Even though it’s a straightforward horizontal shooter, UIG’s Space Blaze is an odd proposition. It prides itself of being a retro throwback – a delightfully old-school experience inspired by the classic shooters of the ‘80s. The product description does its best to hammer this home, promising “retro cool” old-school action. “Let’s start your travel back to the future!”
But instead of featuring pixel art, chiptunes and similar retro flair, it resembles a typical modern-day scrolling shooter with polygon-heavy spacecraft, detailed 3D backdrops and a soundtrack akin to late ‘90s Eurotrance. In the same way that Nex Machina didn’t make me feel gooey and nostalgic for Robotron, despite the similarities, Space Blaze didn’t make me fondly recall the days of Gradius and R-Type. It’s an evolution of those games; a modern-day equivalent. It doesn’t even have the decency to throw a few retro sound-effects into the mix.
The opposite of something like this would be the excellent Blazing Chrome, a Contra-alike that genuinely looks and feels like a 16-bit game. The first thing that stood out about Space Blaze? The reasonably accomplished visuals, including scrolling backdrops with minimal repetition, detailed screen-filling spacecraft, and a nice line of multicoloured translucent explosions.
Considering this is a budget release, the trance soundtrack is better than expected too, provided by Markus Siebold (of C64 Turrican 2 and Enforcer fame). Credit where it’s due, it’s neat that UIG tracked down a musician with retro credentials.
Make no mistake, though – this is indeed a budget affair. There are no online functions, no storyline or cutscenes, and the only options present relate to sound. There’s a two-player mode, a local scoreboard and that’s your lot for extras.
One more of the more modern ideas present is that after beating target scores an extra continue is awarded, so when starting over one more credit is at your disposal. While this may sound like a fair way to put you on the path to success, it doesn’t take long at all to reach the max amount.
This is also an unfairly difficult experience, seemingly punishingly tough for the sake of it. Extra credits alone won’t help – luck is required too. The first two stages are a breeze, both with bosses that can be destroyed before they’ve even finished making an entrance. From the third stage onwards, you’re then plunged into bullet hell and forced to learn enemy movement patterns. Little to no time is provided to grow, adapt and become more masterful with the three weapon types, and there are countless instances where it seems impossible to not take damage.
From stage three onwards, losing weapon upgrades upon dying also often means you won’t have enough firepower to take down most enemy types, rendering attacks useless until more power-ups appear. The three weapon types (laser, spread shot, and plasma) could be more varied, too, not coming into their own until almost fully upgraded. It also seems strange that some stages force certain weapons upon you, removing the chance to experiment.
This is no scrolling shooter masterclass. Even some of the oldest sins in the book are foolishly committed. The worst of these is when foreground objects obscure the action, with a screen-long blacked out tunnel being the worst offender. There’s no vibration feedback to inform you’re taking damage either. This is more frustrating than it may sound – the ship can withstand a generous number of bullets, but as soon as you collide into an enemy craft or part of scenery the shield depletes in a blink of an eye. Now and then a larger enemy will whizz across the screen and take half your health in one fell swoop.
It doesn’t seem that much thought went into the enemy attack formations at all – it’s a constant barrage of bullets, asteroids, and enemies that attack from all angles. Learning patterns is an arduous task as in most cases everything is simply thrown at your craft.
To put the insane difficulty level into perspective, at the time of writing this review Space Blaze has been out for just over two weeks, yet according to the trophy unlock ratios on TrueTrophies not a single gamer has seen it through to the end. Most gamers seem to give up on stage 4, which is when the difficulty level skyrockets. We may as well mention that the trophies are uninspired – just seven in total, each awarded for beating a stage.
The developers of Space Blaze have seemingly forgotten that ‘80s shooters entailed more than just a challenging difficulty level. Skill and mastery involved too. Space Blaze shuns both in favour of flashy visuals, and ultimately, it’s as generic as its name suggests.