Who remembers the glory days of Amiga platformers? Zool, James Pond, err… Superfrog? Okay, so maybe I remember some of these titles more fondly than most, but looking through the Throwback Entertainment catalogue, I’m certainly not the only person nostalgic for the chunky pixels and limited palettes of the late ‘80s (does anybody really need more than 32 colours?).
It is fitting, then, that Throwback are the publisher for Carnage in Space: Ignition, a platformer from the (mostly) one-man development band of MM//Productions. The game certainly looks and feels like a homage to the home computer platformers of old, but capturing the magic of games from that era takes more than just a main character that moves at light-speed and controls so slippery they make professional ice-skaters look like a snail stuck in a puddle of treacle. And that can happen, trust me.
Carnage in Space: Ignition opens with a surprisingly interesting bit of geopolitical sci-fi storytelling; I say surprising, because the last thing I usually expect from a retro platformer is an engaging story, least of all a highly political one revolving around warring nations and interstellar mercenaries. Don’t get me wrong, the story probably won’t win any awards, but the cutscenes held my attention more than most 2D pixel platformers.
As we are thrust into the action, wall-jumping around a forest and blasting robots as we go, Carnage in Space’s influences become swiftly apparent – this is one-part Mega Man X, one-part Ninja Gaiden and one-part (insert your choice of DOS or Amiga platformer here.) The controls are fairly smooth, the enemies fairly placid, and you have a nice variety of moves at your disposal, whilst retaining the simplistic controls any good platformer should have.
Nightmare, the game’s protagonist, has a choice of melee or ranged attacks, with weapon upgrades unlockable as you go, which help to give a sense of strategy when tackling the various robotic insect-type creatures assailing you as you traverse the stage. It doesn’t take long to get to grips with the game, and by the time you’ve bounded over the heads of the first level’s rather pitiful enemies, you’ll be at the end of the stage, tackling the boss and moving on.
Unfortunately, this is where the game begins to disappoint slightly – bounding over the heads of enemies is a far too efficient strategy, and by the time I had leapt through the first handful of levels, I realised that I’d only been playing for about twenty minutes and not only had I almost finished the game, I’d barely seen any of it! The level design is decent enough, and even occasionally quite good, but most of the enemies and obstacles can simply be jumped and dashed by with such ease that you might not even notice they’re there; and once you unlock the double-jump, all bets are off.
One thing that can not be skipped, however, are the bosses, and there’s some real fun to be had there. While few of them give any real difficulty, the boss battles are mostly well designed, featuring the kind of predictable old-school attack patterns you would expect; they can be really quite fun to learn and at least a couple of them had the sort of back-and-forth dance of death that you only get from a truly fun boss fight.
I only wish they were more challenging; playing on the Normal difficulty setting, the entire game felt a bit too easy for my liking. Zipping around a boss, dodging attacks, getting the odd hit in here and there when you have an opening – this is all very exciting when there’s a real sense of danger or risk involved, not quite so much when you know you will respawn right outside the boss arena if you die – something that games like Nioh and Dark Souls understand perfectly. Maybe I should have been playing on a harder difficulty setting, but it’s only a minor gripe and the boss fights are certainly a highlight of the game.
Carnage in Space: Ignition’s issues with difficulty ring true throughout most aspects of the game. The graphics are okay, but not quite well drawn enough to be good, and competing in a market full of incredible pixel art really highlights that. The story is decent, but let down by some cringeworthy dialogue from the main character. The music is actually pretty great for the most part, but the mix and general production quality feel a little amateurish. It’s hard to want to bash on the game, because it is definitely full of heart and you can’t help but feel that the developer, with a bigger budget and maybe a couple more people on his team, could produce something really good, but Carnage in Space: Ignition is just not quite there yet. That said, it’s a very cheap game which won’t take you long to complete and for some reason I’m quite eager to go back and replay the game on the hardest difficulty setting.
If you’re enough of an old-school computer platformer fan that Commander Keen and Duke Nukem were too vanilla for you so you rinsed games like Bio Menace and Crystal Caves, you could do worse than spend the price of a cup of coffee on Carnage in Space: Ignition; when you look at it that way it’s hard not to overlook the game’s flaws.
Crank the difficulty up, try to get invested in the story, be aware that the game is very short, and you will probably have a good time; just don’t go in expecting Carnage in Space: Ignition to rival a game five times its price. And don’t blame me if you end up having a good time and have to shell out on an Amiga and a copy of Cool Spot to keep yourself satisfied afterwards.
Carnage in Space: Ignition is on the Xbox Store