To properly review a game, I feel it’s important to actually beat it before passing judgement. Hucast’s Dux 1.0 is, without a doubt, the hardest game I have ever played.
It was an unparalleled struggle just to beat the first stage, which made me think that I didn’t fit the game’s target demographic. I also accepted that I won’t be able to beat the game; hence, why I wrote an extended hands-on article instead.
A strange phenomenon took place after I wrote that article; even though I accepted the game wasn’t for me, I soon became obsessed with it. I played Dux almost every day, and gradually, my skills started improving.
One faithful day, I defeated the final boss. Bare in mind, it was not an easy ride, and if I were to try again, it’d still be a challenge to survive the first level, let alone beating the entire game.
But now that I’ve finally conquered the game, I feel like I can properly review it and share my feelings with you.
What’s in the baawwx?
Dux is fairly bare bones when it comes to presentation, as it really doesn’t offer anything beyond the core game.
The main menu consists of a static image, which is basically the same picture as the box art. Pressing the A button leads into an options menu, where as the start button starts the game, if left idle on the title screen.
A slideshow consisting of three static pictures attempt to give you a tutorial of the game. While it gets the job done, a video tutorial with some text explaining the moves would have been far more helpful.
That said, Dux compensates for the minimalist game presentation with an outstanding external presentation (i.e. the physical packaging). It comes packaged in a white DVD case with a thick, 12-page color manual that contains a detailed tutorial among other things.
Additionally, the back of the DVD case actually attempts to string together a story that doesn’t really make much sense but I’ll give Rene Hellwig, the game’s designer/graphic artist, points for trying. His die hard fans could actually draw parallels between the story and his solo quest to design Dux.
So what are we looking at?
The best feature of Dux is its graphics; the game features six stages, and almost all of them are unique, featuring varied environments inspired by biology/cell theory, industrial factories, naturesque caves and off-course traditional sci-fi space battles.
Each stage is filled with bright and colorful visuals that set them apart from one another, while still adhering to the zen art style.
While each stage leading up to a massive boss fight is a visual treat, it’s disappointing that once you get to one of the six huge stage bosses, they’re not that aesthetically interesting. What’s worse, the boss designs often feel monotonous and uninspired; they basically feel like variants rather than original bosses for each stage.
The worst part was that four of the six bosses basically throw a color pallet swapped projectile that looks like feces.
Variety is the spice of life
Dux’s six stages are greatly varied. In the first stage, approaching enemies fly in diagonal formation, and in the second stage, instead of facing enemy formations, you fight single, larger enemies that crash land after being eliminated and the ship needs to be maneuvered out of their way.
Basically, each stage features its own enemies, as well as obstacles that add a different flavor to the level and really spices things up.
For example, the first stage is all about dodging projectiles, while the second stage is about traversing through mountainous terrain with underwater segments. These water areas also show off the graphics as the water reacts appropriately to the ship’s movements.
It’s all about the strategery
Dux is a strategic shooter, and you’ll need to memorize its level design, while also learning the game’s unique gameplay mechanics to make progress. These mechanics are Dux’s bullet absorbing shield and a criminally simplistic control scheme.
While the Dreamcast controller has four face buttons and two triggers, Dux only utilizes four of the six available buttons.
Tapping the X button rapidly fires shots, while holding it fires a charge beam. Pressing the A button a single time throws the bullet absorbing shield forward, and pressing it again makes it boomerang back. The R trigger activates hyper soaking, which basically turns the shield into a magnet and absorb everything on screen; however, this has to be done sparsely it drains Dux’s “obvious energy.”
The energy is gathered using your shield to absorb bullets, and if properly used, you can fill it fast. I really enjoyed this mechanic as it felt fun and intuitive and really added to the gameplay.
What is not fun, however, is the fact that most of the gameplay is controlled by power ups. Dux offers three weapons, and there isn’t a button assigned to toggle between the three. Instead, when you collect a new weapon, it replaces the one you previously had. Once you find your ideal weapon, you should avoid any other power ups.
The inability to toggle the direction of the drones (sub weapons) is a much more pervasive problem. Just like weapons, drones are collected by via power ups. You can switch them from horizontal to vertical by simply collecting the power up again.
However, where things go wrong is that the drone power up constantly switches direction, it has flashing indicators; if the left and right are flashing it will fire horizontally where as up and down indicators means it will fire vertically. Given that the level design is challenging enough, this is an unnecessary hurdle.
Even with the entire level design memorized, it can be a challenge getting the power up to fire in the direction you want. I entered several boss fights with the drones firing vertically instead of horizontally at the boss.
The sound of silence
If there’s one thing that never disappoints in indie games, it’s the music, and Dux is no different. Andre Neuman has done an excellent job handling the game’s soundtrack. From calming ambient to pulse pounding military drill tunes, the music accentuates the gameplay perfectly and works really well within the context of the game.
Additionally, the soundtrack can be played from the game disc, so buying the limited edition for the OST is not a necessity. This is a neat feature because many consumers like to listen to their favorite soundtrack in their car or with their Discman, as they’re enjoying a leisurely stroll. I find the game’s soundtrack perfect to work out to, so it’s a great way to relieve some of the the stress the game will give you.
As good as the music is in the game, the actual sound effects are a letdown. The sound assortment is limited at best. This is a recurring problem in indie games – an awesome soundtrack is not meant to be used as a substitute for in-game sound effects.
What’s to keep you coming back?
Dux isn’t an arcade game; it was designed from the ground up for a home console, and somehow, it offers no other gameplay modes. The menus are simplistic to a fault and key functionality like the reset command (ABXY + Start) and jump pack support is absent.
There is an option to remove backgrounds, which is one of my favorite features. Then, there’s an option to switch the control scheme from horizontal to vertical, but without the option to switch the display, you’d have to physically turn your TV or monitor 90 degrees to turn it from a side-scrolling shooter to a vertical one.
Dux is pure eye candy, and it has an awesome soundtrack that’s overshadowed by its extreme difficulty – a strategy that Hucast has employed to artificially inflate the game’s replay value. Unfortunately, the dearth of gameplay modes, limited sound effects, bugs and absence of key accessories make Dux a hard game to recommend to anyone besides hardcore fans.
Casual observers are recommended to check out Sturmwind instead, as it is more accessible and offers greater value for money.
For all you need to know about Dux check out the games page on DCS.