We Didn’t Start The Fire
If there’s one genre that’s been underrepresented since the Nintendo Switch launched in March of last year, it’s space shooters. Now, Deep Silver is here to fill that void with Manticore – Galaxy on Fire. An updated port of the iOS and Android shooter Galaxy on Fire 3, the allows players to jump into the cockpit of a handful of flashy spacecraft and beat back hordes of meddlesome space pirates. More Rogue Squadron than Elite Dangerous, Manticore is great fun in short bursts. Unfortunately, a lack of polish and its shallow gameplay keep it from being the out of this world space shooter it could have been.
The Banal Frontier
Manticore – Galaxy on Fire begins with your nameless pilot besieged by space pirates. Right before these bandits of the void can reduce your humble ship to space dust, you’re rescued at the last second by the friendly space mercenaries of Manticore and brought aboard their ship as the newest member of their team.
Right from the outset Manticore – Galaxy on Fire’s mobile roots are readily apparent. Once aboard the game’s titular mothership, all storytelling is handled from a lifeless, static briefing screen which feels lifted straight from your smartphone. Yes, there is a surprising amount of voiced dialog to move the story along. However, every performance feels utterly phoned in. And honestly, it makes it very hard to care about the major players who’re introduced throughout the game’s narrative. Given this is a port of a game originally released on mobile devices, it’s understandable that the presentation of the campaign is a bit underwhelming. Still, I found the cheap, cardboard character portraits and flat voicework kept me from becoming invested in the universe as a whole. And that’s a shame because the tidbits of lore you collect during missions tease a really well-realized galaxy just brimming with intergalactic drama and intrigue.
Shooting For The Stars
Despite its less than stellar storytelling, Manticore – Galaxy On Fire does deliver a satisfying arcade shooter experience that is easy to pick up and enjoy. All of the game’s nine unlockable craft handle easily and are incredibly maneuverable. It’s great fun to weave through asteroid fields, ruined space stations, and the hulking steel skeletons of giant spacecraft as you lob missiles and laser blasts at enemy pirates, all while your wisecracking A.I. copilot heckles you mercilessly.
Even if you’re a novice when it comes to flight sims, you’ll feel like a hardened space mercenary within minutes of hopping into the cockpit in Manticore. Steering your ship is handled with the left thumbstick, while a simple tap of the right thumbstick performs an evasive barrel roll. That really is all there is to it. Taking aim at hostile ships is also a breeze thanks to the giant red targeting reticles that let you know exactly where you need to aim to blast your foes into twisted metal. Simply put, if you can handle piloting an Arwing in Star Fox, you’ll find this battle for spaceborne supremacy a cakewalk.
In fact, Manticore – Galaxy On Fire can feel a bit too accessible at times. Your ship can take a generous amount of damage before its shields are depleted, which makes standard baddies little more than a nuisance. More often than not I found myself dispatching entire waves of starfighters before they even came close to my heavily-armed ship.
The only times I ever felt threatened was when I was dealing with the game’s bosses. And this wasn’t because they were much brighter than other enemies. Instead, the reason was mostly due to the fact they come with their own little gimmicks that give them an advantage over the player. These include guns that fire backward, shields that can replenish their health, and other tricks that will keep you on your toes.
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy these battles. But I have to admit they drug on a bit too long for my liking, mainly because bosses can take an ungodly amount of damage. By the time I could whittle their shields away I’d have to back off and wait for my own to replenish while hoping they didn’t have enough time to do the same. This makes for a battle of attrition that is more tedious slog than a thrilling interstellar dogfight.
A Galaxy’s Worth of Content
Manticore’s simple, streamlined combat and flight mechanics belie a game that’s loaded with a surprisingly dense amount of content. In between story missions you’re free to explore numerous uncharted areas to take on side missions. After clearing out these areas you can then revisit them to hunt down pieces of lore which shed light on the Galaxy on Fire universe, as well as ship parts that can be used to unlock new craft. Additionally, throughout your adventure, you’ll collect a valuable resource called Mhaan-Tiq. This material can then be used in the Manticore’s hangar to upgrade your ships’ hull, shields, energy, and missile stocks. You can also use blueprints to unlock various weapons including more powerful cannons, lasers, and missiles for your fleet of fighters, scouts, and gunships.
All told, it didn’t take long for the steady beat of clearing missions and upgrading my budding army of ships to become utterly addicting. And despite their occasionally annoying nature, I felt a genuine sense of satisfaction seeing their names crossed off my hit list as I progressed through Manticore’s campaign.
Speaking of the campaign, there’s also a welcome amount of variety to the missions you’ll undertake. These range from protecting VIP convoys to defending the manticore and attacking gigantic enemy motherships. The only problem I had with them is the fact that many of them are over far too quickly – surely this is a relic of the game’s mobile heritage. I do wish they felt a little more fleshed out and substantial. Still, if you’re looking for a game that’s easy to pick up and play during your commute, Manticore – Galaxy On Fire should fit the bill.
In terms of presentation, Manticore – Galaxy on Fire is a mixed bag. However, let’s start with the good. From the moment you fire up the game, you’ll notice it features some absolutely gorgeous backdrops that really pop off of the screen. There were numerous occasions the shattered planets and churning, fiery glow of twisting nebulae in the distance left my jaw hanging wide open. Trust me – they’re nothing short of beautiful. And despite these very busy, detailed environments, the game moves at a rock solid 60FPS, even when undocked, which makes the dogfights feel fluid and seamless. You can’t beat that, right?
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the game’s flat and lifeless cutscenes or the ships you’ll pilot and battle. These lack polish and, quite frankly, look unfinished. Now, I get it. Yet again, this is probably due to the game’s mobile roots. Still, it’s a shame Deep Silver didn’t do a bit more to polish things up to make the most out of the Switch’s hardware. At least the game’s impressive light sourcing does help add a bit of flavor to the otherwise sterile ship models and boxy architecture. Things do fare a bit better in the aural front, though. The game’s dynamic music changes pace with the on-screen action, and lasers and explosions deliver gratifying booms and blasts to punctuate the destruction.
Deep Space Fine
In the end, Manticore – Galaxy on Fire is a perfectly passable entry in a genre that’s awfully neglected on the Switch. It’s not without its problems though. The game’s mobile lineage is evident throughout the experience thanks to its cardboard storytelling and bite-sized missions. Still, despite these quirks, I couldn’t help but find myself coming back for more thanks to its simple yet enjoyable combat and addicting customization system. Though it’s probably not going to fill that Star Fox-shaped hole in your Switch library, Manticore is a solid space shooter that’ll scratch that dogfighting itch, even if only for a weekend.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: Switch (Reviewed) ; Publisher: Deep Silver ; Developer: Deep Silver ; Players: 1 ; Released: April 19th, 2018 ; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $19.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Manticore – Galaxy on Fire given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.