In my experience, indie shmups are the best, and CounterAttack, from Relative Games, ticks many of the boxes I look for in the genre. It’s a side-scroller with bullet hell elements, plenty of upgrades and load-outs to choose from, and it’s available now on the Xbox.

Anyone reading this review with a PC may have already played or at least heard of this game, as it’s already been released on Steam. The developer provided a review code for both the Xbox and PC, and I opted for the PC version. If the console version is anything like the PC one, I’d say get it. Simples.

After watching a trailer on the YouTubes, I thought it might have been a bit too cliche, but hey – we aren’t judging a shmup on the story, are we? That said, apart from having to fight Automatons and save the world from destruction, it’s pretty good and gave off a few Zone of the Enders vibes. I don’t know why, but still, that’s a good thing.

CounterAttack Review - Are are you shore
Are you… shore? Source: Screen capture

CounterAttack Review

The goal in CounterAttack is to get through each stage and destroy as many waves as possible, the end being the destruction of said Automatons. It’s straightforward enough – we don’t want anyone reinventing the wheel for a side-scroller, right? Shoot with one button, then call on a small squadron of fighters to help you – pending you have the ability, and that’s about it. Or is it?

So many shmups have introduced new mechanics to give a little zest to the genre, from colour-coded weapons to use against the appropriate coloured vessels to switching out ships on the fly. But they’re overly complicated. CounterAttack’s USP is the attachments and subsequent customisations. To be frank, it’s a little overwhelming in terms of choice (check out the game’s Wiki!), but each attachment – a.k.a. skill, is clearly defined in the brief write-up, and there’s no messing about what these could do. Because of the wealth of options, expect to play this again and again.

Besides the arsenal, there are eight characters to choose from, and with each campaign, you can choose which path to take based on the difficulty. There are multiple difficulty options which are pretty fair, so you can customise the challenge based on your skill level/how much time you have to play. Still a bit hard? There’s a co-op option for up to four players locally or eight online. If you’re familiar with my reviews, I seldom play online, and this isn’t an exception. I will say that the solo options are very satisfying, so if you also like to play the lone wolf, it’s well worth your time.

Customised Shmup

Considering all the achievements on offer, excluding the standard incentive of getting a hi-score on the leaderboards, CounterAttack has high replay value – especially if you consider the co-op options. This CounterAttack review isn’t definitive as I didn’t play the co-op options, but I did have a go at the level and campaign editor, but without much luck. It for a little counter-intuitive to get out of the mode, and to be honest, I’d rather play existing maps as I don’t have the time (and am too indecisive) to make custom experiences. 

None of these things are negatives, but points worth mentioning. If anything, the music in the game was the weak link as it lacked the excitement of blasting enemies in space. The menu music and setpieces were pretty cinematic, but the levels were too understated for my tastes. Should that be a problem, put some headphones on and listen to Spotify. The sound effects are excellent, though, so don’t mute the game, silly.

As per the start of this CounterAttack summary, indie shmups often get it right, and this comfortably sits up there with the likes of Beat Invaders and Hyper-5; therefore encourage you to check this out for Xbox or PC. Read other reviews, look at gameplay videos, peer through your neighbour’s windows, but from my perspective, it gets a thumbs up and recommendation.