I usually don’t cruise through the indie game section of Xbox LIVE as much as I should. Games like Baby Maker Extreme and the huge assortment of ‘controller massage’ games have really turned me off on checking this section for quality titles. Not to say that quality titles cannot be developed and backed by regular people just entering the fray of game design and development or that they do not exist. The indie scene does prove to be more experimental than the mainstream and can offer up experiences that are both entertaining and rewarding; providing you have the patience to find those experiences. Astralia is one of those rewarding experiences; every facet of the game is beautiful. The space ships, the music and even the darkness of space are aesthetically pleasing to the eyes and ears. Does Astralia fly away into classic gaming territory or does it crash and burn?
When I had first viewed the trailer for the game sometime ago, my first thoughts went straight to the 1990 arcade classic, Raiden. I noticed that Astroboid went a completely new direction with the formula and instead of controlling one ship; they let you control a whole squadron of ships. Depending on the situation, you can actually fly with your squadron in different formations and depending how big your squadron is will determine the effectiveness of your attacks. This added a nice strategy base to the gameplay that isn’t traditionally found in games of this particular style. Another smart gameplay mechanic is that instead of destroying enemies for power-ups, you already have them built into your ship’s arsenal. You just simply select whichever weapon you want to use and providing you have enough Materia (a substance that acts as fuel) to power it; you can fire away. Another nice touch was the ability to not die for flying into other objects on-screen. Astralia can get pretty hectic with the amount of enemies it has in play at any given time, so this feature works well at saving you aggravation. Innovative seems to be a word that is too easily thrown around these days in video game journalism, but Astralia truly deserves it.
Right from the start, the game lets you know that it is not a twin stick shooter and the attitude exuded from the lead character, your ship’s Artificial Intelligence is prevalent throughout. You are just a young pilot and your ship AI is trying to train you when space monsters decide to attack a mining station. Each monster attack involves a Hive that the monsters apparently come from. Destroying these Hives will also destroy monsters associated with it; giving you Materia for your ship to either fire its weapons, repair itself or make drones for your squadron. Luckily, asteroid fields provide a steady supply of Materia when you destroy the green floating rocks, offering up the chance to go into fights with large amounts of monster squadrons well prepared. During the campaigns ten missions, you find out that all is not exactly well with your AI partner, and you must find out the secret behind the monsters that are attacking the different Space Stations and Jump Gates in the game.
The music for the game is largely electronic in nature, and it fits with the games visuals. The sound effects for Astralia is a perfect fit for the title, and isn’t too arcade-y as one might expect. Possibly in the next title, I hope Astroboid can include some voice acting to make the characters more compelling as sometimes this can’t be done with just standard text. I feel that would make an incredible addition to an already top-notch experience, and in no way does this wish detract from what is already there. The fact that this is the first title from Astroboid and the fact that the developer is one man is impressive. Astralia having a story at all is a nice surprise as most games that are even remotely similar to this title’s genre seem to always bypass this major element.
All in all, Astralia is totally worthy of your 80 Microsoft points ($1 buck). You can’t even buy mobile phone games for that anymore, and this game offers so much more than current mainstream games on that platform. Don’t let the indie title fool you, it is a heavy contender for a sequel to hit the mainstream, and who knows, maybe a publisher will partner with Astroboid based on this games strength to give a sequel a bigger push in the overly large marketplace that is Xbox Live Arcade. Seriously, who hates great games that have a new take on an iconic genre? And if you do hate great games that try to redefine a genre that has grown stale, go buy a ‘controller massage’ game then.
You can purchase Astralia here!
A copy of Astralia was provided to Fangwheel for review.