Thursday, 23 August 2007
Posted by Dave
Space Giraffe, here'sa hot tip: Don't play it like Tempest.
It's not Tempest 4000, though some reviewers have insisted it is. There are similarities to Tempest x/2000 of course, it's heritage is obvious immediately. It has a 3d wire-frame web view, you're stuck to the top, you shoot stuff crawling up it, it's trippy as fuck, it has a bonus round that makes you say 'what the fuck?'. But what Space Giraffe adds to the trippy shooter party makes the difference between this and the original Tempest about the same as manic miner vs Super Mario Sunshine.
In Space Giraffe, you don't just shoot things you see, in fact it's often a bigger challenge to not shoot things. This time the web has a moving bar, called the power zone. To make the powerzone grow, you shoot stuff, a pause in the carnage causes the powerzone to shrink, staying stationary makes it shrink faster. An active powerzone gives you a bunch of advantages over the crawling enemy, you can bump into them if they reach the top, you get two attacks, the default 'always on' front attack and a new directional attack that's controlled off the 2nd stick and the powerzone also slows enemy bullets and enforces their spawning location. If you get in deep shit, you can jump, a power granted by collecting pods, when you jump, you get a new powerzone for free. The powerzone is key, you need a powerzone.
But there's more, the jump pods that wander up the web give extra love if you don't use them for jumping, you get faster fire andextra men, for example, or you gain access through them to the bonus round. Your secondary attack can bounce off the side wall and killing like this earns you more precious points. You can shoot enemy bullets, sending them back down the web. They'll bounce back though, so you have to keep shooting them down. Any bullets juggled like this still in play at the end of the game makes more points.
Bumping enemies off the top of the web is also crucial, if you can save a few enemies up and bump em off all together, you get a very satisfying mooo and a multiplier jump. A high multiplier is crucial for a nutter score, so you really need to get those bull runs lined up. Problem is, you're shooting all the time, so you need to avoid parts of the webto entice the fellas up to get a bull run in. But if you avoid parts of the web, you'll miss pods, you'll miss bullets, you might let flowers grow up (like the old spikes in tempest, but have flower-heads that shoot off and fuck your shit up), and you might not kill enough stuff to maintain your powerbar. It's a frantic juggle that requires split second decisions to maintain your multiplier and keep you in the big points. If you're playing it right, you'll zone click, you'll phase out,your brain no longer consciously making those decisions but everything's still happening for you, you're tripping, in game, and it's wonderful.
All this is accompanied by the LLamasoft signature over the top psychedelic visuals. Sometimes the maelstrom of colour and light will make threat identification difficult, so you have to use other clues, likeaudio hints, or adjust to a different perspective to see the enemy. Some enemies actually strive to fuck up your visuals even more, making the chaos even more frantic! Sometimes you've just got to use the force, and trust in your abilities to keep yourself alive until the path ahead becomes clear. This is an area that's been heavily criticised, but I can't help thinking people simply don't 'get' it. One thing I would like to have seen is some kind of death replay so in those 'what the fuck' moments you can identify exactly what killed you, where you went wrong so you can learn to do something about it.
Shit, I didn't mention the sound. Sound of course plays a vital role in the experience, tightly intertwined with the visuals as you'd expect from Mr VLM and laced with oddities like animal samples and kids talking in welsh overlaid with techno. Perfect.
Live also boosts the appeal, as with all shooters. Point harvesting becomes a lot more important and compelling when your scores are automatically compared with both your mates and the rest of the world, and achievements are also present and collectible. The scores not just about your Live status though, you get a rating after the end of each level, and a record score with three lives remaining gives you a precious save point at that score for that level, meaning you can start off at that point next time you play. You'll also get a rating such as 'a bit good' or 'meh', and a graph relative to how you should be performing if you've got any skills at all. It doesn't add a jot to the gameplay mechanics, but it does focus your attention on actually playing well rather than brute forcing each level and pressing continue at the end, a temptation with many shooters historically.
Bleats? Well, I miss some of the powerups out of tempest, like AI Droid/Superdroid. Those 'what the fuck' moments happen an awful lot at first until you've sussed the game out a bit more.Finally, the bonus level is even more odd than Tempest 2000's, very random and very silly, but does serve for a nice change of pace.
What's worth mentioning too is the price. Space Giraffe in the UK works out at about £3.50. The same price asa couple of downloadable tunes for Guitar Hero 2, the same price as a couple of static theme packs someones knocked up in photo shop. The same price as three icon packs. The same price as 80's arcade retro classics that have been free on mame for donkeys. Half the price of similarly bloody ace shooters like Geometry Wars and Mutant Storm. It's clearly too cheap, this is one of the best games on Live and it's obviously been created with love and not a desire to suck cash, but that's the price, and it's easily worth it. Buy it even if you don't want it, developers like this need our support!
So it's fucking good. It's very fucking good. It's everything I anticipated, and more. It's trippy and phsycadelic but it's also a bloody satisfying cerebral shooter with a great risk/reward mechanism. Finally a Minter game on a platform we can actually play it on, hallelujah, Eat Electric Death!