Two years in the making, and itself a port of a game over a decade old, Space tripper has finally hit the AppStore… Was it worth the wait?
Space Tripper (also know as Astro Tripper on PSN and Steam for PC) is an arcade shooter where the aim of the game is to take out spawning enemies in arena based levels. Your ship faces – and shoots – in one of two direction (left or right), of which you can flip with a simple tap of the right hand of the screen. You can move the ship up, down, left and right by tilting the device. While I am a fan of tilt controls, particularly for racing games, when it comes to arcade games using tilt i’m generally skeptical. However, I’ll take the side of True Axis here and admit that touch controls wouldn’t work as well in this game, and would only complicate matters by covering the screen and conflicting with the simple direction and weapon changing hot spots.
Like many iOS shooter, firing is automatic. This allows you to concentrate on taking out and avoiding the enemies. You can alternate between two weapons types with a tap of the left side of the screen. The first of these, the single gun, emits a powerful concentrated fire, while the second, the spread gun, shoots out fire in three angled bursts. It’s not as powerful, but you’ll be able to take out multiple enemies at once, particularly those out of reach to the single shot weapon. Enemies will occasionally drop power-ups which upgrade the two weapon types, and with both weapons being necessary to progress and sometimes having the edge over the other depending on the level, you’ll want to balance out which one you’ll power-up first.
Space Tripper is not for the feint-hearted. Only the brave should apply, it’s seriously challenging and up there with equally difficult classic shooters like R-Type. This isn’t helped by the fact that if you die, the game throws you back to the start of that level. Plus, if you lose all three lives before completing a world’s set of levels, you must start all over again. If, however, you can make it past each end of world boss, then you will be able to continue from that new unlocked world. However, you’ll have to work your ass off to get there, memorising all the enemy weaknesses and movements in each level, and that’s just on normal difficulty! Oh and just to make it all the more tricky, you have to complete each level within a time limit… a feat in on its self!
Since playing the preview build over the last few week and giving some feedback to the True Axis guys on its extreme difficulty, they have updated the game with the ability to continue after you lose all your lives. This gives you one extra life, as well as any weapons upgrades you had accumulated, and puts you at the start of that level. But there is a catch. You must trade your current score for the extra life! Casual and beginners will likely accept this as an easy decision. But I think it will be harder for the hardcore out there to give up their hard earned score, particularly if they’re further into the game. This trade off is a great feature, allowing you to practice getting further into the game until you are ready to play through it for high score glory.
While the game is presented in a top down view, it is fully three dimensional. As well as the scenery protruding upwards, you can also move your ship up and down ramps to higher and lower parts of a level, occasionally using that to your advantage to escape enemies. The further you get into the game, the more intricate the level design becomes, with multiple pathways for both you and the enemy to travel along. A transparent overlay showing a simple map of the entire level, including pointing out where the enemies and power-ups are located, is a clever addition. It’s never intrusive to the main experience, and allows the game view to fill the entire iPhone or iPad screen.
Space Tripper was initially set to be released a few years ago – in fact I played it back at E3 in 2010. Since then the quality of game graphics has come along leaps and bounds in the AppStore’s short lifespan. Space Tripper isn’t quite as impressive as I remember it two years ago, but it’s still one of the better looking arcade shooters on iDevices. One of the advantages of the longer development time is the improved specs of the latest hardware, allowing Space tripper to run at a silky smooth 60 frames per second. And in a game where twitch reactions are paramount, it’s a welcome feature.
The music is subtle in the game. Don’t expect any rousing techno beats like Infinity Gene or Geometry Wars. Instead it’s more atmospheric in tone. What I did notice though, and i’m not sure if it’s intentional, but as you hit enemies the time of each hit and explosion seems to be in time to the music, and adds it’s own rhythm to proceedings. It’s a cool effect.
Despite its difficultly, Space Tripper is so far delivering on a classic shooter experience that seems to be dying out on the Appstore. You’ll find no sign of in app purchases, or ways to fast track your progress. Instead, it’s the simple concept of kill or be killed.
Hardcore shooter fans will no doubt love the challenge – including the ferocious boss battles, and the extended score attack and challenge modes. But I fear that casual gamers, or newcomers, may struggle to progress from the early levels and simply give up too early in frustration. Giving up would be an injustice to a game that sticks to its hardcore, arcade-style roots, where its difficulty is an essential part of its appeal.