“ Developer: Llamasoft / Genre: Action „
Upon downloading the demo of 'Space Giraffe' from the XBox Live marketplace, I have to admit I wasn't expecting anything particularly innovative. I was really bored, and I liked the idea of ...well, a game involving a Giraffe from space.
When I started playing, however, I was hooked. It's games like these that make you realise how formulaic many games have become nowadays. I mean, there are a handful of genres that aside from aesthetic differences, have essentially the same core gameplay.
Space Giraffe is a surreal gaming experience which has it's closest relative in the coin-up classic 'Tempest'. In classic coin-up style, for anyone who remembers these games, Space Giraffe is 1) really incredibly difficult - if this was a coin-up you would be pumping a lot of money in if you wanted to get good at it, 2) based on the idea of high scores... whatever happened to high scores?
The game casts you as a Giraffe in space, floating around a grid from which wave upon wave of baddies emerges. You shoot them all, then go onto the next level, with a different shaped grid. So on and so forth.
But there is much more to this game than that. The key gameplay element is the 'power zone'. By killing enemies quickly, you charge up your 'power zone' that allows you to eliminate large numbers of them simply by bumping into them. This allows for huge and deadly combos, and therefore huge, huge scores.
Keeping your 'power zone' up to achieve these combos is a balancing act. It's all quite strategic and fun, surprisingly so from a game that appears so simplistic. If you kill all the enemies too quickly, your 'power zone' will be huge but to no avail - because you'll have no enemies to kill for your sweet combos!!
The visuals in Space Giraffe are a big neon psychedelic mess. The screen consistently has the appearance of an explosion in a firework factory. This can be irritating at first, as the various explosions and colourful blasts regularly obscure the gameplay. However, this is not unintentional - as you play the game more (i.e. see the game over screen again and again) you will become accustomed to the game's audio cues. You will learn to recognise the different type of enemies, and perceive what's coming - and you'll realise how little use 99% of games truly make of sound.
Overall Space Giraffe is an acquired taste. As a cheap arcade blaster, it may be a little difficult - however if you fancy playing something different, and you're prepared to invest the time in learning its intricacies, Space Giraffe is a real old school gaming gem.
Let me begin by whisking you back through time twenty years.
Margaret Thatcher has become UK prime minister for the third time, WrestleMania III is taking place in the Pontiac Silverdome, and a short set of animations on The Tracy Ullman Show are fast tracking their way to the annuls of television infamy.
Its a time of acid house and Rubiks cubes; a simpler time, if you will. Its an era when you can saunter down an average high street, wearing your pink and orange Global Hypercolor T-shirt, and straight into your local arcading emporium.
Once inside, youre confronted by a wave of tall gaming oblongs, sporting illuminated decals that glow against the wall of cathode-ray displays. They sit there spewing attract modes and spinning off developer logos, all whilst gloriously guzzling ten pence pieces by the handful.
Combined with the cacophony of spot effects and chugging change machines, every electrifying moment spent within this gloomy, smoke-laden den of iniquity is a haven for the nerdy gaming sect, who usually spend their days alone with a two button joystick and a shelf of C30 cassette tapes.
The sheer number of cabinets overwhelms even the most eager competitor, and presents the gamer with a quandary: What should I play first? The answer? Its inevitably the biggest, brightest, craziest, zaniest looking game in the joint!
And that, my nostalgia-enriched friends, is Space Giraffes spiritual origin. A game forged of hedonistic high-score tables and misspent youth; a place where brightly rendered pixels vied for financial attention against the backdrop of 'Gauntlet II' and 'Double Dragon'.
YOURE NOW ENTERING MINTER COUNTRY
Space Giraffe is the demented brainchild of Jeff Minter; even if youve never heard of this dromedary obsessive, youll almost certainly have seen his psychedelic handiwork played out on your Xbox 360s music visualiser. Minters psychedelic back-catalogue consists of many reinterpretations of classic games, including Llamatron (a camel friendly iteration of Robotron: 2084) and Attack of the Mutant Camels (which bares more than a striking resemblance to The Empire Strikes Back for the Atari 2600).
Of recent decades, Minter has focused his attention on recreating so-called tube-shooters such as Tempest 2000 and its Nuon sequel T3K; this appears to be the starting point for his latest endeavour, redefining the tube-blaster paradigm with an old skool lightshow flavour.
HOW TO PLAY
You take control of the eponymous mammal, blasting your way through a hundred hallucinatory levels. As with its progenitors, you sit atop the screen waiting for the baddies to ascend the grid, destroying them in an atypical, shoot-em-up fashion.
However, similarities to the games forbearers are mere gaming veneer; as the introductory notes highlight, Space Giraffe is *not* Tempest. Rampantly obliterating anything that moves will only get you so far this time around. Added to the generic mix are several new procedures, making the title anything but a linear rehashing of its well-established heritage.
The first addition is a special protective arena called the Power Zone. Fuelled by the destruction of on-screen nasties, this zone will let you to push (or Bull) all the enemies off the grid without repercussion; in fact, doing so is vital to getting your bonus multiplier off the ground. Without shovelling several dozen baddies off the play area, therell be no way of getting a score rating above Unambitious at best.
Secondly, using the enemys own attacks against them is vital to super score success. Juggling bullets off the screen will result in huge end-of-round bonuses. The lingering flowery opponents can also be farmed to help extend the Power Zone, repeatedly hitting their petals in order to maximize both the safety margin and score.
Dont worry if this all sounds a little bizarre its doubtful that youll understand much about whats going on without playing through the tutorial mode several times, which youll be doing with gusto to rack up the opening Professor of Giraffeology achievement.
Its not only game mechanics thatll take a while to adjust to; saturated with every optical effect under the sun, Space Giraffe is as visually frantic as it is tough. The trippy effects cycle through at a fierce rate, fuelling the headache-inducing display with a misty haze of rainbow colours and warping textures. The audio follows in similar fashion; cutesy beeps, bells and baas rattle off against the thumping techno beat, relentlessly attacking your sanity with a devilish swirl of retro audio candy.
For many, this audio/visual onslaught will be overwhelming to the point of frustration. The first few hours of play offer a steep learning curve as you adjust to the subtle cues and nuances that lay beneath the unapologetically brash exterior.
After a while, though, youll begin to pick up on the smaller things: enemy spawn points, grid traversals and even certain ammo attacks by their sound alone. Weathering the tough adjustment period with an even mix of patience and experimentation, youll find that the game is surprisingly well crafted, offering a steady stream of power-ups and extras for those who are willing to grasp the fundamentals; from your basic multipliers and 1UPs to the tranquil bonus rooms studded with flowery giraffe nibbles.
The game is directly appealing to the part of your brain obsessed with the abstract titles of twenty years ago; the younger version of yourself that stands around that arcade all day, hankering for just one more credit before home. Space Giraffe isnt about instant gratification; its about offering an experience so bright and esoteric that youll want nothing better than to venture back into its Masonic world of clandestine rituals in order to master its secrets.
But in an aging industry, thats foregone its rainbow sandals and donned a business suit, its easy to see that a good portion of the gaming cognoscenti wont appreciate the bold sentiment. And with good reason. The tutorial mode is low on detail, the humour is an acquired taste and, while musical KLF references develop into witty quips for those in their thirties, the team over at Llamasoft have overlooked the generation of players who were barely toddlers at the turn of the millennium and havent had the good fortune to waste away their youth arcade-fashion.
Space Giraffe is an unusual throwback to the renegade era of programming experimentation and ten pence a play culture, and for the most part it wears that badge with pride. Yes, the games not for everyone, but what game is? My advice? Download the demo from Xbox Live, turn off your preconceptions and just give it a whirl
Should you find that Space Giraffe appeals, youll be glad to hear it comes in at the bargain price of just 400 gamerpoints more than cheap enough for what is potentially the most fun youll have on your 360!