By Scott Ramage / July 1st, 2020
|Release Date||September 26th, 2019|
|Genre||Shoot ’em Up|
|Platform||Switch, PS4, Vita|
|Age Rating||E for Everyone|
Space-based shooters have been a staple of video games for decades. Even today they still come out on a fairly regular basis. Enter Lillymo Games’ retro-styled shoot ‘em up Habroxia, a game which leans heavily on the classics while trying to add a few new twists. Is it enough to leave a lasting impression? There’s only one way to find out.
Story is in short supply in Habroxia, so let’s sum the whole thing up in two sentences and move on. Aliens are invading the galaxy. Stop them. The gameplay will feel instantly familiar to anyone who’s played a top-down scrolling shooter before, moving right and shooting baddies as they appear. Sometimes the game will shift from a side-scroller to a vertical scroller mid-stage, which is a nice little novelty but doesn’t affect how the game plays outside of a perspective change.
Controlling Habroxia is fairly simple, and there are a couple nice touches to how the player’s ship performs. While not particularly fast, it offers a few different firing options. One fire button shoots a straight, concentrated blast. The other fire button shoots from the side of the ship. Holding both fires a spread shot in front. Each has a use for different situations and different attack patterns, both for bosses and for regular enemies. On top of that, items drop which give powerups like damage boosts, a shield, or a bomb that wipes the screen of enemies. I’d almost argue it makes the player too capable, but I’ll delve more into that later.
Habroxia offers four modes of play, but three of them need to be unlocked by playing the first, Story Mode. Calling it Story Mode is being quite generous, as there’s little to no storytelling happening. The bulk of Story Mode’s 15 levels involve destroying as many enemy ships as possible, then defeating the boss at the end. Once in a while a boss-only level will appear, or a couple that involve saving astronauts floating in space. Said astronauts don’t actually need to be saved to complete the level, which is good because you can easily kill them by accident if they pop up in the line of fire. A successful rescue unlocks their profiles in the pause menu, giving a first name and one-sentence description of how they got stranded. That and you get to see them dropped off at a space station at the end of the level and see their “Thank You!” text overlap until it’s a barely readable mess.
In addition, the Story Mode of Habroxia has an upgrade system for the ship. Options include more powerful shots, heat-seeking rockets that fire automatically, increased fire rate and a wider spread among others. These are bought using credits, which can be found in destructible objects or sometimes dropped by enemies. Credits don’t appear often enough to buy up all the upgrades before the midway point, but they can be accumulated by playing the same level multiple times. Considering most levels only last two or three minutes, grinding for upgrades is pretty simple to pull off. The difficulty scales up enough for it to be a handy tool for progression, but replaying old story levels with the upgrades trivializes them, to the point I could just hold both fire buttons, make sure I didn’t fly into a wall and get through unscathed.
That leads to two of my biggest problems with Habroxia. The first is the general difficulty. Enemies have very easy to read movement and shooting patterns, and often don’t appear in large enough groups or fire in enough directions to warrant more than moving slightly to one side. Virtually every enemy, even if my weapons weren’t strong enough to kill them, could be easily maneuvered around and forgotten about. Even the bosses don’t offer much challenge, with maybe one or two managing to hit me more than once or twice. I should note I’m not particularly good at shooters, but this game offered little in the way of challenge for the main campaign. The second problem is how Story Mode ends. I beat a random boss, the screen turned to a vertical scroll, and the credits started. Just call it Arcade Mode instead of having a Story Mode where the story doesn’t start or end.
Part of the problem with Habroxia’s difficulty curve, or rather difficulty plateau, is a lack of enemy variety. It’s advertised that there are over 50 different enemy types, but thinking back on my experience I’m struggling to remember more than twelve, assuming land mines count as an enemy. Even bosses suffer from this, as at least two of them are simply Mark II versions of prior bosses, which as far as I could tell just meant they took more hits to destroy and had maybe one extra attack. The AI for enemies is clearly just a set pattern repeated throughout the game as well. The same enemies consistently appear from the same parts of the screen and use the same attacks at the same time. Agony, thy name is monotony.
Beyond Story Mode, Habroxia offers three other modes of play, all of the “endless” variety and none of which factor in Story Mode ship upgrades. Invasion has you shoot down waves of enemies until either you die or you fail to destroy every enemy in a wave. Second is Rescue Mode, where you keep going until failing to rescue any astronauts that appear. Last is Shield Maiden, a mode with an interesting setup but which highlights the game’s enemy problem. You start with the weakest guns and low health, and the only pickups are shields. The idea is to survive as long as possible, but the easy-to-avoid enemies appearing too far apart in the same movement and attack patterns as in Story Mode, plus health pickups dropping regularly from breakable objects, make it very easy to survive. I hit the 20-minute mark before deliberately flying into a wall after seeing the same limited selection of maps and enemies appear over and over.
Replay value shouldn’t be a problem for games like Habroxia, and yet it has that very problem. Story Mode takes less than an hour and a half to get through, and since there’s only one save for everything, replaying it from the beginning would require deleting the game’s save data. The three unlockable modes don’t offer much incentive to keep playing, nor do the high score tables for each Story Mode level. Oh, did I mention? There’s a scoring system with a combo multiplier, which goes up for every enemy destroyed and resets to zero for every enemy missed. I say enemy, but for some reason meteoroids count as enemies. Point being, if you replay older stages with an upgraded ship, it drastically changes the standings of the high score table, which I still can’t tell if the other names on it are real or not. If anyone plays this and sees “SCR” on the list, now you know who that is.
Even presentation-wise, Habroxia leaves something to be desired. Starting up the game tosses you to a mode select menu, and some organization choices are just confusing. The stats menu can only be accessed while playing a level, same with an astronaut profile list. Viewing a high score table in one mode forces you to go through a ship upgrade menu instead of backing out normally. The audio is thematically appropriate with the NES-like visuals, but often seems like some songs are playing without a track. Imagine a rock band where the guitar only has three strings and half the drum set is missing and you’re pretty close. The options menu is only accessible in-game, and only consists of sound and music volume toggles. Everything seems strangely disjointed, and does nothing to help improve my perception of how the game plays.
While it’s functional as a game, I expected more from Habroxia. That may sound unfair, but my expectation was not to breeze through everything the game had to offer in less time than a Lord of the Rings movie and feel no urge to return to any of it. What it does right, it does with no particular finesse. It’s a shooter in which I was able to get away with not shooting anything, or mindlessly holding the fire buttons on way too many occasions. Considering what else is available, not just on consoles but on PC as well, I struggle to recommend this to anyone, barring a massive discount from its $7.99 asking price.
Review copy provided by publisher.