Glance at Space Avenger’s screenshots and you’ll soon get the gist. It’s a top-down arena shoot-em-up where asteroids hurtle about while you scramble to destroy ships gunning after you. It does, at least, show what a bit of love can do to a genre that’s as old as gaming itself.
Things start off slowly. Your ship isn’t up to much – the weapons are lame, and you cannot aim in any other direction other than the one you’re facing. It moves as quickly as a milk float and just a few hits will cause it to explode into a million pieces. During the first mission, you get absolutely wrecked as you come up against enemies that rip you apart.
Turns out this is by design. This opening is a tutorial of sorts, see, teaching just how valuable the speed boost manoeuvre is. Once this lesson has been taught, deeper depths are revealed.
Upon destroying an enemy or a yellow coloured asteroid, stars are gained. These can be used to upgrade your ship. An upgrade tree you say? I bloody love an upgrade tree. As well as the endorphin kick of unlocking a new thing, it makes you feel like you didn’t waste your time. Even if you perform worse than the UK’s Track & Trace system, you still get some lovely stars to bank, working your way towards unlocking better weapons and increased manoeuvrability.
As you upgrade, you also start to realise that the game’s slightly slower pace works massively in its favour. Asteroids become good, tactical, cover. Not only that but when coloured asteroids are hit, they spew out goodies like a health top-up or some fuel for your missiles. Unfortunately, your guns don’t tend to have much effect, so strafing around the asteroids and trying to get the enemies to shoot or move first plays a big part.
Speaking of which, there’s a good selection of enemy types. Some have bullets that create formations, while others fire missiles. Some even try to ram you. This keeps things fresh for each wave of enemies, teaming up in ways that can be tricky to handle.
We did spot a bit of slowdown when there was too much happening on the screen, which really shouldn’t happen in a game of this ilk. The story is deeply uninspired too. Some humourless dreck about defeating the evil ‘Nexx’ empire, full of character artwork resembling the front of a German board game – pompous warmongers in uniforms looking moody and serious. You won’t miss much by skipping it.
In fact, there’s a certain amount of blandness to Space Avenger that does it no favours. The name, for one, is as generic as possible. The graphics are serviceable, with lots of different ship types, but they fail to stand out, while the enemies and upgrades are all fairly generic. It all feels like it could do with an extra layer of personality.
I still had a lot of fun with Space Avenger, though. It’s a simple idea well executed, although the lock-on targeting won’t be for everyone. Twin-stick obsessives after an intense fix shouldn’t apply, but if you’re after a simple ‘spacey shooty time’ you could do much worse. Offering new twists on classic ideas, I think fans of Atari’s early coin-ops will find a lot to love.
Space Avenger – Empire of Nexx is available now on the Switch eShop.