Does this Shoot ’em Up/Word Game hybrid spell out success?
Space-themed Shoot ’em Up games are a dime a dozen, and creating a title that truly stands out in said genre can be quite difficult in this day and age. Obviously a bit of creativity is needed in order to make a truly innovative game in a market that is saturated with sub-par clones of arcade hits such as Galaga and Space Invaders; a fact that is quite obvious. While the search for creativity may lead a developer down many routes, a common solution is genre mixing. Taking a Shoot ’em Up and adding various elements from other genres -RPGs, RTSs, Puzzles – can take something that was once run-of-the-mill, and turn it into something quite unique and spectacular. That being said, not every genre is meant to be paired with every other genre out there. Sometimes, despite how innovative a game may seem, things just don’t work out as well as they should. Spellblast, unfortunately, may be one such example.
Spellblast is a Shoot ’em Up/Word Game hybrid, a rather unique pairing, that follows the play style of the arcade classic Gradius (with some differences, of course), meaning that the game takes place as a side-scroller as opposed to a top-down Shooter. Players are given control of a space ship in order to fight off oncoming aliens. After the onslaught of baddies has been blasted to bits, a boss shows up. Defeating the boss nets you a nifty score bonus and then it’s off to the next level. The levels are generated at random so both the enemies and boss are always a surprise, and there’s honestly a pretty good mix in terms of AI patterns and pathing in both the basic enemies and bosses; no two baddies ever feel quite the same (nor do they look the same, but we’ll get into that later). While nothing seems overly-complicated in terms of difficulty, the player’s ship is cursed with both slow movement and the inability to move horizontally. This means that even if you know what’s coming, you still might be just a little too slow to dodge it.
Now, onto the “Word Game” aspect of Spellblast. While shooting down droves of oncoming weirdness letters will also appear onscreen one by one, and it is your job to collect them (be careful not to shoot them though, or you’ll lose a life). The letters collected appear on the bottom of the screen inside of boxes, with the number of empty boxes indicating the number of letters left to collect. After collecting, you will then be tasked to formulate these letters into a word. Succeeding in this will reward you with a much-needed power-up for the oncoming boss battle, while failing to do so means that you’ll be fighting bare-bones. While the concept is certainly a unique one, it isn’t as fine-tuned as it could be. First and foremost is the fact that you have to unscramble the word while still playing the side-scrolling shooter portion of the game. While this does indeed have potential, the poor maneuverability of the ship combined with the multitude of enemies that are surely on screen by now due to the player’s split focus means that you’ll more than likely lose one or more of your five lives. I am absolutely 100% in favor of challenges, but this always felt too much like I was being set up to fail. That being said, the uniqueness that it’s trying to convey is definitely something to take into consideration.
Secondly, there are the words themselves. My first word was “Jedi”. I’m sorry Star Wars fans, but “Jedi” is not a real word to me. If a game is going to involve spelling, it had best make sure that the words that it has people spelling are words that actually relate to real-life things. The words were relatively normal other than that, though there were a few words here and there, such as “bine”, that I looked up just for clarity’s sake.
The soundtrack of Spellblast consists of two major songs. The first is a generic rock tune that plays during the level. While not bad or unappealing in any way, it feels a bit out-of-place in a space-themed Shoot ’em Up. The second song plays during boss battles and appears to be some sort of obscene and aggressive hip-hop. Not only is it very unfitting for this game, but it’s also way too loud. I generally ended up muting my computer whenever I got to a boss battle.
The graphical quality of Spellblast is quite a step up from the audio. Although I never quite knew just what I was fighting most of the time, the enemies never failed to entertain and amuse me. From enemies such as fat, pistol-toting aliens that appear to be drinking Mountain Dew and what I can’t help but call “Mosquito Dads” all the way to giant boss-bears filled with meat, Spellblast certainly did a good job with its visuals where it counted the most. It’s definitely one of the game’s strongest assets, if you’re into weirdness that is.
Spellblast certainly has a way to go if it wants to make itself memorable in the gaming world. Between the somewhat frustrating slowness of the ship to the highly questionable soundtrack, some more effort definitely needs to put into the game in the long run. With that being said, Spellblast isn’t all bad. With its noticeable effort to combine two dissimilar genres into one game and weirdly charming enemies that look like they came from some the minds at Adult Swim, it has a few good points too. Though still pretty rough around the edges, Spellblast may be worth a look for those who sometimes seek out the weirdest video games they can find; and you certainly can’t beat its $0.99 price tag.
Final Verdict: 2/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed); Publisher: Forever humble PDX ; Developer: Tonal Recall Games ; Players: 1; Released: February 22, 2016; Genre: Spell ‘Em Up ; MSRP: $0.99