You are a spaceship venturing across lands ravaged by an alien invasion. Was that an unintentional metaphor for life? Probably. But it’s also the literal description of Really Slick’s new age survival shooter/cave flyer, Retrobooster.
More specifically, and less metaphorically, you’re a waste dump employee who plays with Starblade class fighter ships in your free time. But when hostile aliens begin overpowering the human race, you’re suddenly drafted as one of mankind’s last defenses. Basically, you’re a garbage man turned galactic superhero. Fantastic.
Quickly after picking up Retrobooster, I found myself piloting (or more accurately, floundering) my fine spacecraft through puzzles filled with strange alien technology, exotic monsters, and human survivors signaling for rescue. Deep space is very dangerous, and alien weaponry is surprisingly neon.
While players can focus on saving every stranded human, or racking up points by combo killing aliens, my greatest challenge starting out was simply surviving. Navigating near zero-gravity with a sensitive dual propulsion system and a ship about as sturdy as a porcelain jar really put me to the test. On the highest difficulty level, the lightest tap of my stern onto a space pebble would cataclysmically implode my dainty fighter ship.
Retrobooster‘s vision is to apply new development techniques and fresh personality to the elements of 1980‘s cave-flyers, repurposing a genre that aims to keep the player struggling. In this class of gaming, it’s not always a bad thing for a level to send you walking away in defeat, as long as the game’s allure keeps you returning with a vengeance. The result of Really Slick’s reinvention is a beautiful action/puzzle game with a high skill requirement and lack of continual story that wonderfully fulfills its purpose as a cave-flyer, but may fail to capture players not drawn to this genre. Personally, my unhealthy levels of curiosity make me physically incapable of leaving a puzzle unsolved, and so I kept returning to the levels that left me dejected. But aside from my personal obsession, I don’t know if I’d find the graphics and physics engine sufficient reason to commit to this game.
While past titles of the genre had little to offer in terms of narrative, there is no need to chain Retrobooster to the tropes and design limitations of decades past, and if anything there was an opportunity here to enhance the genre with the positive qualities of storytelling. I think the large spans of levels without much comprehensible plot weaken the game’s appeal and deprive Retrobooster of a unifying narrative force. Offering story segments, even slightly more often, would have created some forward momentum and sewn multiple levels of puzzles together with compelling prose, creating a more unified and potent game without diluting the puzzle driven nature (think Portal).
Despite its frustrations, there’s a lot to appreciate in Retrobooster. The physics engine felt extremely responsive and create a gravitational experience unique to this game. The whole title is a visual orgy of radiant bullet barrages, bright fire plumes, and explosion after explosion unlike any 4th of July fireworks display I’ve ever witnessed. I also have to thank Kevin Meinert for the engaging electronic soundtrack that sounds as rich and puzzling as the game itself. If I had to wander through space combating alien technology, I’d want something this heroic yet buoyant to accompany me.
When it comes to the gameplay, there’s definitely a large learning curve for players, which I view as a success. The control system, easy to grasp and extremely hard to master, is as much a puzzle as the environment, which means the longer you spend honing your flying skills, the more your play-style evolves and the more gratifying the experience becomes.
Traveling through the mysterious corners of the universe, I ran into occasional pieces of comedic whimsy, for example the tart “Nice landing, ace” that popped up as I crushed my first stranded human. I felt the unique embarrassment that comes with being scolded for virtual murder, and I realized there may be nothing I respect more than a game that’s not afraid to make fun of me.
With its lively music, formidable controls, vibrant look, and comic touch, Retrobooster carries a lightheartedness that balances the lonely procedural feeling of many cave-flyers. A healthy dose of color and humor make the voids of space enjoyable… I mean, as enjoyable as a decimating alien invasion could be. My point is that each level didn’t make me want to mourn the destruction of the human race, and that’s an awesome feat.
This adventure is poised to launch into game space, and whether you fly solo or in split-screen mode with friends, you’ll have fun testing your fundamental senses of gravity against hordes of alien foes.
[+Awesome physics engine][+Visual ecstasy][+Entrancing soundtrack][+Large learning curve][+Comic flavor][-Difficult to master controls][-Perplexingly Fragile Ship][-Sparse Storyline]