We have nothing to sphere but sphere itself.
Oh, Asteroids. Nearly 40 years on, there’s still something undeniably attractive about your simplistic, skill-based gameplay. Every now and then, somebody decides to the honor one of the great grandfathers of games, whether through directly remaking the title in a purist approach, or trying out something a little bit different. sphereFACE, by developer VoxelStorm, is one of the newest Asteroids efforts designed on the latter principle, complete with a background story of sorts.
You should know the drill by now, but if not, here’s a crash course (emphasis on the word “crash”): you pilot a somewhat slippery vessel through space as it destroys wayward cosmic debris, while occasionally making quick work of alien vessels. It’s simplicity itself, but it takes a considerable amount of effort to master spherFACE. In addition, there’s a new arsenal of weapons to obtain and upgrade; we’re talking many tropes taken directly from first-person shooter games, including everything from shotgun-like mechanisms to guided missiles. You’ll be able to find these, along with assorted armor and random propulsion upgrades, from the various asteroids and ships you encounter in your journey through the game’s trippy cyberspace universe. Most importantly, things have a decidedly roguelike element with the inclusion of randomly-generated sphere arenas, as well as the inclusion of a single-save system that you can return to, but which also features permadeath. From the tricky controls to the continued avoidance of enemies and debris, there’s a rather steep learning curve at play here, which sadly may turn off some beginner players. Sure, it’s a bit tricky, but it’s never unfair. And most of all, it’s pretty fun for a relatively minor-commitment, quick coffee-break game. Stick with it and you’ll find yourself pleasantly rewarded.
Shooting things in a round-about way
Upon first boot, you’ll likely think the controls are broken. It’s a little difficult to understand the exact piques of acceleration, sliding, and trajectory, but the longer you play it, the more things begin to make sense. If I make a personal recommendation, I found it best to tackle this one with a keyboard and mouse, as well as possibly turning off automatic deceleration, at least until you grasp the mechanics fully. It’s also VR-ready, certainly making for a rather unique experience and one which you’d never imagine Asteroids offering.
Whatever you choose, you’ll need to take into account that the playing field folds in on itself, and traversing any one direction sends you moving into the opposite end of the sphere, both horizontally and vertically. This also means that the shots you fire will wrap around the inside of the sphere, and this may be both to your benefit or to your detriment, depending on what you planned and how much attention you were paying to your movement and your shots. After dispatching a certain amount of space debris, you’ll move onto another sphere, all of which are connected to one another in a vast, macroscopic network. The story continuously hints at something surreal and malevolent awaiting players who survive for extended periods and manage to conquer a great deal of the available spheres, giving the game a semblance of a plot that you wouldn’t find in the arcade original.
Having a ball. Or,rather, many balls.
Without sounding pretentious, the game’s presentation is easily one of the most striking aspects. Graphics are a curious blend of solid colors and lines, invoking comparisons to classic consoles such as the Vectrex, yet laced with three-dimensional and widescreen effects of the modern day. The result is a curious and attractive fusion of elements that are how one would imagine video games to have evolved if they began in the 21st century instead of the 20th. If you don’t care too much for the color scheme, there are assorted customization options available at your dispoal. On the audio side of things, it too is pure minimalistic synthwave that compliments the mood perfectly and makes you feel like you’re reliving the 1980’s. The soundtrack is available as a separate purchase, and I highly recommend seeking it out if you’re any sort of fan of that style of music.
Though a little difficult to get into initially, sphereFACE is a superb take on the classic Asteroids formula. It proves that there’s still a market for a game nearly four decades old, yet manages to add fresh new twists on top without spoiling the main concept. If you’re up for a trip down memory lane with its own dash of trippiness, blast on over the game’s official Steam page to add it to your library.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: VoxelStorm ; Developer: VoxelStorm ; Players: single-player. ; Released: 19th of May, 2017.
Full disclosure: this review is based on a key for sphereFACE given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.