Developer: Gateway Interactive
Platform: Xbox One
Released: July 2015
If there was ever a game that could be described as the embodiment of black-tar heroin in videogame form, Spectra might be that game: dangerously addictive and almost hazardous to your health are both accurate descriptions of a typical Spectra experience. “Good fun” would be another, along with “only in moderation”.
The premise couldn’t be simpler: you pilot a ship down a platform floating in space. Avoid obstacles and going off course, and survive a time limit. Sounds easy enough, and it is in the beginning, but you’ll soon find yourself facing Turbo Tunnel levels of sheer insanity. Mercifully, you only receive a game over once you’ve gone off course; the amount of barriers I’ve collided with is enough to make me an insurance nightmare.
The gimmick here is that you don’t pick a set level. There are 10 musical tracks created by chiptune artist Chipzel, and the levels are procedurally generated around that. Of course, the further you get and the more tracks you unlock, the more difficult the game becomes, to the point of giving you an unlockable Hardcore mode for each track, which significantly increases the difficulty by making everything faster and adding more obstacles than ever.
Really, it’s no surprise that Spectra models itself after old-school, arcade titles, going so far as to replace a conventional Press Start screen with “Insert Credit(s)”. Everything from the simplicity, the difficulty, the stellar musical work from Chipzel (seriously, it’s worth the price alone just for the soundtrack) and the neon art style combine together to scream out “retro throwback”, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. It’s just a game designed to be fun for a quick blast. Nothing more, nothing less.
Now, more than ever, games like this are becoming more and more important to the discerning console gamer. Say you’ve just bought a new retail title and you’re waiting for the updates to install, but you don’t quite feel like dipping into a game with characters, plot and complicated gameplay mechanics. Games like this, and Geometry Wars 3 are made for those times in between, just don’t be surprised to find yourself going out of your way to get your next quick fix.
That being said, there are one or two criticisms. The game handles really well, with your ship able to glide comfortably around the track, to the point that failure often times feels like your fault and not to do with the game design. That being said, the procedurally generated layouts can throw up combinations like “boost pad > blind hill > wall”, and in those situations, you’ll find yourself off course quicker than you can throw out your expletive of choice. Not only that, but the actual amount of obstacles and track pieces is threadbare to say the least. One or two levels of play, and chances are you’ve seen off everything the game has to throw at you, wall of obstacles notwithstanding of course.
Also, the game’s simplicity, whilst initially a strength, comes back to be a weakness during extended play sessions, as the extreme colours and general speed of the game can have negative effects on your health. After around 45 minutes, I began to feel dizzy and had to take a break.
At £6.00 though, I can forgive such issues. This game knows what it is and does its job superbly, and it would be great to see more of it, maybe in the form of new songs or skins for the ship and track. I know I would love to see certain songs make their way into Spectra. The entire Shovel Knight soundtrack springs to mind, along with Scott Pilgrim Vs The World. Until then, I’ll stick to the occasional fix.