At first glance, Spectro Destroyer, by Lorenzo Nuvoletta of LorenzGames, could be one of any number of platform shooters. Run and gun through the levels, taking out alien scum and robotic sentries trying to halt your progress. Then you realize there's more to this than shooting everything in sight. It's more like line-of-sight. In fact, Spectro Destroyer is just the opposite of the "shoot first, ask questions later" side-scrollers like Metal Slug and Abuse. Instead, it's an amalgam of a platform shooter and a physics puzzle. And that, my friends, is a lot of fun.
You play the intrepid space explorer, ray gun in hand to protect yourself from whatever might be lurking out there in the unexplored depths. As you enter each level of the game, you'll be presented with the challenge. Across the level will be scattered any number of alien baddies, from slugs that look upon you with evil intent, to mechanical menaces shooting at anything that gets in their path. You'll notice that for the most part, these threats sit in places around the room that cannot be safely reached by you and your weapon directly. And, even if you can, you will not be able to destroy them. This is where physics, and some simple color-matching come in to play.
Placed at various locations around each level will be a number of reflective, colored surfaces. These are what you will utilize to blast the baddies. Firing at one of these surfaces will change your shot to the color of the surface, and reflect it in the proper direction. Lining your shots up precisely will allow you to hit targets around corners, far above you, and behind barriers.
Eventually you will have to use shots reflecting off of more than one mirror to bring down your opponents. You'll notice that as your shot reflects off of the different mirrored surfaces it changes colors to match. The order in which you reflect your shots is very important. If you hit the orange mirror before the shot hits the green enemy, you're sunk. But if it reflects to the green mirror first, then you'll score. Be careful when dealing with multiple reflective surfaces, though. If you manage to reflect the shot back on yourself, it's curtains for you, no matter what color the bolt is.
The score for each level is based on the number of shots that you use to take all the baddies out, and the number of times you bite the dust. Points for completing the level are taken away for each shot used, and for each life used. The less used of each, the more points awarded. Collecting the gold stars in many of the rooms will award you ten extra points, so be on the lookout for those.
Analysis: Though the premise for Spectro Destroyer seems simple, the execution is quite challenging, especially in later levels. Even if you can see angles of reflection like lines on a roadway, some levels require some pretty fancy shooting to get everything just right. You would be inclined to simply shoot, adjust, shoot, adjust again until you hit the target, but if you do that too much, you end up with level scores in the single digits. While some will ignore their score and simply try to complete all the levels, that defeats the spirit of the game.
Even though it's a bit short on pack-in levels, the virtual shelf life is greatly extended by the inclusion of a level editor and community-created stages. Here you are given access to all of the mirrors, baddies, walls, moving platforms, and other obstacles that are in the regular game levels. Design your level, give it a test to make sure everything is to your liking, and upload it to the game server. When you go to play a level, you can choose your own custom levels, or levels designed by others playing the game. There is even a rating system to ensure that the best levels rise to the top of the bin.
Physics game fans are a pretty hard-core bunch compared to other casual gamers. The physics need to be spot-on or the gaming experience falls flat for us. If things don't happen the same way each time we try something, we'll call shenanigans faster than you can balance a cube. The physics in Spectro Destroyer are so close to perfection. I want to love it, but there's just a tiny bit of trickery going on. Your standard angles of reflection are spot on, and I've not had them steer me wrong yet. Where the physics game gets dicey is at the edge of the flat mirrors. I don't know why, but moving back and forth along the edge of the mirror doesn't produce consistent results. Granted, this is not often part of the solution to the level, and when it is, it can generally get close enough to produce the desired effect. But for those of us that love to experiment, it can get annoying.
My only other critique of an otherwise excellent game is the lack of any sort of story. We're given a character to move through these levels, and bad guys to shoot at. But, like the complaint of any good method actor, what's my motivation? Was I trapped by the evil alien scum? Am I breaking out of some intergalactic prison? A story, even a simple one, to stitch the game together would not go amiss.
Whether you accept the challenge of the built-in levels, or try to take on other players' challenges, you're sure to have fun with this physics shooter. Get your protractor out and take aim at the challenge of Spectro Destroyer.