Space Arcade: The Game
I appreciate the specificity of Space Arcade: The Game's subtitle. I was seriously worried for a couple minutes that I was going to have to deal with Space Arcade: The Hit Broadway Musical. However, as much as I crave toe-tappin' hits and elaborate choreography, I enjoy Galaga-inspired pixel shooter action even more. This appears to be music-meister Matt McFarland's debut game release, and it's so much fun that maybe he should consider quitting his day job.
There are a fair number of controls, but the basics are clear: [arrow] keys to move, [Z] to fire. Holding down [left shift] gives you an unlimited speed boost, while [X] and [C] raise and lower your base speed. There are thirty levels to play, all unlocked from the beginning. Shooting enemies releases gold to collect, the tougher the enemy the more the gold. Between levels, gold can be used to purchase new weapons, upgrade your shield, or improve your ships gold-attractor. During levels, a screen-clearing smart-bomb can be launched with the [spacebar], initially for 100 of your collected gold, adding 50 to the cost for each additional bomb. Play well, and you'll soon be recruited by the Rylan Star League.. or at least get your name on the high score table.
Analysis: Space Arcade lives up to its name with a perfect recreation of old-school action... and all the brutal difficulty that implies. Oh sure, the first couple of levels looks easy enough, but once its gotten your quarter, it'll chew you up and spit you out. Don't expect this to be a game you can just blast through blindly without any strategy: this one is packed to the brim with shielded enemies that will return two bullets for every one you shoot at it, and knowing when discretion is the better part of valor is a must. The game doesn't grant you upgrades nearly as quickly as you need them, so I guess its a testament to Space Arcade's quality that I kept playing to the end.
The game also has some features that I hope become common-places in other casual shooters: 1. The ability to play all levels in any order. That might be a sticking point for some. However, in my mind, since each requires a slightly different methodology, that you can skip ahead at any point to switch things up severely limited my frustration. 2. An actual reason not to hold down the fire button. Here, your ship's gold attractor gets a boost whenever you aren't firing. This might seem like a little thing... and it is, but considering how, for many, aiming strategy can be reduced to "keep thumb firmly pressed on fire button", it adds a dose of timing balance to the action. 3. The option to boost change your ship's speed with a press of a key. Not only does it ease the more difficult intergalactic maneuvers, but, as silly as it sounds, it made me feel a little bit more like the pilot of a pixelated spaceship. Ship speed can often be arbitrary in a shooting game, and giving the player more freedom in how they can beat the game is always welcome.
There are a few nitpicks. For one, I didn't like the sound design. To my ears, the modern techno of the background music clashes with the chip-tuney bleeps and bloops of the effects. Both were individually fine... just not together in the game. I eventually just set the whole thing on mute and found I enjoyed it a lot more. Also, I wish your ship's hitbox was much more obvious. It was quite difficult to tell when a shot was going to damage me or not. Considering how hellish the screen gets with bullets (to almost a motion-sickening level), it was annoying that I never quite knew how close a shave was too close. Finally, while the flurry of enemies that was level 30 was quite intense, I would have preferred a massive final boss for a climax. That's just might be personal preferences, however.
Space Arcade isn't perfect, but its willingness to shake up the traditional retro-shooter mechanics is definitely a plus. McFarlands's inspirations may clearly hail from the past, but he clearly has a sense of futuristic innovation that will serve him well. I can't wait to see more from him.