Developed By: Bare Knuckle Development
Published By: Bare Knuckle Development
Category: Arcade, Shmup, Multiplayer
Release Date: 01.14.19
After playing Super Mega Space Blaster Special Turbo (let’s hope, for the dev’s sake, there’s never a need for a game of the year or deluxe version) for about five minutes, I was a little disappointed. Of course, I expected the game to be simple, but it seemed to have taken things too far. There were no stages to progress through, no pretty backgrounds to fly over, just a single starry screen around which you manoeuvred your craft shooting asteroids and bad guys.
Hours later, as I broke my hundred and tenth promise to myself that this really, really was my last go before I put the controller down and went to bed, I realised Bare Knuckle Dev had, in fact, crafted one of those deceptively and perfectly simple, pure gaming experiences that managed, despite their lack of real-time lighting effects, deep stories or pithy dialogue, to so enthral kids in the eighties and nineties and fill tabloids and paranoid parents’ minds with fear that their kids were becoming slaves to the unassuming black boxes connected to their televisions. Which is a good thing, right?
Super Mega Space Blast…you know what, I’m just going to call it SMSBST, okay? SMSBST has three main single player modes, but in each the way you play is essentially the same. You control a ship that is in constant motion – although you do have some control over braking and speeding up – by using the d-pad or left stick to rotate and the shoulder buttons to fire off shots. Ammo is limited but destroying enemies gives you plenty more to scoop up. You can also collect power-ups like bombs, shields and special weapons but if your actual ship gets hit once, you are dead and it’s game over. On your first few tries, you’ll be lucky to last more than a minute, and even when you’ve been playing for many hours, lasting more than five minutes is still something of an achievement (insert your own ‘poor girlfriend’ / ‘that’s what she said’ joke here).
At the start of each stage a few asteroids and slow moving rockets are all you need to worry about, but as you approach and go beyond the minute mark more varied, faster enemies start appearing, many of which shoot back or lock on to your ship and tail you as you desperately try to get turned around and blast them back. The screen can get very hectic and you’re going to need to make full use of all the options the game throws at you just to eke out an extra ten seconds and add a final few digits to your high score.
And scoring is absolutely the name of the game here. Fortunately, the game comes complete with online scores for each of its three main modes and competing on these boards offers real incentive as, due to the escalating difficulty of the game as time passes, that next place always feels so tantalizingly close.
These modes, while they don’t alter the fundamentals of how you play, do each add significant and interesting twists to the mix. Survival is exactly what it says on the tin, but gives you a ‘broken’ weapon which will fire constantly, making this the only mode where watching your ammo becomes of serious importance. Protect Mother fills the lower quarter of the screen with a mothership, which you must protect from harm. This stage ends either when the mothership’s health bar drops to zero or you take a hit, whichever happens first. The mothership also, very helpfully, offers you a steady stream of powerups, making this the fastest, most quickly chaotic mode. Finally, Save the Colony sees you trying to rescue drifting spacemen from between the dangers and drop them off in a moving safe haven at the bottom of the screen, introducing an extra layer of strategy to proceedings. In Save the Colony the edges of the screen wrap around meaning if you fly into the top edge, you’ll reappear from the bottom one. In the other two modes, however, touching the screen edge means death.
To aid you on your quest to save your spaceman friends, you can earn coins to upgrade your special weapons or buy different ships, of which there are over a dozen – including a Nintendo Switch exclusive craft. There are no sudden leapsto be made here, but these incremental differences do add up, eventually giving you significant advantages and allowing you to start with extra bomb stock or a shield, for example. The ships all play quite differently with some being zippy but hard to control, others slow and ponderous but with a better main shot, and, in a cute little extra, you can select different voices for your onboard computer too, with one even being in Japanese.
Coins can be collected in-game, but a more effective way to increase your funds is by completing the challenges the game offers you. These can include things like taking out a certain number of enemies with a particular weapon or surviving for a set time without shooting and there are dozens to complete across all the modes giving you a constant sense of having something concrete to strive for. All modes can also be played in local two-player multiplayer and there are a further two additional multiplayer only modes which see you compete against your opponent.
Visually, the game is competent, but doesn’t do anything standout. Everything is clear and nicely-drawn with ships, enemies and shots all clearly distinguishable from each other and smart visual clues as to where hazards, spacemen or potential bonuses are coming from. Sometimes asteroid shards can be hard to tell apart from ammo when things get chaotic and it’s a shame there are no alternative backgrounds or variations in setting to unlock, but, in a game like this, such things are of secondary consideration anyway.
The UI is simple and intuitive, although it would be nice to have a quick restart for if you died after literal seconds – because, yes, that happens a lot – and you don’t want to connect to the online boards before jumping back in again. The 80s synth music soundtrack, from Electric Fan Death (in case that means anything to you), is both catchy and perfectly suited to the fast-paced action, and the sound effects, particularly the plaintive cries of ‘help me’ from the spacemen, are understated but fitting.
All in all, this is a super addictive little retro-inspired title that, while perfectly suited to playing in quick five or ten-minute bursts, can, if you’re not careful, suck you in for hours on end with its one-more-go score chasing and achievement completing appeal. Yes, it is simple but at $4.99 on the eShop, that’s only to be expected and in terms of a pure time spent to money paid ratio it should offer most an absolute bargain.
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* A game code was provided for review purposes.