A Space Shooter for 2 Bucks! Review—Now That Was Worth 2 Bucks!
Frima Studio has been on board the Minis program since launch, and the one thing that has always stood out in their titles has been their excellent production values. This, A Space Shooter for 2 Bucks!, is no exception, and what’s more amazing, they deliver it for a very low price, only $1.99.
What kind of production values can a space shooter Mini have? Well, it’s got a surprisingly large amount of dialogue, all fully voiced. But even if it didn’t have that, it would still be a great game at even thrice the price. It more than compares to Who’s That Flying?! and The Flying Hamster in terms of depth, and most importantly, it’s just plain fun.
You control the USS Eradicator, which is captained by Commander P. Jefferson. It’s very much the more modern sort of shooter, where bullets fly everywhere. Unlike most of the shooters that have appeared in the Minis program so far, it’s a vertical shooter—the background scrolls slowly downward, and you can move your ship all over the screen, though you always face up. Enemies appear from the top or at the sides.
Some of them attack in formation, while others appear solo. There are several different types. Most just shoot at you—little bullets at first, then later on larger ones, and even continuous beams. Some try to run into you. Eventually you run into asteroids, which you simply must smash or avoid.
The controls are pretty simple; you use the analog nub or D-pad to move the ship around, and the X button is to fire. If you hold down the button it will auto-fire, but the rate is generally slower than you can achieve by button mashing. Generally, as when you pick up a “Haste” power-up, holding down the X button fires much more quickly than you can tap it.
Firing of special weapons is mapped to the Square button. You cycle through these by using the shoulder buttons. It works pretty well, except sometimes I can’t remember which one is which, since they are just color-coded by the energy bar displayed. Most are easy to remember, but I always get the Hellfire Beam (orange) and Defense Ships (sort of a reddish purple) mixed up.
Part of progressing through the game is simply learning how to play it better, but upgrading your ship is perhaps the most vital factor to success in the game. Figuring out the attack pattern of bosses is still important, but on a couple of occasions I was able to simply blast my way through them.
In the Campaign Mode, which is the heart of the game, you are given a map of space. You pick which sector or level you want to go to—some are just aliens, while others have named bosses. Each is rated by difficulty.
As you progress through the level and blast enemies, they drop “remnants” which you collect with your ship, which turn into money based on the color. After the level is over, you can visit the weapons shop to upgrade your ship by purchasing items, but for simply completing a level once, you either get an improved hull (for the non-story boss sectors) capable of taking more hits or a special weapon (which the boss used against you).
If you need more money to buy an upgrade, you can go back and redo a level. The upgrades are fairly simple: how many bullets your main cannon simultaneously fires, improving the power-ups you collect in a level, improving and reducing costs of using a certain boss weapon, and improving how your ship picks up remnants.
The free-form nature of Campaign Mode is an excellent idea, as it puts the player in control of the game and even adds something of an RPG element. While it does perhaps pad the length of the game by having you repeat levels to earn the money to buy upgrades, because the game is fun, you don’t really mind doing so (this is actually pointed out in-game in a cutscene). And if you are good, you can perhaps do later stages without upgrading your ship as much.
Still, on the downside, I think it does make the difficulty curve as steep as climbing a cliff. When you first start off, the game is the most difficult, as you only have one bullet per shot, you don’t attract remnants automatically, and you can take very few hits. Again, it reminds me of an RPG, where sometimes you lose your first encounter to rats (or something similarly wimpy [ed.—goofy, smiling slimes!]).
Once you upgrade your cannon to three bullets per shot, two of which are at an angle, the game becomes much, much easier, as you can now attack bosses without being underneath them. And from then on, the game is pretty easy until the final boss fight, especially as you upgrade your cannon more and more.
Besides the Campaign, there is Survival Mode. There you basically play until you get killed. It uses your ship from Campaign Mode, so again, it’s much easier once it’s been upgraded. It keeps the high score, but there is no high score table beyond that, though there are three separate save game profiles. Across both of the modes, there is a wide array of achievements to earn. There doesn’t seem to be anything unlockable except a fourth difficulty level.
While the gameplay itself makes this title top notch, the production values take it to a whole different level. The fully voiced cutscenes really bring the character of Commander Jefferson to life. He is very much an alpha male, despite looking like a combination of the stereotypical D&D player and sports talk radio host.
He hate aliens and loves killing them. He lets you know this not just in the cutscenes but chimes in constantly while you are playing. Some of the things he says seem random, but others seem tied to what you do. In a lot of ways, he reminds me of Eric Cartman of South Park—you’ll cringe at some of the things he says, but at the same time, you’ll silently agree with a lot of it. Or maybe that’s just me.
Voice acting can actually be a bad thing if it’s done poorly. But it’s actually done pretty well here, at least in the case of the main character and his ship’s computer. And there is such a variety of sayings during gameplay that it doesn’t really get old (though sometimes he does immediately repeat himself).
Unfortunately, the game suffers from a nasty bug on the PSP. Sometimes, when you finish a level, the PSP will freeze for a few seconds and then shut off. Or after finishing the level, the PSP doesn’t freeze, but the progress just doesn’t count. This bug seems to be tied to using the sleep mode of the PSP.
While I can understand how such a bug could be missed in a development environment, sleep mode is probably my favorite part of the PSP, so it’s kind of a big deal. I am confident this will be fixed as soon as possible, and quite honestly, much like having to redo levels for money, I don’t mind so much having to redo levels because the gameplay is so fun. It is a little annoying for boss fights, though.
A Space Shooter for 2 Bucks! is a great example of how a name can be both completely accurate and misleading. Yes, it is a space shooter, and it’s only two bucks. But it’s more than just a space shooter. It’s far and away the best Mini yet. It’s going to be a tough act to follow, though, as Frima has raised the bar in terms of bang for your two bucks.