By Josh Speer / February 14th, 2018
|Release Date||January 25th, 2018|
|Genre||Retro, SHMUP, Arcade|
|Age Rating||E for Everyone – Mild Fantasy Violence|
It’s no hyperbole to say that few teams understand retro like Choice Provisions. They’re pretty much known for bringing new takes on old formulas (their own Bit.Trip Runner series as well as Shutshimi, for example), and for being faithful to games of the past. That was certainly the case in Woah Dave!, the game which preceded Space Dave! Whereas the original game was patterned after the old arcade Mario Bros game, Space Dave! is pretty obviously inspired by Space Invaders. While I enjoyed Woah Dave!, I had little desire to keep playing for long after I beat it. Was Space Dave! able to buck this trend on the Nintendo Switch?
Much like its predecessor, Space Dave! is a simple formula that is easy to learn and hard to master. Even on the lowest difficulty of Easy Peasy, you’ll find a solid challenge. Your goal in the game is to run back and forth blasting alien scum from the sky and collecting the pennies they drop. To mix things up, you can pick up power ups such as Drones which blast alongside you, as well increasing your firing speed and spread shot upgrades. You can also literally turn the enemies against each other with the Space Block. There was a similar item in Woah Dave!, but here it serves a unique purpose. Throw it in the middle of a group of enemies, and any caught by the blast wave will be turned into extra guns that float alongside you! Unlike the Drones, they can take damage and be destroyed, but they also offer a much bigger boost of power, especially when you snag a whole gaggle of aliens. You can only steal so many at a time, but there’s no downside to tossing the block when you have a full complement, since it will instead kill any aliens it touches.
Right now you might be thinking this sounds too familiar to Space Invaders, and you’d be wrong. For one thing, Dave can jump and hover. For another, just like in Woah Dave!, when enemies touch the ground, it will erupt into a pool of dangerous lava, powering the alien up in the process. By defeating powered up foes, you’ll be granted a skull which you can toss into the lava, restoring one portion of the ground. It takes two to fully restore it, and three to bring back the nifty trees, which besides looking pretty, also reward you with a whole nickel at the end of each enemy phase. However, if you need a quicker fix for lava, you will sometimes find the Lava Freeze, which temporarily turns dangerous lava into safe blocks of ice.
The only truly safe area is the middle of the screen, identified by a rocky carapace. If aliens touch that, even though they’ll upgrade, the ground underneath won’t become dangerous. So you’ll constantly be playing a balancing act of shooting foes, trying to stop aliens from touching the ground, destroying upgraded foes to heal the land, and madly running about to collect coins. While the coins don’t actually unlock anything, they contribute to your high score and thus your bragging rights when you upload it to the online servers. It’s basic, but also a very compelling reason to keep playing after you’ve beaten the main game. Besides playing through phases and hoarding coins, you will also be unlocking checkpoints to levels. This is handy for when you want to keep playing from the most recent point you were defeated. The primary reason those checkpoints are helpful are the boss fights.
While the phases of random enemy waves are fun to defeat, the true creativity shines through in the boss battles. I was totally unprepared for the insane threat you’ll come up against, from the very first cyclopean alien that shoots at you from the background to the giant clown face that sneezes aliens at you. Though there are only four big bosses in the game, they are each totally different and some even require a special technique to beat. The final boss is especially harrowing, making his defeat that much more satisfying. There are also a lot of tough mini-bosses you’ll come up against which, though nowhere near as tough as a main boss, still provide a good challenge. Most of your three lives will be lost during these encounters.
Besides the single player experience, there is also local co-op offered in Space Dave!, and it’s surprisingly fun. If you found single player was too much of a challenge, things feel much less tricky with a friend. You can stand together to shoot powerful waves at aliens, and if one of you is defeated, the other can spend your hard-earned cash to bring you back from the brink. Though using a single Joy-Con can take some getting used to, the simple controls translate quite well to the shared co-op experience.
Visually, Space Dave! is a colorful and striking modern retro game. It literally pulses with color, not unlike some video game nightclub. I really liked the diverse alien designs, with some looking like they’d be right at home in Dr. Mario, and others reminding me of the Bomberman games. Special note to the basic enemy bullets, which look like glowing, sometimes spinning sprinkles. The sound design, much like the rest of the game, is simple yet sweet. There is one primary track for enemy phases and another, more dramatic one for boss fights. Not a lot of bells and whistles, but it does the job and will keep you coming back for the silly sound effects.
All in all, I really enjoyed my time with Space Dave! It’s retro done right, and it’s just challenging enough without being overwhelmingly hard. Pattern recognition and fast reflexes are important on higher difficulty levels, but you could always stick to Easy Peasy and still have a lot of fun. I spent about 5 hours with the game, most of that spent on just beating the main game. Afterwards, the game loops, so if you get really good, you can rack up incredibly high scores that way. For $9.99, I would recommend this to any fan of classic gaming that owns a Switch. My only minor complaint was that there was nothing to unlock, though there are a ton of hidden achievements and purportedly some truly super secret stuff. Space Dave! impressed me far more than Woah Dave!, and I’m looking forward to which classic game Choice Provisions does justice to next!
Review Copy Provided by Publisher
AliensarcadeChoice Provisionsmini visionsRetroReviewSpace Dave!Space Invaders