Xbox Indie Shmup Double Review
There's nothing quite like a good Shmup (or 'Shoot-em-up, for the uninitiated). Easy to pick up and play for a few minutes, but with a difficulty level that will see only the most dedicated and hardcore gamer succeed. The genre has been around since the birth of videogames, and has evolved to incorporate many new mechanics to keep the score chasers happy. They can also be an easy entryway for games developers wishing to bring some fast paced arcade action to the indie scene. The only problem with this is that it can lead to a plethora of copycat and unoriginal titles, displaying a distinct lack of imagination. Logging onto the Xbox Live Indie Channel yesterday, I was pleased to see two new shmups that, from the screenshots, looked to be half-decent, which is high praise considering the abundance of utter garbage on the service. Rather than divide the two games into seperate reviews, I have bundled them together because, well, I am very lazy.
Rofaxan 2089 AD - Angry Gam3rs - £1.99
A horizontal shooter that clearly uses R-Type as its inspiration, no bad thing considering Irem's game is hailed as a true classic of the genre. With some decent artwork that apes the look of a PC Engine / Turbographx box, I felt that Rofaxan 2089 AD would be a step above the usual badly made shooters on the Indie Channel. This feeling was backed up some some pretty decent visuals that capture the spirit of an early 1990's arcade shmup quite well - with the initial cloud stage bring an impressive opener. The main ship sprite is also well drawn, though the enemies are much less impressive, with some bland, basic shape, designs that don't seem to have had much thought put into them. Your ship's movement is smooth and fast and the shooting feels vaguely satisfying. Powerups come in the form of weapon and speed boosts, as well as shields and assist ships that hover beside you, adding to your fire power. Indeed, it isn't long before your ship is pretty much maxed out, making the stages quite easy to get through, not helped by the boring movement and attack patterns the enemies employ. At the end of each short stage you face a huge boss, which initially gets your excitement levels up, only to be dashed by the fact that they are incredibly easy to defeat - stage two's guardian can be defeated by staying still in one spot and holding the fire button - hardly the pulse-quickening experience one would expect from a shmup.
Rofaxan is decidedly average, but would still be worth checking out - maybe even stumping up the meager £1.99 entry fee - if it wasn't for one fatal flaw. The music. Oh my fucking God, the music. A heavy metal abomination credited to a band called Thunder & Lightning that pierces your ears and makes you want to want to jam a screwdriver into your brain. Now, I may be biased as I think that heavy metal music is about as listenable as someone using powertools whilst simultaneously shitting in your ears, but the music in this game was totally unbearable, and I was barely able to tolerate playing it for the purpose of this review. I had to mute the sound in the end and play Rofaxan in silence - hardly a sensory experience. If the developers had reasonable taste in music and had included something that wasn't an insult to my auditory senses, then I would have given it a six, but as I have to take all elements of the game as part of the final package, I have to be harsh.
Nostalgya - OneGuyGames - £0.69
If Rofaxan uses R-Type as its inspiration, then Nostalgya - a game from two guys, despite the misleading development team moniker - goes to Team 17's Amiga classic, Project X for guidance. Set in the well tread path of deep space, Nostalgya lets you choose from a team of six pilots, each with their own varying levels of speed, firepower, and number of lives, before setting off to defeat the alien threat. Totally unoriginal stuff, of course, but it is nice to see someone using a title from the 16-bit Commodore machine as its muse, instead of the usual coin-op games. I loved Project X when it came out, so Nostalgya automatically hits a chord with me. The backgrounds, ships and weapon effects all look quite similar, but with enough minor differences to keep the lawyers at bay. After the soul destroying sounds of Rofaxan, even white noise would have been preferable, but thankfully here we are given some far more suitable electronic dance tracks. Not in the same league as Project X's awesome 90's rave tracks, but perfectly reasonable none-the-less.
Gameplay wise, there really isn't too much to say. There are no Cave style complex scoring mechanics, destructible backgrounds, transforming characters or anything like that. It is a simple matter of avoiding the enemies and shooting them down. Your ship does come with a thrust ability, initiated by holding down a button, which slowly runs out if used, but thankfully regenerates over time. It gives you the added boost needed to navigate your way out of danger. It is a shame that your standard movement speed is so slow, as using the thruster really makes you wish you were capable of moving at that pace at all times, but it isn't a game breaker - after all, Project X had a fairly leisurely pace too. The enemies you face are well drawn and have fairly interesting movement patterns, firing enough projectiles at you to give your shmup skills a work out. In actual fact, Nostalgya is pretty difficult, and with only a couple (or three if you choose certain pilots) of lives at your disposal, the game over screen will soon be rearing its ugly mug. Thankfully, you will want to come back and try again as the game is fairly engaging and fun to play - but this may require you to be wearing your Amiga brand rose tinted spectacles.
Both games are out now on the Xbox Live Indie service