• Aaron Mendoza

Surviving the Waves of Vertical Strike Endless Challenge

The trick to surviving waves of enemies is patience colder than the stratosphere.


Vertical Strike Endless Challenge (VSEC) is a combat-focused arcade flight game that prioritizes quick access to the action. Released on April 18th, 2017, VSEC was developed by the Rainbow Knights team of Project ICKX, and published by PLAYISM for personal computers (Steam, Playism), and eventually the Nintendo Switch game console (July 4th, 2018). The primary draw of VSEC is its easily approachable quick play session format. Players are thrust into the action with short pre-flight preparation and no commitment to mission objectives or story.



After the title screen, Vertical Strike Endless Challenge has the standard video, audio, and control options you would expect. Notable extra options include changing aircraft view from different perspectives like zoom or super wide, changing automatic assist options, gun lead type, target selection priority, and more. Toggling some of these options makes things even more challenging for those that desire it.


Vertical Strike Endless Challenge forgoes having a single-player campaign and instead focuses on wave-based combat. The goal of VSEC is to survive as many waves as possible while accumulating points by destroying enemies and minimizing the number of weapons expended. Each weapon launched, or countermeasure deployed costs a certain amount of points. This cost is deducted from the player's final score. Every fifth wave cleared presents one or more enemies with increased difficulty and/or numbers against the player as a final hurdle before the next wave reset. After every fifth wave, the aircraft's weapons are resupplied to a degree in place of having players return to base to resupply.


Aircraft selection consists of either the SAF-22 Slayer air dominance fighter or the XSF-3A experimental strike fighter. Both aircraft are based on real or proposed 5th generation stealth combat aircraft. In particular, the XSF-3A is an interesting addition, as the F-3 (or F-X) it is based on has rarely appeared in flight games.


Though the SAF-22 is the premiere air combat aircraft for this game and the XSF-3A is better for air-to-ground or anti-ship operations, both are capable of dogfighting well. Each aircraft can carry a maximum of four guided or unguided weapons along with the internal cannon. Standoff dispensers, high mobility infrared missiles, multi-target air-to-air missiles, gun pods, and others. There are 12 weapons to choose from in total, but some of the air-to-ground unguided weapons can be used in air combat with a little aim and finesse.



Neither aircraft underperforms in any way. Both are capable of high-speed travel, carry plenty of weapons, and hold their own in turning fights. Maneuverability is noticeably higher at certain speeds, while high speeds also have their uses against long-range missile fire. Learning what the optimum cornering speed for both aircraft is a must for gaining full control over their performance.


Each aircraft can turn the angle of attack limiter off, further maximizing its maneuverability in close-range engagements. Skilled players can even pull off low-altitude stunt flying. But of course, the danger of being exposed to medium and long-range threats outside of the tight turns the aircraft would be performing during angle of attack limiter disabled maneuvering.



The game is split between Arcade Mode (Anti-Air) and Arcade Mode (Anti-Ship).


Arcade Mode (Anti-Air) solely focuses on air-to-air combat. Waves of enemy aircraft attack the player with increasing numbers, different formations, and varying skill levels. Arcade Mode (Anti-Ship) mainly sends warships of various sizes with minimal fighter top cover. Every fifth wave in Anti-Ship includes full-sized battleship(s).


Surviving the Vertical Strike Endless Challenge waves while still scoring high with minimal point reduction relies on the player keeping a few essential things in mind.


Not overly relying on guided weaponry to destroy all targets will save the most points over time. Generally, the less complex the weapon is, the less cost it will generate. Efficient use of weaponry will save the most points over time.


Here are a few examples: using a single short-ranged air-to-air missile to damage an enemy aircraft then finishing it off with the aircraft's cannon or underwing gun pods, using a volley of medium-ranged multi-target missiles to destroy half of a large formation of aircraft, or removing the defenses of a warship with air-to-ground or anti-ship missiles, then following sinking the ship with less advanced weapons like rockets or dumb bombs. Even though weapons are resupplied after every 5th round, remember that they still increase the cost of the player's sortie the moment they are launched.



Though non-player controlled allies join the player in combat, they are limited in number. The player will consistently be outnumbered by the enemy and can find themselves evading enemies chasing them while they're busying pursuing a target in front of them. Rather than having tunnel vision and doggedly chasing a single target, being able to latch onto passing, more vulnerable targets of opportunity will keep the player unpredictable and always in motion. Rather than allowing other enemies to settle in behind them for a long time, flowing seamlessly from one target to the next isn't just good for accumulating points faster but also increases survivability.


Most importantly, the critical trait players that have cleared hundreds and even a thousand waves of VSEC have is patience. Absolute, unwavering patience. Keep in mind that, like in any wave-based game mode, eventually, the player will find themselves wanting to change the way they fly in combat. After a few dozen completed waves, it's natural to get more daring because of the prolonged success.


Like more dangerous head-to-head attacks against enemy interceptors, trying to weave through surface-to-air missiles rather than safely evading them and heavily relying on AoA limiter-off maneuvers for thrills. Honestly, gravitating towards things like this is caused by a little bit of boredom. Players that have the skills to survive at least a dozen or so waves will gradually seek further excitement to maintain their interest. But unnecessary risks are not conducive to record-breaking numbers.



Those endeavoring to put up high scores on the VSEC online scoreboard stick to the same tactics and weapons used in every wave. Keeping in mind that they are attempting to set a record, caution and repetition will carry players to victory. Whether players need to listen to their favorite music or podcast in the background to appease creeping feelings of boredom, the path to scoring high on the VSEC scoreboards is very long. Be patient and persevere!


For the low cost of 4.99 USD, this entertaining title can be added to the library of anyone looking for either a few sessions of intense air combat or an extended session to see how far their skills can taken them.


Project ICKX is an interesting organization from Japan that has developed and produced a multiple arcade flight games for over 10 years. Vertical Strike Endless Challenge is most likely the first game from Project ICKX that people have added to their libraries without even knowing it. Even VSEC has derivatives with voice acting, a light story, a fictional super aircraft, and connections to a software testbed, but that's a subject for another article.



About the Writer

Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza

Co-founder of Skyward Flight Media. A lifelong aviation enthusiast with a special interest in flight simulators and games. After founding Electrosphere.info, the first English Ace Combat database, he has been involved in creating aviation related websites, communities, and events since 2005. He continues to explore past and present flight games and sims with his extensive collection of game consoles and computers. | Twitter | Discord: RibbonBlue#8870 |

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