Drifting Lands, from French indie studio Alkemi, is a well-executed hybrid of a side-scrolling SHMUP with Diablo-esque loot mechanics and upgrades. Choose your ship – slow and tough, quick and fragile, or a happy medium between the two, and go out to earn your keep. You're a newbie merc – not the last, best hope for mankind, here, so you'll need to earn your keep and scavenge ship upgrades on your own until you can deck yourself out in the best gear, challenge the enemy where it hurts the most, and take 'em down.
Each ship has a small cockpit area which is the only part that can actually take damage, Touhou-style. You'll be grateful for this once the difficulty starts ramping up and the game takes on a more “Bullet Hell”-type feeling. As you go along blasting the heck out of your robotic enemies, you gather a resource called “Focus” – this improves your score multiplier, currency modifier, and alters the power level of certain special Skills. If you fail to increase your Focus meter for too long, it will begin to drop. The slowest, least-agile ship (The Marauder) is heavily-armored, and gains Focus whenever your Shields have been depleted and are regenerating – so, yes, you want to get hit in order to keep gaining Focus... to an extent. Running headlong into a Boss-class enemy will still take you out in one hit, even with full life and shields, so be careful. This ship can also equip more Armor plates than the other two. The mid-range ship (The Sentinel) is a bit zippier, and gains Focus by flying into circles of yellow sparkles which are (almost) always present. The fastest ship, The Interceptor, which also has the lowest armor capacity, gains Focus by riding the ragged edge of disaster – i.e., by coming close to enemies and their bullets without actually taking damage. The game considers this one to be the hardest to use effectively, but with high rewards come high risks. Also, it has a higher multiplier than any of the others.
If you ever get blasted out of the sky, your ship will automatically return to base, but it will drop all of its cargo (anything you've picked up in this run, along with any you neglected to move to storage from earlier runs) in the process, and the emergency repairs will cost you all of the money you would normally have earned for that run. Of course, if you really want to see how good you are, you can always swap out the passive Auto-Retreat skill for something else; die with that setup, and your ship is gone for good, though your pilot will live on to fight another day. Fortunately, it is also possible to trigger a manual retreat, allowing you to bug out of a mission before it's complete. If you do this, you'll fly back to base with your money and loot drops intact, ready to challenge the mission all over again – from the beginning. For missions with multiple consecutive areas, retreating (willingly or not) also means that you start over from the first area of that mission.
Story and FlowThe Earth got ripped apart many years ago; most of humanity's remnants live on floating bits of the former Earth's landmass, high up in the sky. You play as a mercenary pilot who starts with a barebones fighter craft. This is a refreshing change from the standard “Only YOU can save what's let of humanity, and only in this experimental fighter!” spiel. Equip your ship with different weapons (a dozen or so very different weapon types available, here), shields & armor, engines, CPU's etc – They all play their part in making your machine just that much better.
Once you're decked out in the best stuff you can afford, launch your fighter into the skies and go kick butt. Gather money, energy & health crystals, and randomized loot drops as you go. Finish the mission (or abort willingly), and they're yours to keep... minus HQ's take of the cash, anyway. Gear up, fight, come back home, count your winnings, and then do it all over again. Progress in the game to unlock new and more devastating special attack and defense Skills, as well as the right to purchase upgraded versions of your ship. You can even use, say, a Marauder to slog your way through tough fights and farm up some preemo gear, then switch on over to your Interceptor, slap on the new upgrades you just earned, and dodge like crazy long enough to take out the big bad boss, earning a much nicer paycheck as you do so.
Controls and DesignXbox One controller works fine right out of the box, though you can also use keyboard & mouse, if desired. Move with the left stick, RT to fire, face buttons to use one of the four Skills you've got mapped to them, Start to pause and manipulate your limited Hold space en-route (you can even drop items on purpose for a materials delivery, if desired), Select/Back to manually abort a mission.
As far as the graphics go, three words: "hand-drawn styyyyyle". It looks good, and doesn't try to be more than it is. Nice form that works well with its function is on display here, along with very distinctive characters. The music is decent, but is easily ignored once you're in the thick of things. Explosions, collisions, skill activations, and battle voices are clear and distinctive.