Ever since Geometry Wars made the twin-stick shooter the flavour of choice for high-score seekers, a veritable bandwagon has followed and at times it seems that we can’t move without yet another addition to the genre. It’s somewhat of a twist then, that the arrival of a more traditional (or should that be ‘old fashioned’) shooter should feel like a refreshing change, and that’s very much the case with PomPom Games’ Astro Tripper.
It difficult to talk about Astro Tripper without mentioning how much, or rather, how little it costs. Let’s put it this way – you could either buy yourself a nice refreshing pint, or splash out on this little shooter. Luckily the meagre price tag isn’t reflected in the quality of the game and it’s clear that PomPom have spent a lot of time and effort producing a polished experience. Admittedly, everything about the game is understated; from its clean if unambitious visuals, sparse audio and streamlined gameplay. However – as true gaming greats such as Pac-Man, Tetris and Space Invaders proved all those years ago – games can deliver longevity far exceeding the simplicity of their premises. And so it is with Astro Tripper.
While we are not suggesting that PomPom’s effort deserves a place next to Pac-Man and co in the annuls of videogame history, Astro Tripper has clearly been produced with a clear sense of purpose. This is a game about shooting things – nothing more and nothing less – and with that in mind, it is undoubtedly a success.
Reminiscent of the 8-bit classic, Uridium, Astro Tripper’s action is set over fourteen horizontally scrolling self-enclosed levels, in which players must simply destroy all the enemies and targets on the screen before moving onto the next. Only two weapons are available: a blue laser that fires directly, and a red spread laser which gives you a wider arc of fire, but makes you more vulnerable from the front. Beyond this simple rule-set, there’s not really much else to explain. But rather than this being a point of criticism, the games crystalline simplicity is what makes it so appealing.
Having said that, Astro Tripper is certainly not a game for everyone – when you struggle to get past a game’s training mission, you know that you’re not in for an easy ride. This is an old-school, one-hit-and-you’re-dead, lose-three-lives-and-its-game-over affair where persistence and practice are rewarded and that will undoubtedly test the patience of the weak-hearted. However, rarely is Astro Tripper unfair; if you die, it’s because you weren’t quick enough, rather than the game throwing a cheap curve-ball at your craft.
Astro Tripper is a beautifully realised package that is accessible (both in its cost and simplicity of gameplay), challenging and slickly produced. While the fourteen levels may be a little on the short side, beating your high score can be reason enough to boot it up, with an additional ‘Challenge Mode’ and online leaderboards bolstering the game’s longevity. Sure, it’s not particularly big and it’s not particularly clever, but it is a master-class in economy, and further evidence that sometimes less really can be more.
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