50s Shmup Squad 51 vs the Flying Saucers Knows Kung Foo

A classic side-scrolling shmup, but with a 1950s sci-fi aesthetic, Squad 51 vs the Flying Saucers is a tough but stylish experience shoot 'em up fans will enjoy.

Available on Steam, Squad 51 vs the Flying Saucers is a traditional side-scrolling shmup but opts for a stylish 1950s B-movie sci-fi aesthetic. When it comes to movie-making, that sounds cheap, but as an indie shooter? Loomiarts and Fehorama Filmes’ title looks fantastic.

When aliens arrive on Earth, they bring hope – a time of peace and vitality. However, these alien scum are no different from our fat cats. The alien Vega Corporation, led by Director Zarog, are here to impose its ‘predatory politics’ on humankind. “Uh-uh” is the response from Squadron 51. The last bastion of hope, using their aircraft to shoot those SOBs outta the sky.

The plot for Squad 51 vs the Flying Saucers really does mimic a classic B-movie. From the title cards to the tunes, it captures the charm of the movies. But how does it fare as a game? It Came From The Desert came to mind, but the side-scrolling element is more akin to R-Type and the most recent Hyper-5 (do check that out).

Squad 51 vs the Flying Saucers - Big bird
Big bird. Source: Steam

Squadron 51 Vs The Flying Saucers Review

You’ll hop into one of four different aircraft and destroy the waves of enemies before advancing onto the bosses. Again, this plays out like the aforementioned Hyper-5, implementing 3D tricks so you can repeat an area. The bosses here aren’t easy. The same goes for the gameplay, but fortunately, there are plenty of upgrades in the game, and they’re easily unlocked through scoring points.

Initially, the upgrades will include an improved gun, secondary weapons and bombs, then variations such as how much damage you receive from collisions, enemy fire, the number of lives you start with, and so on. These can be modified between runs, so adopting different strategies might be needed to see you through as it’s a challenging game. 

There are 11 levels/acts in total, and upon death, you will either restart the level or continue from a checkpoint. Dying will reset your score, but you can get modifiers that take off the edge a bit. Playing Squad 51 vs the Flying Saucers was fun, but I was getting killed a little too often and frustrated with the collisions as the black and white aesthetic can make it hard to see what’s happening. The game is arguably a bullet hell in some areas, and the difficulty spikes. 

Live Long And Prosper

Smirking at my inadequacy? There’s a dynamic difficulty option available in Resistance Mode. Players will start with zero stats; each time they complete the game in full (all 11 levels), the game restarts at a higher difficulty for five loops. If that sounds a little too masochistic, there’s the added benefit of leaderboards to motivate you. The normal mode should suffice for the more casual player or game reviewer on a deadline as you have access to all the gear. Pending you unlock them.

I’m on the fence about what controller option is best. On the Steam Deck, the movement felt smooth, but there was a quiet confidence in using the keyboard for accuracy – especially in some of those tight spaces. My only reservation was the lack of options to shoot enemies behind in the first acts. Destroying complete waves will increase your score, along with the boosts if you choose them, and this helps with your Cuphead-like ranking after each mission. Getting one out of three stars regularly was deflating, mind.

Presentation-wise, Squad 51 vs the Flying Saucers scores high, but perhaps it has that slight advantage by being monochrome, where the shadows and highlights make it pop. As for the video production elements, they’re superb. Between each mission are these FMV skits that resemble the classic 50s sci-fi vibe seen in the original The War of the Worlds, props straight from Ed Wood, and the NPC hysteria that follows. Of course, we aren’t remotely scared of flying saucers dangling from wires, evidently made from hub cabs covered in tin foil, but when it comes to authenticity? Squad 51 vs the Flying Saucers hits every note.

As a side-scrolling shooter, Squad 51 vs the Flying Saucers doesn’t reinvent the genre or add anything unique, but as a package, it feels complete. Throw in a two-player mode, plus that Resistance Mode, and it’s a game that will keep you cooking for some time, at least for improving your scores, but it would have been nice to have seen a few more extras – perhaps behind the scenes galleries and such? Still, it’s well worth a look for fans of old-school shooters and fighters of Foo.

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