For English-speaking gamers, Infinos may be a game shrouded in mystery: Developed in Japan by a company called Picorrine Software whose blog has no entries prior to February 5th of 2013, the title was mentioned by a German retro gaming blog on February 12th in a post that shared a video uploaded to YouTube on February 8th. Fortunately, the video revealed what the project was: A retro-style side-scrolling space shooter, in the vein of classic titles such as Lifeforce.
Available as a freeware download to anyone interested, Infinos certainly falls into the “easy to learn, hard to master” category of video games. The arrow keys on the keyboard are used for movement, while the “Z” key is used to fire. The player is tasked with navigating treacherous environmental hazards while avoiding enemy craft and their projectiles as well.
The amount of enemies, projectiles, and structure obstacles on-screen at once can be hazardous enough, but coupled with the protagonist ship's slow movement speed, Infinos turns into quite a challenging little shoot-'em-up. At least the “Z” key can be held down for automatic fire if the player needs a breather. Even better, three lives are offered per credit, with five continues available after the first play.
The one advantage the player has is an intriguing variety of weapons at his or her disposal, collected as glowing colored orbs from occasional fallen foes. The centerpiece is a pair of orange fiery globes that sit on top of the protagonist ship and just below it. Not only are the globes themselves damaging to anything they touch, but also act as a pair of cannons, firing additional shots of whatever weapon the player has gained.
Further weapons are gained after the orange globes, with a classic range of functionalities that space-shooter fans may recognize. There is the “wave” weapon, firing wide projectiles straight forward; the “beam” weapon, which makes the globes fire powerful explosive lasers at diagonal angles; a strange green, wiggling projectile weapon from the globes; and a simple triple-shot to greatly increase the basic cannon firepower.
Infinos is an arcade-style shooter that tracks the player's high score. However, rather than pose as a simple endurance match with waves of repetitive pattern-based foes, there is a definite level-by-level progression, with each stage having its own atmosphere and mood. The third level, for example, takes place in an underground environment, with mechanical monstrosities that mimic organic creatures, including some that emit dozens of low-speed projectile bubbles for the player to contend with.
Another fixture of Infinos are the boss battles. In traditional fashion, the end of each stage stops scrolling in order to introduce the Big Bad, usually some form of larger craft that the protagonist would seem outgunned against. There are certainly variations, though; at the end of the second level, for example, the player must contend with a cannon fixed on the right-side wall while two other laser guns move back and forth at the top and bottom of the screen, repeatedly firing.
Whether underground or against massive shipyard-and-starscape backdrops, Infinos looks fantastic. The retro-style visuals manage a 16-bit appearance, and not even at a stretch, with a limited palette at work that grants smooth lines and nostalgic overtones. The enemy designs are imaginative, even to the point of being downright creepy in portions, if not mostly ending up as annoying, though. The multi-layer parallax scrolling at work with foreground/background interplay is wonderfully executed, as is the intentionality behind the great difference there can be from stage to stage.
The sound effects are passably standard fare for the genre, as Infinos boasts its fair share of boops, beeps, pews, booms, and screeches. But where Infino really shines in the soundtrack department are the background tracks. The music is evocative, fitting the mood of each moment, from haunting spacescapes to tense boss battles.
The style of the tunes is striking: Faithful to the 16-bit era, the melodies sound orchestral while obviously synth, as brass anthems overlay drum effects and keyboard action. Whoever Picorrine Software has assigned to music should be commended for seamlessly blending compositional aptitude with retro-theme chiptune quality.
If there is a harsh critique against Infinos, it is this: Dozens of similar games have been released before over the years. The “side-scrolling space shooter” sub-genre, complete with weapon upgrade pick-ups and enemies both flying and stationary, has been a popular one now for decades. If you never liked those types of gaming experiences before, there would be little reason to enjoy Infinos. However, for fans of those classic space shooters, Infinos may represent a true hidden game, and a worthy challenge to conquer.
Eric Bailey blogs at NintendoLegend.com, where he is reviewing every American-released NES video game. He also serves as Editor-In-Chief of retro gaming features site 1MoreCastle.com, and can be followed on Twitter @Nintendo_Legend.