Super Space ____ (is ____ing Cool)

Very rarely do I find a game that can instill an uncontrollable sense of giddiness in me. Last year, at the IndieCade game festival, I experienced once of these games. Super Space ____ (pronounced as the word “blank”), a top-down space shooter for Windows*, is the result of relatively simple concepts executed masterfully. The formula to Super Space ____ is basic: take one part asteroids, one part cooperative multiplayer, and an equal part competitive multiplayer. The result is one of the most hilarious, frantic 4-player games yet envisioned.

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Let’s Take a Trip Through Space… Together!

Physics-based games are all the rage these days. While I appreciate realistic gravity, ballistics, and whatever else you see in game descriptions these days, it’s no longer something that can set a game apart. In order to have your game stand out, you have to do something interesting. Super Space ____ does just that by taking an extremely simple physics concept, the recoil from firing a gun, and turning it into a core game component. As the player, you control a turret on a space ship. Using this turret, you must shoot asteroids, using the recoil from these same shots to maneuver the ship around. Add another player to the mix and you add another turret to the same ship.

Keep Your Friends Close…

With up to 4-players, you and your friends must work together as members of the same ship to steer your ship through wave after wave of oncoming asteroids and obstacles to dodge. While the asteroids themselves do not hurt your ship (in most cases!), colliding with any red object instantly ends the game. In order to score points and destroy an asteroid, you must hit it at least once and then have it collide with any red object. Each shot that hits an asteroid increases a point multiplier for that particular asteroid. The last person to have shot the asteroid before it collides with a red object will get credit for the points. While getting a higher score than your friends is always a plus, the real target is the gun power-ups.

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A brief adventure through space.

There are a total of 4 different power-ups for your turrets to compete for. For your firepower, there are three modifiers: a machine-gun, laser, and shotgun. Each player can have up to 3 different gun power-ups at a time. This means you can have a machine-shotgun, a ultra-fast triple machine-gun, or even a machine-shot-laser gun! Each power up feels unique and completely changes the dynamics of the ship movement.  A player with several power-ups will fire more shots which means they have an increased influence over the ships movement. A reckless player with a triple-shotgun can send the entire ship careening out of control with just a few shots!

… Because You Have No Choice

In addition to the gun modifiers, each player can hold one bomb. Using a bomb destroys all asteroids and deadly obstacles potentially saving your whole team. While initially a last-resort life-saving device, it can quickly become a weapon of revenge or pure annoyance by any player as every time a bomb is used all power-ups for every player will be ejected from them. As the power-ups fly out, each player will frantically fire as fast as they can in an attempt to reclaim their lost upgrades. In order to collect a power-up, that player’s turret must contact the floating upgrade token. As you can imagine, the sight of any power-up, especially after a well-timed spite-inspired bomb, causes the ship to spin wildly as each player attempts to aim the ship with their turret facing any items.

A Delicate Balance

All too often is the scenario that all players are shooting in the same direction, vying for the points and prizes. Remember though, as each shot fired pushes your ship backwards, if your team doesn’t coordinate and cooperate, you’ll all be dead in a matter of seconds. A successful trip though Super Space ____ requires that each player adapt to each other player’s tendencies and influence over the ships movement, the ship itself and the current wave of asteroids.

Each time you start the game, the overall shape of the ship is randomly selected. One ship might be shaped like a square, distributing all four

Although you need to cooperate, it also encourages competition.

Although you need to cooperate, it also encourages competition.

players equally. The next ship might be shaped like a “T” with one player at the bottom. Each ship plays a bit different and alters how your team will have to work together.

Although the waves of asteroids are endless (until you inevitably die), each wave has a special gimmick that you’ll have to overcome. One wave might have you having to push against a wall before it crushes you against the edge. The next wave might have special safe zones that you’ll have to navigate your ship into before a red wave approaches and destroys you. While the waves will repeat if your team is good enough to survive that long, they come in a random order and are all hectically fun.

Refined Simplicity

The concepts in Super Space ____ are not complex but they don’t have to be. The game’s real achievement is in the way it executes these concepts. It feels perfectly engineered for maximum fun with friends. The best part about it is that is is free to download. Head over to http://superspaceblank.com right now, grab some friends and start having a blast!

*While I am not sure of the minimum system requirements, it seems like it could run on any half-way decent machine. Also, it is important to note that Xbox 360 controllers are required in order to play.

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Catch-22 (is Addicting)

Last year I attended the IndieCade festival hoping to learn a thing or two about video game development. While the discussions were disappointing in several ways, I had the chance to play some really interesting games which redeemed the whole event. I plan to cover several of the games I first experienced at IndieCade so expect more!

Inside of a little tiny tent, far too many interesting looking games were set up at far too tiny little stations. One tiny table was set up with a few iPads showing a weird looking game. I picked up one of the iPads and dived right into to one of the coolest ideas at the festival.

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You, too, can catch this game on the App Store for $.99

Catch-22 is all about points. In the classic arcade-style way, the only goal is to do better than you’ve ever done. The basic premise is that you control either a blue or green orb on a non-stop rotation around a large circle trying to collect little floating tokens. Using an incredibly intuitive one-button control scheme, you must avoid colliding with the opposing orb while trying collect the tokens as fast as possible (their point value decreases the lower they get). While this sounds simple, the game becomes unique and complex once you collect the first token.

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The trails show the path the orb will take after you switch.

After you collect the last token of a stage, it instantly switches control to the opposing orb and you must avoid the orb you just were. In an creative method to inject strategy into a simple concept, the opposing orb will always mimic the actions of it’s last revolution, the revolution you had direct control of. By performing a lot of complex jumps to get the last token, you’ve just created a whole mess for yourself. Your previous jumps are faithfully recreated by the opposing orb which you must now dodge. You’ve got to be very careful because one hit means game over!

To further spice up the strategy, at the beginning of every stage, you have a couple seconds to safely crash into the opposing orb. Doing so will lose you some points and take you back down one stage but it also erases the orb memory. This lets you “undo” some horrible pattern you may have made, giving you a chance to reach the next stage a bit more cleanly.

This safe-crash can and should be exploited for big points.

This safe-crash can and should be exploited for big points.

While Catch-22 has only one action, jumping, you have a lot of control over how it works. To jump, you just poke the screen anywhere you’d like (except for the music and pause buttons, of course). The apex of your jump is always the same but you can alter its speed by holding you finger down. Long presses result in huge leaps while just a tap will have you making small hops. Since long jumps cause your orb to move more quickly around the circle, you can use combinations of jumps to optimize your spacing with the opposing orb. It may sound a bit strange but after a few minutes it feels very natural.

The soundtrack is very ambient and adds to the experience but it isn’t anything special. Come for the gameplay not for the audio. At $.99, it’s difficult not to recommend this game. Yes, the gameplay is simple and may feel a bit shallow but the concept and execution are solid. If you like high-score types of games, give it a try.

Bugs

Take note that there are little to no features beyond the game. There are many achievements via Game Center but they do not seem to trigger despite me matching what the description says will unlock it. In addition, the “personal highscore” listed on the title screen never seems to update. To check my (accurate) high score I have to view the Game Center leaderboards. While I assume these bugs will eventually be fixed they do not alter the gameplay in any way unless broken achievements is a deal-breaker.