels.

Bonus content

The American and European releases of under Defeat HD include a couple of extra helicopters with different main weapons that were released as DLC in the Japanese version. You have to select them from the main menu as opposed to at the start of a game, which is awkward but not a big hassle.

The game also has a large gallery of character and concept art to browse, including the between level pictures. All of the art is conveniently unlocked by default.

Achievements

The Achievements in most Japanese shmups range from nearly impossible to fully impossible, so that only the most dedicated genre fans can ever get them all. Under Defeat bucks that trend by offering 1,000 GamerScore of Achievements that just about anyone can fully complete, including me!

The one catch is that you need to unlock "Free Play" (unlimited credits) in both New Order and Arcade modes first. To do that, players must play each mode for eight hours, which adds up to 16 hours between them. Luckily, you can just pause the game, come back in eight hours, get a game over, and Free Play will unlock.

With Free Play unlocked, two players (or one player with two controllers) can progress through the game at once, continuing at will. If you don't log in a second player, you'll continue from checkpoints instead of where you died. Clear New Order and Arcade mode three times each on different difficulties, and you'll be golden. (The second player does not earn Achievements.)

Overall Impression

Shoot-em-ups are a dying breed on consoles, with few getting made and fewer making the trip from Japan to the western world. That makes Rising Star's decision to publish Under Defeat HD via Games on Demand a great one. Dedicated shmup fans can grab it for $20, far less than what the out-of-print and region-locked Japanese version would cost.

Stylistically, I prefer the fanciful settings of Otomedus Excellent, KOF Sky Stage, and Deathsmiles to shooting tanks and planes. But as a game, Under Defeat has enjoyable aiming mechanics, catchy music, and unusually fair difficulty and Achievements. Shmup fans should not hesitate to support this release with a purchase.

  • Under Defeat HD – Xbox 360 – $19.99/£14.99 – 977 MB – Xbox.com Link (opens in new tab)

Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!

22 Comments
  • Seems good. I didn't like Otomedius Excellent, the girls were ok but the game is... Too hard in a silly way because you can't do basic things as back shooting. Besides, the OST and illustration book are genuine gems.
  • You can fire backwards if you use a character who can activate that ability/weapon. But really, that's just a Gradius thing (Otomedius and the Gradius series play nearly identically). I agree it gets a little too hard sometimes, and that the soundtrack and book in the deluxe edition are great. Still, I love slower paced shoot-em-ups like that, and the ship and character designs. The actual graphics engine could be much better, but it gets the job done.
  • Seems terrible.
  • Your right. Technically this game sucks and should be no more than $10. I love the game because I enjoy shmups, but 99% of people who try this will not be happy.
  • Undervaluing shmups is one of the major reasons they have all but disappeared from US consoles. That, and their usually stupid difficulty (which is not a problem with this particular game).
  • This. shmups for life!
  • Thank for bringing this game to my attention Paul! I have wanted this game for a while but wasn't going to pay $150+ for the game. Now only of Sega could make a HD version of Panzer Dragoon Saga. One can dream right.
  • Started playing Saga last night, awesome so far.
  • Nice! I own it but it's packed away somewhere. Truly one of the most amazing games of its generation, if not the very best.
  • Ikaruga still the best...
  • Yep. That or Radiant Silvergun. Man, I miss the Dreamcast and Saturn.
  • I want a bullet hell shmup port for WP8.x =/
  • Sorry to say it, but if you had an iPhone you would tons of CAVE shmups to play on your phone. WP gets nothing from CAVE.
  • Yeah...had to resort to buying all my Cave shooters on my iPad. I wish I could play them on my phone =/
  • $14? More than I want to pay.
  • Miss my Dreamcast. So many fun games
  • +1
  • Did I miss something? Shmups? Does that mean shoot 'em up? I get restricting a headline to a certain number of characters but when did people street calling them shmups? And is it said as"shoot em up" or "shmup". I refuse to say shmup LOL. Except for 3 times in this post! Also I just looked up shmup.com and it was founded in 1997. I'm just really late.
  • At least you researched it!
  • Haha, yes I did. I had never seen them referred to as such. One of my favorite genres though so I'm shocked I've never noticed it before.
  • Umm... RE Revelations got a retail release: http://www.gamestop.com/xbox-360/games/resident-evil-revelations/108581
  • Dang, I was thinking of Code Veronica and RE 4. Thanks for catching that.