Top Ten of 2010 - Hydorah

Three years in the making, Hydorah is a true labour of love for retro-inspired creator Locomalito and music collaborator Gryzor87. Locomalito's game design philosophy makes for joyful reading for any oldschool fan, and Hydorah encompasses everything about it beautifully.

Heavily inspired by classic horizontal 'memorization' shmups - most notably the Gradius series - Hydorah casts the player as pilot of a lone fighter, battling waves of an alien menace before facing a boss at the end of each stage. Enemies drop items that automatically upgrade the ship along the way, from speed boosts to main weapon power. Special weapons with limited uses can also be collected, and are selected prior to each level. There is also a small branching structure along the route to the final stage for added replayability.

The level of care and attention that has gone into the visuals of Hydorah is gobsmacking for a one-man effort. Beautifully designed pixel art that instantly transports you back to the arcades of the mid-80s. Smooth, detailed animations and wonderfully varied environments. Simply put, if this game was in an arcade in the 80s it could stand proudly alongside a Gradius II or R-Type. Equal respect goes to the music, while not being the expected chiptune accompaniment to the retro visuals it's nevertheless a superb synth soundtrack that fits the action perfectly.

The game is challenging, but like all the finest memorization shmups you learn it section by section and (unless you're having a particularly bad day) you inch a little further with each session. Indeed, when an in-development demo was released a while back it did prove brutally difficult, mainly down to unforgiving hitboxes. Criticisms were taken onboard and the final product addressed all the issues.

Oh, and this game is FREE. Anyone with even the most modest PC can download it, plug in a pad and experience one of the finest traditional shmups in recent years. So, what are you waiting for?

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