Review: Andro Dunos

I did consider labelling this post as a 'retrospective' as opposed to a 'review,' and that's because Andro Dunos is not a new game for the Dreamcast. It's not a new game, period. Indeed, this latest release physical for the venerable old console represents something of an enigma in that it's an officially sanctioned release of a game that was previously released a long time ago in an unofficial guise. Are you confused yet? I know I am. But allow me to attempt to unpack this little conundrum.

See, Andro Dunos is a Visco developed side (and occasionally vertical) scrolling shooter that was originally released for the Neo-Geo AES and MVS platforms back in 1992, and which was subsequently made available for the Dreamcast using the Neo4All emulator in the mid 2000s. Indeed, you may have even seen (or possibly own) a copy of the lesser-spotted physical release of Andro Dunos that was previously available, which was essentially a printed CD-R containing Neo4All and an Andro Dunos rom file, presented in a rather nice folded cardboard sleeve. There was a similar Neo Drift Out release too, if memory serves (found them!)...but I digress.

As far as I can tell, this latest iteration of Andro Dunos for Dreamcast is almost identical to the aforementioned (it even displays the Neo4All icon on the VMU screen), albeit with a few subtle differences; the main one being that this is an officially sanctioned physical release with full license from Visco Games and limited to just 2000 copies, all of which come with a rather nice certificate of authenticity and a choice of PAL or NTSC jewel cases, professionally printed manual and case inlays, and the same type of top quality printed CD that you would expect from veteran Dreamcast publishers JoshProd and PixelHeart.

Just taking a moment to appreciate the physical presentation of Andro Dunos (I went for the PAL cased version as the NTSC flavours are not yet - at the time of writing - available), it's really quite hard to fault the level of care that has gone into the package. As mentioned above, you get a nice (if slightly threadbare) instruction manual, some excellent original box art, a little holographic sticker on the back of the box denoting which of the 2000 numbered copies you have acquired (mine is 0332 - what's yours?), and then there's a signed cardboard insert vouching for the authenticity of the copy in your possession. It's a nice touch, I must admit.

But what of the game Andro Dunos itself? Well, it's a pretty bare bones affair in all truth. Set against the backdrop of an alien invasion of Earth, players are thrust into the cockpit of the Yellow Cherry fighter ship and tasked with battling through 8 levels of increasingly more difficult enemies, many of whom seemingly only exist to waft onto the screen, fire a shot and then either exit or propel themselves at your ship, kamikaze style. Naturally, you are armed with a complement of weapons systems which are actually quite similar to those seen in Sturmwind, and these are used to blast your way through the unending swarms of baddies and the numerous multi-staged end of level bosses.

I never played the original Andro Dunos back in 1992, simply because I didn't own a Neo-Geo. I did have a school friend who professed to own one of SNK's mythical systems, but when I went to his house to see/play on it, he claimed his mother had thrown it in the bin because - and I quote - "she didn't know what it was." Because that's something that happens in reality, Chris. You know who you are. 

The upshot of these blatant school boy lies, is that the Dreamcast release of Andro Dunos is my first real experience playing it, and when compared to the other shooters available on the platform, it leaves me a little cold.

I get that Andro Dunos in this guise is predominantly an arcade title (and that the AES was the home port system of choice back in the day), but the total lack of options and alternative game modes is brutally glaring when viewed through a modern lens. That's not to say the base game Andro Dunos offers isn't decent when it comes to shooters - it totally is a perfectly serviceable and enjoyable space romp - it's just that with other games in this genre offering so much more in terms of options and depth (again, I'm mainly looking at Duranik's Sturmwind here), it's hard not to compare.

Going back to what we do have here though, it's still a nice package. Andro Dunos offers gamers a pretty enjoyable shooter experience that looks good and employs a rather interesting weapons system (you change between different types of projectile system on the fly, and can power them up and execute a charge shot by holding down the fire button); and the soundtrack is just perfection. That said - and it pains me to type this - Andro Dunos just doesn't really do anything that's spectacular or especially inventive. If you've played stuff like R-Type, Hellfire, Sol-Feace, Sturmwind, Soldner-X 2 or Trevor McFur in the Crescent Galaxy, then you've already played superior offerings than Andro Dunos. OK, maybe not that last example, but hopefully you get my drift.

Visuals are good but not amazing, the gameplay likewise. Enemy formations are logical and quite easy to avoid when you've gotten used to the way the game plays, although elsewhere I found that the ships move a little too slowly to be able to get out of the way of some larger bosses as they switch form and crash around the screen. Then again, that might just be my 40 year old hands cramping up around the Dreamcast controller (and my general shitness at all games, regardless of genre).

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned this before either in a review or during an episode of the DreamPod, but I am by no means an expert when it comes to shooters such as Andro Dunos and its ilk. That said, I am a gamer of three decades, and in that time I've experienced a lot of these types of games. Taking away the pedigree of Visco and the romanticism of the Neo-Geo origins of Andro Dunos for a moment then, it's hard to see this title as anything other than a slightly above average side scrolling shooter, with some nice 16-bit visuals, an admittedly awesome soundtrack, and very little in the way of extra game modes or replay value. There are multiple difficulty levels (including, interestingly, an 'MVS' option), but even on the lowest setting Andro Dunos is the dictionary definition of punishing.

Dodging enemies, their projectiles (which come from behind, above, and below, as well as from the front) and giving yourself repetitive strain injury from hammering the fire button are the order of the day here. There's also a two player mode where the second player takes control of the Red Fox ship, but I didn't experience this myself as I have no friends to play with. Sniff.

In terms of technical considerations, Andro Dunos for Dreamcast is just fine, although I do suspect this is still running under the Neo4All emulator. Hey - if it ain't broke, don't fix it...right? With that said though, there are moments where the music does falter and slows down ever so slightly (even though the on-screen action does not), so it's sometimes clear that this isn't a native Dreamcast port. That slight negative aside though, Andro Dunos is solid and I didn't spot any other technical issues. Be warned that your Dreamcast must be able to play copied CDs before forking out, though. Otherwise you'll be sat staring at the Dreamcast's lovely 'insert game CD' notification while the moths make a home in your wallet/purse.

So in summary then, Andro Dunos for Dreamcast is a competent rendition of the Neo-Geo favourite. It doesn't offer anything new to the library on Dreamcast, but then we are talking about a system that has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to this genre. Andro Dunos is punishing and looks and sounds nice, and PixelHeart and JoshProd must be commended for the care and attention they have put into the physical presentation of the overall package. 

In truth, this is probably one for either diehard fans of the shooter genre or those who feel the need to purchase every single Dreamcast game pressed to a disc; and not something everyone needs to rush out and buy immediately. Andro Dunos II on the other hand...well, that's coming very soon at the time of writing, and if the Dreamcast port is even half as good as the versions on the other platforms, then that will be something every Dreamcast owner should be excited for.

Andro Dunos is available from PixelHeart and is limited to 2000 copies. At the time of writing it costs €29,90, which with conversion, taxes and shipping to the UK is around £40 in total. Is it worth a punt? Honestly? Only if you have to have absolutley everything physically released for  Dreamcast. Otherwise, probably just grab the Neo4All rom and put it on your GDEMU.


Laurence Goodchild said...

Glad I didn't fork out for this one! I'm hoping more effort will have been put into making the sequel a worthwhile purchase for the DC though, as from what I've seen it clearly has potential. Some different modes, custom VMU images and the like would be welcome. I've always wondered why the Pixelheart manuals are so threadbare too, as they do such a good job in their design and manufacture for the rest of the packaging.

Tom Charnock said...

Yeah, because Andro Dunos II is a whole new game, there's no real way it can rely on Neo4All, so got high hopes for that.

DCGX said...

Wow. I guess I shouldn't be surprised given most of JoshProd's DC releases, but just putting the existing emulated ROM on a higher quality CD is super lazy and almost feels deceptive. JoshProd/PixelHeart's physical, tangible quality is always top-notch, but once again their software side flounders. Even with only 2000 printed, this still comes off as another cash-grab by them.

I did get 'Andro Dunos 2' for 3DS last year, and it's a nice little package. There's 3D support which even Nintendo stopped doing for their published titles near the end of the 3DS's life. Hopefully the Dreamcast release receive similar attention.