The history of Overdriven Evolution was a unique story to unearth as it dates back to an era when indie games were a marketplace of various ambitions relayed into titles. During the heyday of the Xbox 360, the Xbox Live Indie Games was an outlet for up-and-coming developers to release their projects for a relatively cheap price. Of these, Overdriven was released via the XBLIG service as an earnest shoot-em-up with many of its core mechanics carried over in other versions. While it's impossible to play the original due to Microsoft taking the service down almost a decade ago, gameplay footage of the original still exists via YouTube.
In 2016, Overdriven Reloaded was released as a polished version of the original with a new mechanic involving a "Match-3" puzzle genre-like system. Six years later, Overdriven Evolution was released on Windows and the Nintendo Switch, the latter courtesy of VGNYsoft who made this review possible. While we've covered their games in the past, this is the first digital-only published release of VGNYsoft as well as an important title from The One Man Army Game Studio, or TOMA Game Studio.
According to VGNYsoft, the original working title for Overdriven Evolution was Overdriven 2, a true sequel to the now-decade old visionary shmup. TOMA Game Studio had many ambitions and cut content from Overdriven that was added in, so much so that it was branded as Overdriven Evolution. As such, Overdriven Evolution is a truly definitive version of a game that had its humble beginnings on the Xbox Live Indie Games marketplace over a decade ago.
Now that the history of the game has been covered, what is Overdriven? What is the content added to make this an Evolution? On the surface, the game is a vertical shmup run in a 16:9 resolution. This design choice is rare to see as most shmups are horizontal with a horizontal resolution or vertical with a vertical resolution. It gives the player enough room to avoid bullets while maintaining a stable perspective.
Most shmups have a gimmick that defines their gameplay and Evolution is no different. There are two modes of fire, a bullet, and a beam firing system. While the default is the former, the latter slows the ship down and deals a ton of damage with a huge caveat. Using the beam firing mode places the ship into Overdrive which lowers the health bar to 20%. When the beam isn't used, the ship's health slowly recovers, giving the player a risk-reward option. While the slowdown is beneficial as precision is needed to graze through bullets, the player runs the risk of messing up and losing a life under sustained damage.
Overdriven's gameplay is faster than most shmups as losing a life causes the player to continue its gameplay. It's best to not think of your lives as conventional lives, but as a giant health bar separated into specific "chunks." For example, if you have three lives left and take enough damage, you'll have two lives remaining but your gameplay is uninterrupted. You will lose your powerups, easily gained by defeating enemies and collecting stars, but there's one more mechanic to Overdriven.
In Evolution, you can change the color of your ship on the fly which affects the color of the bullets fired. These are more than just visual aesthetics, however, as this affects the environment. Occasionally, there are color-coded gems that block your path, and shooting them as the color of your ship will cause the gems to change color. Matching three of a kind or more will clear the row, either horizontal or vertical. Some gems cannot change colors, meaning the surrounding gems must match the color of that one gem.
This incorporates a unique puzzle mechanic rather than simply getting from Point A to the boss in one piece. This mechanic made the game more fun in my opinion as the patterns and general gameplay are as difficult as modern shmups can get. Fortunately, the bonus content in Evolution makes up for this by giving players various ways to experience Overdriven. There's a challenge mode that provides the player with over 50 levels of matching gems and clearing puzzles. Early on the challenges are lenient with the final section including enemies and blocks that require quick reflexes to match colors and not die.
There are also bonus modes where the player must not let any of the enemies past the red line or it is game over. Other modes include a boss rush, a traditional arcade mode with a set number of credits, and a "one-life only" Manic mode. There are hours of bonus content for players to enjoy outside of the main story which is great to give players that option. In my experience, I've had more fun with the Challenge mode than the main game and that's perfectly fine.
Overall, for a game well over a decade in development, TOMA Game Studio, and VGNYsoft were able to release what I'd consider one of the must-play indie shmups of 2022. I've said in the past that this is a fantastic year for shmups and Overdriven Evolution ensures that even at the tail end of the year there's still more to come.
Overdriven Evolution is now available on Windows and the Nintendo Switch.