Coming from Moraes Game Studio and published by QUByte Interactive is a new entry in the already crowded retro shoot-em-up genre – Space Elite Force 2 in 1. Well, I say new, but it’s actually a package of two games in one; games that have been kicking around on Steam for a while. This package, as you may have guessed from the title, adds the original Space Elite Force with its follow up, the imaginatively titled Space Elite Force 2. The question is, does the Xbox need another retro styled side scrolling shoot-em-up or two?
Now, obviously a shoot-em-up needs a story like a fish needs a bicycle, but there is one to take here. Presented in the classic “Star Wars scrolling up the screen” fashion, the story of the game is as slight as you would expect. Basically, the Klyvus have attacked Earth, and as a response, the Space Elite Force (or S.E.F. for short) was formed; they’ve now reached the point where they can take the fight to the enemy. And so the scene is set as we blast off into outer space, ready to dispense bullet based justice to the bad guys. What follows is the standard shooting action, played out over a series of stages, punctuated by boss fights.
The graphical style on display is very much on the retro end of the scale, with both our ship and those of the enemies being represented by a small conglomeration of pixels. The graphics work, to their credit, and seeing your way through the clouds of bullets is usually fairly straightforward. However, it’ll probably take you a while before you get the achievement for getting through a whole stage without taking damage – it’s very much ‘bullet hell’. The sound is as you’d expect, explosions and laser effects, missiles and bullets, crunching impacts and sirens as bosses appear. This is the same across both games, as I guess if it isn’t broke and all that…
The main thing that needs to be right with these types of games are the controls and the collision detection, and luckily here the news is good. The controls are pin sharp, and when you need a little bit of extra finesse, there is a button you can hold down to slow the movements of the ship down, as otherwise it darts about like an excitable mayfly. You will soon be weaving your way through the many, many bullets that come your way with not a care in the world, and once you unlock the homing missiles, you can just hold down the fire button and spend the rest of your time trying to pick a way through the enemy projectiles, confident that your shots will find a target. The collision detection is similarly good, with only shots on the very centre of your ship counting as a hit, which is helpful later on in the game when you’ve upgraded and the ship is about five times wider than it initial was.
The upgrade mechanic is a pretty cool feature of Space Elite Force 2 in 1, to be honest. As you go through the levels and shoot the enemies, they drop resources that can be picked up by flying into them, or if you are fortunate and find a magnet power up, they will come to you. Between the levels you have the chance to upgrade your ship in a number of exciting ways, either by upgrading the main cannon, or the amount of HP your ship has, for instance. However, the customisation goes a bit deeper than that; the main cannon can be upgraded in three different ways, letting you choose to stick with the missiles or swap them out for the amusing Beebombs, or even some mines that link together with lasers to block enemies attacks. You can build the ship in whatever way takes your fancy – I favour level three homing missiles and fully powered up main cannon to bring the pain. S.E.F 2 brings new options to the table, as you’d hope, with an unlockable smart bomb or mega laser able to be utilised.
So, as we’ve seen, the graphics work, the controls and hit detection are both good, and the upgrade mechanic enables you to build a ship that suits your playstyle, how about the rest of the gameplay hook? That is all very good as well, as if you do get blown up in a level, you have to start again from the beginning of that level, and worse, any of the upgrade materials you had collected are lost. Luckily, the levels are quite short, and blasting your way through again is no problem at all.
It must be said, as a whole, Space Elite Force 2 in 1 certainly has some of that X Factor that will keep you playing. With generous achievements up for grabs as well, it’s hard to find too much to grumble about. But grumble I will and that’s thanks to the slight feeling of deja vu as you play through, a feeling that you have seen this, or something very like it, before. Other than that, Space Elite Force 2 in 1 is a pretty polished piece of work, and good fun to play.
Space Elite Force 2 in 1 is available from the Xbox Store