Shoot ‘em ups aren’t dead, but I do think they’re on life support. With each passing year, we see roughly eight million new entries in the genre that all attempt to add something unique while staying true to the classics. At least, that’s what all of their store descriptions say. Curved Space is one of the latest titles which describes itself as an “old school shmup reimagined”. Is this an adequate description? Yes. Does that mean the game succeeds in creating a new, unique step forward for the genre? No.
Developed by the enigmatically named Only By Midnight Ltd., Curved Space sees you taking control of a spaceship in order to kill giant spiders in space. The opening line of the campaign actually sums this up pretty well: “We used to harvest Energy, but this attracted Spiders… Now we harvest Spiders”. Not the most eloquent introduction to a story, but it gets the job done. Though I’d argue that the idea of “See a spider? Shoot it!” could be conveyed even quicker by throwing players immediately into the gameplay where giant spiders attempt to kill them.
So much of the campaign mode just feels like a baffling inclusion. Why isn’t this game focusing more on its gameplay? This type of game doesn’t need a poorly-written story attached to it, it doesn’t need cutscenes, and it certainly doesn’t need the player character to constantly address every little thing that happens. In fact, when the player character is reading such awful dialogue through such tepid voice acting, it’s better if said character never talks at all.
The primary purpose of a campaign mode for such an arcade-style game should be to give players a constantly evolving series of challenges. Which, to be fair, the game does. The difficulty curve (Haha! “Curve.” Curved Space.) does what it should, and each level gets incrementally more difficult. The problem, however, lies within the fact that the only way in which things get more difficult is the number of enemies and their health increases. There aren’t that many enemy types, their attacks are pretty lacklustre and easy to avoid, and bosses just have way too much health.
Even in the beginning levels, your average arachnid attackers also take too long to go down. Sure, killing a bunch of space spiders sounded cool on the job application, but you didn’t realize just how much down time there would be, did ya? While there are additional modes such as Arena, Survival, and Endless, none of them feel better than the campaign other than the lack of nonsensical, cutscene interruptions. The most effective strategy one could use for beating each wave of creepy crawlies across any mode would be tying a rubber band around their controller’s trigger and focusing entirely on moving their ship.
In other words: the combat isn’t that engaging. There’s a plethora of weapons that baddies drop as they die which you can pick up and swap between, but none of them are especially exciting. The majority of them have unlimited ammo, which makes the random few with limited ammo some of the worst things ever. They’re supposed to be more powerful, but after using them on a horde or seven I feel that they’re roughly only one point two times more effective. And they run out of ammo.
Even the good weapons don’t feel too great to shoot. There’s either not enough feedback when you fire, or way too much as your ship gets sent half a mile backwards into the jaws of another spider. Additionally, each gun feels as if it’s always just barely shooting to the left or right of where you want it to. That could be blamed on poor shooting mechanics, or the game’s titular gimmick.
You see, each level of Curved Space takes place on large, warped cheerios. These out-of-shape circles mean that you, your bullets and your foes curve along twisting paths while dodging all around one another. It’s certainly interesting, but the appeal is gone quickly. Much like your ship on these infinite loops, the idea never goes anywhere. It doesn’t evolve to impact the gameplay more significantly than the initial impression of “Hey! That’s not how roads normally work!”.
What makes the space flooring even worse is the game’s camera. Those of you with weak constitutions will definitely want to jump into the settings and tinker with things before playing too much. The camera whips around like it’s controlled by a madman as you twist along each curve. Motion sickness is too tame to describe what I felt before making camera adjustments. Those options in the settings are actually delightfully well-made and I was eventually able to play the game without remembering my breakfast.
When it comes to Curved Space then, I’m afraid this ain’t it, chief. This is far from the shot in the arm that the genre needs. Its pointless story, repetitive game modes, uninteresting combat, and poorly-implemented gimmick keep it from escaping that enormous pit of mediocre shoot ‘em ups. On the bright side, it’s always nice to be reminded that real life spiders could be so much worse.
Pick up a copy of Curved Space on the Xbox Store for Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One