In taking Space Crüesader (80 MSP) through the necessary paces, I was instantly reminded of a game I reviewed last year, Glowbz. Both are twin-stick shooters featuring stock space backgrounds (overused, in my opinion), and both do everything they can to liven up the (again, overused) genre. They keep the pick-up-and-play simplicity but sharpen their tools on a deeper sense of progression only obtained through repeated runs and steady nerves.
The ideas themselves are nothing new; shoot everything that moves, avoid whatever comes after you in reprisal. Easy enough, but it’s the way the game bridges those rules with basic strategy, in the form of rescuing damaged spaceships, that keeps things interesting. Simply surviving any of the seven stages (a challenge on its own) isn’t enough. While you have unlimited lives, the rescue work is what counts, contingent on a timer that doesn’t leave a lot of seconds to spare.
Each stage ups the ante in the amount of ships you need to rescue too, adding new types of enemies to contend with and higher numbers of existing menaces. You can increase your fire rate if you’re nimble enough, and powerups mitigate the increasing hazards, to an extent. All of your trouble pays off in building a high score for the P2P leaderboard, which takes into account the expected things like multipliers and number of ships used, with after-level bonuses (or subtractions) coming into play for stockpiling extra EMPs or shields (or not).
It’s a solid concept, though the biggest beef I have with Space Crüesader is the sheer amount of stuff on-screen at any given time, and the flashes / effects that almost completely obscure asteroids or mask enemy fire. There’s an option to turn those effects off, but doing so cancels out your score counting towards the global leaderboard. This is, of course, one of the biggest motivators in any indie game; the chance to see your name in lights, your gamertag placard resting triumphantly over a hundred strangers you’ll never meet or interact with. To be cheated out of that right for something you didn’t ask for seems a bit cheap. (EDIT: A patch is in the works that will allow you to turn off the backgrounds and lessen the flashes without affecting high score records.)
And while I enjoyed the Shyamalan-like ‘twist’ at the final stage, taking a risk in throwing out all of the previous level’s mechanics and ideas in favor of an outright vertical-scrolling blitz and final boss, the jarring switch and difficulty here erases most of the game’s fun earned to that point (especially when you’ve worked a half-hour+ to reach it). That flip-flop is a bold move on the developer’s part, but change never happens without causing some pain, so they say.
None of these faults will rain on the parade completely, though, as you’ll get an enjoyable couple of hours for the dollar. There’s a misstep or two, and the chaos occasionally feels outside of your control, but Space Crüesader treads the straight and narrow for the most part. It’s arcade, it’s fast, and tosses aside the formulaic while still remaining true to the twin-stick process.