There is something special and quite mesmerising about playing a vintage game on modern equipment. I don’t mean via an emulator…this is the real deal. Jason Aldred has managed to be the first developer to release a C64 game on Steam. He has also released the game in physical formats in the form of cassette, disc and cartridge for those who fancy a real old school experience. There are even special edition box sets with goodies inside including posters; just like the old days.
But can a game created in the early ‘80s really stand up in today’s gaming scene? I will be reviewing the Steam version to find out.
The first thing that you notice is how beautiful the Steam page looks with all the vintage pixel art stills. I mean the attention to detail is absolutely stunning. The colours are vivid without being garish and it is very apparent that the level of detail in the environment is simply exquisite. The website too is gorgeous with a real vintage feel and lovely artwork that is also featured in the manual and posters. There’s also a cat playing a C64…what else do you need?
The story goes that the human race has almost wiped out all the bees on planet Earth. The bee guardians have arrived on the planet to teach us humans a lesson. Liking the cultural relevance there – a bit of educational and environmental awareness in a game is always a thumbs up from me, however tenuous (former teacher…you never lose the habit!). The bee guardian story line is a modern update to the story and you have to pilot the 1981 fighter to destroy the bee guardians and return order to the planet (while surely learning a lesson about how lovely Earth bees are).
Jason was inspired by Galaga for his Galencia creation and it is clear that he drew a lot of inspiration from a game he admired. The logo for the game is almost identical in design and you can see that the story line of invading insects and a shooting craft draws clear parallels. The design has more of Jason’s stamp on it however, with greater detail in the artwork, chunkier aliens and richer environments. It is clear that an immense amount of effort has gone in to the aesthetic of the game.
So what is new in this Steam version? Well for a start, its totally ‘plug and play’. You can use a joystick or keyboard and there is obviously no loading tapes or screens. Modern technology allows for auto loading and saving of high scores which is helpful. This new digital version also has a new introduction in fitting with the update, new SID tunes, CRT options and other options that can tweak your game experience. There is even an Easter Egg game written by Roy ‘Roysterini’ Fielding (@roysterini) which you can find.
Additional modern era integration means that on the website you can upload your high scores on to the ranking system and find tutorials to really become a pro. There is also a merchandise shop with some really good looking t shirts and hats with the artwork from the game featured on there.
The music in the intro screens is really funky and doesn’t irritate or have an uncomfortable pitch. The intro screens are beautifully created and there is information about their crowd funded sequel.
I actually left the music on in the background while I went to and from my notes – it doesn’t loop too often and is generally pleasant to listen to. There are different types of guardian that come after you in a classic arcade style set of behaviours. It takes a while to learn what these behaviours are but soon you start making progress as you come to understand them. Some of the guardians shoot at you – I found the shots quite difficult to distinguish from the stars in the background but I quickly got used to the guardians that fired them and could look out for them.
You get the ability to punch in your hi-score initials if you achieve something worthy of the score board and you can use the options menu to have a play with the difficulty, visuals, music options and toggle tournament mode on or off.
The manual is very reminiscent of the old school manuals you would receive with a game with vintage design and beautiful artwork. It is informative but to the point and can accompany both physical and digital formats. There is tongue in cheek humour about the characters featured in the game and clear playing instructions. You also get an insight in to the different types of invaders and some tips about play style and tactics.
Now I am not a shoot ‘em up player and had real reservations about reviewing one. Safe to say I am completely addicted to this game. I cannot stop going back for ‘one more try, one more try, one more try’ until it got to the point where I was bouncing up and down in my chair and screaming all sorts of expletives in an attempt to become better or quicker at shooting the guardians. I absolutely loved trying different starting tactics or trying to take out certain types of guardian first. It was fascinating to learn the behaviours of them and try to decide how better to approach each level (there are 50 in total). The debrief is fun and I particularly enjoyed the animal rank you get. I am mostly a newt…not the best player in the world. The difficulty curve is what you would expect and can be adjusted in the settings menu. I couldn’t find much difference in the difficulty between easy and normal apart from the starting ships but in fairness, that may be because I am really bad at shooters. Staggered challenge modes at fixed level intervals also give another dynamic to the game, much like a boss level in a platformer to finish a zone. A nice touch so that the game does not become repetitive.
You can see why this won the 2017 Game of the Year award from Reset 64. It is a labour of love that is highly polished. It doesn’t feel stale in the modern era and the animation, art and music is stunning for a C64 game. It isn’t ‘just another shoot em up arcade game’, it really is something you struggle to get bored of. Even the Easter Egg game is ridiculously moreish – but I’m not going to spoil finding or playing that for you. Its a secret!
All in all this is an amazing achievement by Jason Aldred and his team – and in just a 7 month period. A triumph of retro gaming meeting modern technology and audiences and absolutely has its place in the modern era. It is more addictive and compelling than many modern games I have played and is accessible for all ages and abilities. The price for the physical and digital formats is, in my opinion, extremely good for the game that you are getting and the amount of time you can sink in to it. Now if you’ll excuse me…I have a planet to save. Pew Pew!!