Over the last couple of years, publisher ININ have been re-releasing classic, lightly-remastered games of yesteryear, some on their lonesome, others in collections. Most of these have been confined to PC, Switch, and Playstation but now ININ is bringing these releases to Microsoft’s Xbox machines under the “ININvasion” label. Unfortunately, that’s not a title you can just search for on the storefront to pick them all up in one convenient package. Instead, these games have been released individually as they were on the other platforms.
The “ININvasion” comprises of these games so far: Clockwork Aquario, Cotton 100%, Panorama Cotton, Irem Collection Vol.1, Pocky & Rocky Reshrined, and ULTRACORE. That’s six of their titles making the jump to Xbox with more to come, as ININ don’t seem to be planning on slowing down these classic re-releases anytime soon. The links for our reviews of Panorama Cotton, Cotton 100%, and the Irem Collection Vol.1 are here if you want to find out our thoughts on those three, which leaves us with Clockwork Aquario, Pocky & Rocky Reshrined, and ULTRACORE. So let’s get to it.
Pocky & Rocky Reshrined is a special game in the Pocky & Rocky Series. It’s both a complete remake of the original game, while also being an entirely new entry into the series. It helps no end that the original developers, Natsume, reteamed to bring Reshrined to life.
Like the best remakes of recent years, Pocky & Rocky Reshrined doesn’t merely update the original with more refined mechanics and better visuals, it changes up stages, boss fights, and introduces entirely new levels along with secrets.
The original game, which you can find in the Taito Milestones 2 Collection (also released by ININ) placed you in the role of a Shrine Maiden out to stop a bunch of Yokai and save the gods in the process. Pocky & Rocky Reshrined retells that story as said shrine maiden and her tanuki are called upon to save the gods from those dastardly Yokai.
As what is, essentially, a 2D shooter, Pocky can fire talismans, deflect enemy projectiles back at the shooter, and slide dodge out of harm’s way. Enemies come at you in traditional waves, with some more erratic types dropping a variety of power-ups when dispatched. Taking a hit drops a power-up and you only have limited time to get it back.
Pocky & Rocky Reshrined’s gameplay is faster and much smoother than the original. The game is also quite tough with a fluctuating difficulty level. Thankfully, picking up a certain amount of coins will unlock an easier difficulty level, and there’s a two-player mode in which you can use any of the new characters outside of their campaign-specific stages.
Visually, Pocky & Rocky Reshrined is absolutely gorgeous, with some stunning attention to detail and wonderful character designs and animations. The stages are gorgeous and chock-full of detailed animations, like leaves that launch into the air as you slide past them and slowly float back to the ground. Apart from its fluctuating difficulty, it’s a fantastic remake of a classic shrine maiden shooter with tight, addictive gameplay and chock-full of wonderful 2D art.
Clockwork Aquario has a long development history behind it. This bright, colourful, and somewhat psychedelic action platformer looks like it was directly lifted from 1990’s arcades or the Mega Drive – and with good reason. Originally developed by Wonder Boy developer, Westone, Clockwork Aquario was meant to be the developer’s last arcade game but was cancelled as tastes shifted from 2D games to 3D ones. Years later, Strictly Limited Games gained the rights and, with ININ’s help, began a restoration project, bringing in certain original Westone members to help fill in the gaps left by lost source code.
So what you have here is a definitive 1990’s arcade game that functions as a brand new release, matching the colourful and innovative design of the era. Its story is just as simple – you have to stop Dr. Hangyo from taking over the world. A simple excuse to throw out bizarre enemies and designs at you and the gameplay benefits from equally simple mechanics.
There are three characters to choose from but while they all share the same move set, they move and animate differently enough to feel, well, different. Players can jump on enemies to either stun or pop them, hit them once to stun them and again to finish them off, or, after they’re stunned, pick them up to throw them into other enemies for chain combos.
As the move set is simple, the game regales itself on colourful, weird, and quirky designs, from robotic flying fish to robo-penguins. They’re all wonderfully designed and animated, with 2D artwork that fits the era, yet somehow still manages to feel fresh. Throw in some magnificent customisable CRT filters and some really fantastic behind-the-scenes artwork that gives a very clear picture of just how much went into this revival, and you have a wonderful new, retro package.
If Clockwork Aquario has any faults, it’s that its arcade mode is locked in the beginning, requiring you to play through other modes first, and like most arcade games are, it’s incredibly short. You can easily beat it in one sitting on the easiest mode but Clockwork Aquario is still a love letter to a game that never got to shine in its planned heyday and for fans who enjoy these arcade games. As such, it’s for a very specific audience of retro enthusiasts.
As with Clockwork Aquario, Ultracore has an interesting development history. Originally developed by Digital Illusions, better known to modern gamers as DICE, Ultracore was once called “Hardcore“. And, just like Clockwork Aquario, it too was canned just before completion.
Once again, in swooped Strictly Limited Games. With the help of former DICE developers, they finished the game and released it in 2019 for the Mega SG aftermarket retro console, followed by a 2020 release on Switch, PS4, and even the PSVita. Licensing issues meant that the game name had to be changed to Ultracore, resulting in another title that, thankfully, wasn’t lost to the mists of development time.
Ultracore is a surprising hidden gem. The game feels closer in design and spirit to the wonderful Turrican games, most notably Turrican 3, and is a prime example of 1990’s side-scrolling shooter design. But where most 1990 shooters were linear, Ultracore features sprawling, maze-like level design, multiple weapons; multi-directional shooting; plenty of robots to blow to smithereens; and challenging boss fights that usually chuck hulking robots at you in confined spaces.
While the game does have some issues, like the movement system not being as smooth as it could have, Ultracore is surprisingly fun and challenging. Combat is meaty, with some fantastic 16-bit pyrotechnic explosions and sound effects. Overall the visuals are great, benefiting from timeless 16-bit art, but it also sports a stunning modern soundtrack to boot.
As per usual, there’s a wonderful CRT filter to customise the look of the game, with the arcade glow CRT filter being my favourite. Their are instant save and load save states; cheats like unlimited lives or invincibility; and my favourite, the full map layout and enemy placement design for you to marvel at. This was one of my favourite additions to the Turrican Anthologies and it’s just as wonderful here. When you combine that great, complicated level design, with fun combat and a stellar soundtrack, I’m grateful Ultracore is a game that wasn’t lost to the annals of time as it’s very specific brand of 1990’s gunplay still stands up well today.
ININ have released some great retro remakes, remasters, or restored titles in the last couple of years, and finally, with the ININvasion going on, Xbox players can find their specific retro niche too. The titles released so far have all been great additions to classic game catalogues and further releases contribute to the increasingly important agenda of preservation, while also giving retro enthusiasts a full course meal to sit down to.
Clockwork Aquario, Pocky & Rocky Reshrined and ULTRACORE were reviewed on Xbox Series S|X using a code provided to gameblur by the publisher. These games are also available on PC, PS4/PS5, and Nintendo Switch.
ININvasion (Xbox Series) ReviewININvasion (Xbox Series) Review
- Great retro titles that still play well
- Fantastic 2D art
- Not released as one big collection
- Clockwork Aquario is very short