Its been almost two years since the release of Space Giraffe on the Xbox 360 and I have been thinking a lot about the game lately. I don't think I have loved a game so much that had such a polarizing reaction from the hardcore gamer set. Putting aside the drama that surrounded the sales numbers and Jeff Minter's apparently drunken Frogger-related ramblings, I found there to be quite an amazing arcade-like experience. With that stated, the game definitely did not start out that way.
In the interest of full disclosure, my brother and I used to go to our cousins house every other week when we were around five to ten years old. Every time we would go over there, we would go across to the street to a neighbors house and play their Tempest machine. My brother was the better one out of the two of us, as he was able to flip the machine several times before we stopped playing the game and moved on to other machines, but back in the 80's, owning your own arcade machine was almost unheard of. I mean... only rich people like the kid from Sliver Spoons had enough money to buy arcade machines for their living room.
A few years later, Tempest 2000 came out for the Atari Jaguar and that rekindled our love for the game due to how amazing it looked and sounded. The music, power ups and the then impressive 3D graphics made the game to be what I consider to be one of the best revamps of a classic video game at that time. Sure, looking back, the frame rate struggled a bit and there was no spinner control, but the presentation was amazing for its time. With all of the praise that I give the title, it still was not enough to make me buy the system until about two years ago for twenty-five bucks. We just rented the system and the game from our local video game store and blasted through the game, almost playing it non-stop for a full week. I ended up buying the DOS version of the game once it was released and it was definitely worth it.
I skipped Tempest 3000. For any person who dare criticizes me for this, let me ask you a question... do you know anyone with a NUON? By the time the game was released, I was in college and the game rental shop I went to in Junior High was closed. Anyway, I doubt they would have stocked NUON based DVD players.
So once I heard that Llamasoft was going to release a “spiritual successor” to Tempest 3000, I got excited. There is no way that this game is going to be horrible since this man has done such an amazing job revamping a then 12 year old game to be this amazing piece of software.
Well, it turned out to be a great game, but not in the way that I usually come to expect.
When I first started playing the game, I played through the tutorial and even though it told me things about some of the objectives, it really didn't do a good job of stressing how important various parts of the game were. There was also the problem that there so much going on with the game due to the background visuals, that core gameplay elements such as the Power Zone were difficult for me to grasp, or flew completely over my head.
So, I jumped in and started to play the game like Tempest. As anyone who has played this game knows, if you do this in the game, the game will give you low scores and generally insult you as you finish a level. As I progressed further into the game, the psychedelic backgrounds started to wear on me. What I though was initially cool and fit the theme for the game turned into a massive headache as far as gameplay is concerned. The sound design was amateur, with phones ringing and cows mooing for no apparent reason. The music was okay, not as memorable at the Tempest 2000 soundtrack, but it wasn't horrible and it fit the game's theme of psychedelic insanity.
So after playing the game for about an hour, I left it a little disappointed. I didn't come back to it for a few days and still couldn't get into it. The backgrounds were just too much and I didn't want to play it again. It wasn't fun being firmly on the bottom of the top scores list and it was really getting hard for me to feign interest in the game. So, with all of this said and done, I was ready to completely write the game off....
Then I looked it up on GameFAQS, read an FAQ, some forums and figured out that the in-game tutorial was complete shit.
Seriously, the game did not turn out to be all that difficult. The psy backgrounds are a distraction, but once a few tricks are learned, you can figure out the game structure and actually do very well with a little bit of practice. From the information that I picked up, I was able to deconstruct the game a little more and actually started to do thing that I normally wouldn't do in a video game, such as identifying the enemies strictly by color as opposed to visual shape, using sound cues to identify different types of enemies as they were coming onto the web. Hell, I was even able to trick the visualizer a bit by plugging in my iPod and using the custom playback option to play a blank mp3 track so I could play with minimal visualizer interference. I consider that to be cheating a bit, but it does help out if you honestly don't know what you are doing. Also, getting a decent explanation on how the Power Zone works is invaluable to the game. I don't know why this was not stressed in the tutorial, but it is the key to getting high scores in the game.
I read somewhere that the reason Jeff Minter was so vague with the rules was that he wanted the user to figure the gameplay out as they went along in the game. Now, I can see this angle of thought if this was an actual physical arcade release in which friends could gather around and compare notes and gameplay styles, but that kind of thinking doesn't work too well with home based games. Also, since the majority of multiplayer games are played over the internet nowadays, those kinds of opportunities that were afforded to arcade players during the 80's and 90's are few and far between.
But I have to say the best thing about the game was the constant addition of obstacles. It seems as if every ten levels or so, the game will start throwing more and more varied challenges your way at a very welcome and consistent pace. It was perfect, since it seems like it takes anywhere from one to three minutes for each level. At the midway point, just as soon as you are starting to get into a groove with the gameplay, enemies are introduced that are actually able to spin the web that you are on. The game also has one of the most sadistic tributes to the Commodore 64 that I have ever seen,"the achievement given is well earned".
Now, it's been hard to find people who are into this kind of insanity in a game, but this is one of the few game that if I know somebody has played through it, it can definitely be seen as a notch on their gamerpass. This ranks up there as far as accomplishments along with beating R-Type with one quarter. The few people that I have found that like the game, look at it with just as much respect and admiration as I do. There was a PC version of this released not too long ago with the backgrounds toned down and a very clear Power Zone meter on the bottom of the screen, but it costs $20 as compared to $5 on Xbox LIVE. Both are actually deals when you consider that the majority of Pop Cap games go for $20 on PC as well. read