Review: Space Giraffe
Tempest on acid? Rez forcing ecstacy-laced kaleidoscopes into your eyes more like.
The biggest problem when settling down to review Space Giraffe in a positive light is that you just want to explain to people the actual rules of the game. The scoring mechanics are far more tactical and subtle than they first appear. In fact, you could play the game as a straight shooter and still get pretty far without ever troubling yourself with such elements and flower cultivation and bulling (more on those later).
So let us start at the beginning, and I’ll keep the FAQ as brief as possible. Space Giraffe is the latest offering from veteran coder, and llama-obsessed professional mentalist, Jeff Minter. As a speccy owner, this isn’t such a big deal but I guess he’s the Commodore owner’s Matt Smith (Jet Set Willy/Manic Miner) and any game by him hitting Microsoft’s Xbox Live Arcade service was always going to be a massive deal. Especially for retro-heads such as myself.
Jeff is also responsible for ‘Neon’, the Xbox 360’s own music visualiser software and that is evident almost as soon as you fire up Space Giraffe with its fluid, glowing backgrounds and multicoloured playfield. Initially it makes you want to weep but you can’t because your eyes are unable to cry and process anything that is happening on screen.
What greets you initially is a flat wireframe 3D play area that leads into the screen. Your avatar (not really a giraffe) is placed on the rim nearest to you whilst the baddies head towards from the space field behind. Sound familiar? Throw in J. Allard’s shaven head and liberal dashes of colour and light and that’s pretty much it. A couple of HUD indicators (lives and bonus multiplier) complete the screen but that’s your lot. Sounds simple. Looks insane.
Even on the relatively calmer opening levels the game can still seem a little bit daunting, especially with various bits of text flying around the place. Also, and this is my first real criticism, the tutorial levels and the hints and tips screen aren’t really that helpful. It took me a few visits to various forums before I really understood what it was I needed to do.
So, being an achievements whore, I decided to try and get the ‘Professor of Giraffeology’ achievement before I returned to the main meat of the game. A few close calls later I finally hit the ten million points target and went back to the beginning of the game. A sweet twenty-six level run later, not bad for my first ‘proper’ go, and everything had clicked into place. The graphics no longer were a hindrance, for the most part, and the beat-heavy dance music was getting me into the fabled ‘zone’ that everyone else except me normally has tickets for. It’s a cliche but it really did click and that is a rare feeling that not many games can cultivate.
With that click comes a deeper understanding of what Space Giraffe is. Sure, you can’t escape the fact that it is a shoot ’em up of sorts but in this game all-out shooting is a defensive tactic. One that buys you respite from the main dangers of the game and, in true classic gameplay style, the biggest danger is the greed of the player themselves.
You see, unlike other games of this ilk, the points come from letting your enemies reach the rim. If you’ve got a ‘powerzone’ active (indicated by a line that moves away from you when you kill something) you can ram into any enemies on the rim. This is called ‘bulling’ and if you bull enough enemies in one movement you’ll bump up your bonus multiplier.
Now, as I said before, I don’t want to drag this review out like some sort of ‘how to’ guide but the bulling is important because it is so easy to miss because instinctively you do not want enemies anywhere near you but, with big points on offer, judging their approach leads to some of the best ‘risk v reward’ gameplay I’ve seen since Qix and I loved Qix a lot. Despite being awful at it.
Try as I might I just cannot get along with Space Giraffe. The visuals, whilst looking nicely shiny in a mid nineties Utah Saints music video kind of way, distract from and often obscure the action going on be it abstract giraffes, flowers, power ups and the like. The music is equally oblique, mixing 8-bit bleeps and Minter’s trademark sheep bleats which are all interspaced with off-the-shelf techno beats and loops.But as well we all know what defines Xbox Live Arcade titles is the gameplay and for me Space Giraffe can’t cash the cheques Minters writing. It might be a personal thing like all opinions and criticism but Space Giraffe just does not make me want to play it. Sure, I can fire it up and spend twenty or so minutes zapping blobs and avoiding spiky things while dieing from bullets that get lost amongst the pyrotechnic effects.
Where it should inspire me to think ‘Ah a quick game of ‘Giraffe to wind down with’, instead it just leaves me cold like so many other games of its ilk.
Secondary Score: 6/10
So if you bring that all together you get trippy visuals, thumping music and exciting, risk-driven gameplay. If that’s not a recipe for adrenaline I don’t know what is and what more can you ask from a pick up and play arcade game? Especially one that costs about three quid. THREE QUID? It’s like Mastertronic all over again but with even more colour-clash.
Before this becomes a llama-felation session, there are a few downsides. As mentioned before, the tutorial is less than helpful and the collision detection is, at times, a little bit off and those visuals are probably just a bit ‘too much’ but these are minor faults that you can overlook. Not just because of the low price or the essentially English quirkiness but because the gameplay really does hold together to create something that modern gamers don’t get to experience often enough.
If you have any kind of interest in old-style gaming (eesh, almost said old-school) or shooters in general you really owe it to yourself to try this game out. Like most people your early reaction will probably be ‘Jesus Fucking Christ, what the hell is this?’ but stick with it and check out our forums if you need any assistance and you may well agree with me that ‘Space Giraffe’ is not only the XBLA game of the year* but also a strong contender for overall game of the year. Yes, it’s that good.
…and I didn’t even mention ‘Tempest’.
*until SWOS comes out.
Note: Score reduced by 1 point after patch released.