Anyone who regularly reads my gaming reviews can hardly have failed to notice that I love retro games. Whether playing games from the 80s in their original format or updated versions on current gen consoles, I'll give it a go! Alien Space Retro, though manages to be both retro and modern: based on a new iPhone game (Alien Space), the graphics and sound have been rebranded to give it a retro look and feel.
Anyone who has ever played Asteroids will immediately recognise the inspiration behind Alien Space Retro. You control a small spaceship trapped in the middle of an asteroid field. You must blast all the asteroids (which break into smaller pieces each time they are shot), avoiding collision with both them and alien spaceships which are out to get you.
This simple gameplay is instantly appealing, since it's immediately obvious to anyone what you need to do. There are no complicated rules or involved storylines. Everything boils down to shooting and avoiding objects until the level is complete. It's simple, but it's fun.
The in-game physics are well-judged and feel realistic so that (with a bit of practice) your ship is easy to control and you soon find yourself able to whizz between the smallest of gaps to get out of difficulties. This is something you really need to master since the action quickly becomes frantic with lots of enemies and plenty of asteroids bouncing around the screen. It's one of those great games that can induce a real sense of panic and exhilaration (often at the same time).
The difficulty level is very well-balanced. Although it requires a fair amount of skill to progress to the later levels, it never feels too hard or unfair. It's a challenge, yes; and you're going to have to put in a fair few hours of practice to progress, but the game is so much fun that this is no great hardship.
There are three game modes available, although frustratingly, only Survival Mode is actually included in the 69p download price. The other two (Lost in Space and Defender) have to be bought via in-app purchase for a further 69p each. I can't tell you the difference between the three modes, since I personally find there's more than enough fun to be had from Survival Mode and feel no need to download the extra ones.
As you might expect from a retro-inspired title, graphics are nothing special, but are perfectly suited to both the game and the iPhone. The background is all black, representing the vastness of space, whilst the graphics of your ship and the asteroids themselves are simply line drawings, recalling the vector graphics style of early games. When things explode, they do so in a simple shower of white sparks, rather than any glorious pyrotechnics. The only concession to colour is on some of the enemy spaceships, but even then its use is limited. Importantly, though, this simple style means that graphics are clear, everything is easy to spot and the game is fast.
Sound is a little more advanced. A great atmospheric tune plays throughout and calls to mind the militaristic music of the old Wing Commander games. Like the graphics, sound effects are deliberately retro, limited to the usual high pitched shooting noises and a big bang when things explode. Once again, it might be simple, but it's perfectly suited to the game's deliberately old-fashioned feel.
Alien Space Retro is a twin-stick shooter which, if you've never played one before can initially seem confusing. There are two virtual joysticks on the screen: one on the left and one on the right. The left hand one controls the direction of your ship's flight, whilst the right hand one controls the direction of your lasers. It's this second one that takes a bit of getting used to. In most shooters, your ship can only fire forwards in the direction it is travelling. In Alien Space Retro, you can use the second virtual joystick to fire in any direction, regardless of the direction of travel. Once you get the hang of it, this proves a really effective way of destroying enemies that threaten to blindside you or getting out of potentially tight spots. However, it does require a reasonable degree of hand-eye co-ordination to master using the twin sticks, so you might need a fair few practice games before the controls start to feel intuitive.
Once you've got used to them, though, they work very well and give you a massive degree of control. They are highly responsive and result in your ship being highly manoeuvrable -essential in this type of game. This high degree of control makes it a very fun game to play and it's one that will keep you playing in the short term, but which will also keep you coming back for another quick go.
Of course, like many retro and retro-styled titles, Alien Space Retro is very tough, offering a massive challenge, even for experienced gamers. Some casual gamers might be put off by this and struggle to make much progress. Although the game is never unfair, if you are inexperienced when it comes to shooters, then you might find it a little too frustrating.
The other thing to note is that, as noted, this is a Retro styled release of the earlier iPhone game Alien Space. Apart from the graphics and the sound, it is identical in terms of gameplay, so if you already own the previous game, it's probably not worth you downloading this retro-themed version.
At just 69p, this is a great twin-stick shooter for anyone who enjoys shoot 'em ups. If you also happen to be an older gamer with fond memories of the Halcyon days of 80s gaming, then it's even more appealing. The simple, but challenging gameplay offers a lot of fun and it's well worth the download price.
(c) Copyright SWSt 2012