The Next Space Review—A Space Shooter for 3 Bucks
The Next Space is the most recent retro arcade classic from SNK and G1M2. I have to wonder if the working title of this game was “The Next Space Shooter,” and when the game was finally finished, they couldn’t figure out anything more appropriate, so they went with it. Only to realize it was too long, so they dropped the “Shooter.” That’s as good an explanation as I can think of, since the game itself seems to have no background story or plot. Maybe the cabinet art explained things, but that wasn’t included in this, and The Next Space seems to have only been released in Japan, so the usual sites don’t have any info.
Still, the game boils down to flying a spaceship (which looks rather like an F-15 Eagle…hey, if it was good enough for Star Fleet Battles) and shooting enemies. Lots and lots of enemies. That fire lots and lots of bullets. But luckily you get lots and lots of power-ups. There’s a line, I feel, between the more sedate and precise shooters of the past and the more modern-style shmup. While I wouldn’t say this is the bullet hell sort, it’s very much a shmup. Expect to have a sore thumb and fingers.
The game is divided up into areas of space. Typically in each area, you fly upwards while enemies glide onto the screen in formation, somewhat like Galaga or Gyruss, but instead of settling down, they keep moving. After a few of these, there is a mid-boss, then more formations, then another mid-boss, and then you confront an end-of-level boss. And after that, you are ready for the next (area of) space, which I guess is where the name of the game actually comes from.
The variety is very good, and very strange. You seem to fight a lot of different robots, including a robotic version of a Big Mac, as well as all sorts of transforming-type enemies that join together. There are Dalek-type mid-bosses that are little squid-like things in a robotic shell. One level features almost entirely vector graphics-style enemies—just outlines of the ships and bullets.
That variety extends to the power-ups, though it’s often unclear just what most of them do. Some just seem to change the appearance of your ship. But most are secondary weapons, fired using the O button (though of course you can change that). Some of these are fairly traditional, multi-shots and missiles, but some fire bouncing balls and what look like bananas (at least shaped like them). And there is also a flamethrower. That would be useful if the enemy bullets were affected by your own weaponry, but alas, they’re not usually (except for some boss bullets). It’s still useful in a few places.
The Next Space is a very difficult game, but at the same time, it’s not cheap, nor is it frustrating (at least not until the final boss). At first glance at your rather large spaceship, you think you have to be very precise, but its hitbox (the part that makes you blow up when you get hit) is fairly small, pretty much just the fuselage of your craft, not the wings or even the nose. What’s also nice is that when your ship blows up (it only takes one hit), there is no pause; the action resumes immediately. Very refreshing after playing the game released along with this, Chopper I, which had a delay and forced you to replay part of the level.
Graphically, it won’t blow you away (it looks like a TurboGrafx-16 game), but there is a huge amount of variety in the enemies in the game, most with a good amount of detail in terms of the animation and sprites. Thankfully it doesn’t have the extremely vertical screen problem that Chopper I had—everything is easy to see. On the other hand, except for part of one level, the background is a basic starfield.
The sound is more or less unremarkable, but one tune did bear a frightening resemblance to a Billy Joel song. My roommate my first year of college was a big fan of his, and I still have the scars.
While playing all these old SNK games on my PSP, once in a while I’ll come across a title that has a moment or two of slowdown. It generally seems to happen right before a boss fight: the game freezes for a moment, and I can see the memory card access light go on. Chopper I was the worst I had played in that regard, and it happens often in The Next Space as well, though not nearly as much as in the former. I’m not sure if the same problem exists when played on the PS3 or Vita.
Except for the ship not having any inertia, The Next Space did really remind me of A Space Shooter for 2 Bucks! Oh sure, your ship can’t be hit without getting destroyed, but the quick resume keeps you in the action. It lacks the upgrades, comedic cutscenes, and replayability, and it’s only about a third as long (only six stages), but it just feels similar and is fun in quick bursts. At a dollar more, it offers much less, but it’s not without merit if you have some extra money.