How retro is too retro? That is the question that sprang, unbidden, into my mind upon firing up the latest of Eastasiasoft’s offerings, a horizontally scrolling shoot-em-up that goes by the name of Spacewing War. And the reason that the question was asked in my head? Well, if I didn’t know better, I’d swear that my Xbox Series X had been turned into a Game Boy. Come with me to outer space as I attempt to explain.
First of all comes the part that every true connoisseur of the shoot-em-up genre values above all others, the overarching narrative, the story that keeps us blasting through the waves of enemies. And the story here is a slight, to be charitable, and while it is there, it isn’t really worth the effort that went into making the cut scene that explains it. Here we go: Invaders from the Planet Mavros have wrecked their home and it is now uninhabitable, and so they are looking for a new planet to take over. Obviously not being too fussy, they have settled on Earth as a worthy target, and so the invasion is on. Luckily, the Spacewing ship was made for just such an eventuality, and so it is pressed into action to defend Earth. Guess who has to pilot said weapon into battle?
Now, as I said in the opening paragraph, there’s retro, and then there’s really retro. Then, somehow, there’s Spacewing War. It looks like nothing so much as a shooter from the old monochrome Nintendo Game Boy days, as a default. Playing around in the settings, it is possible to colourise the graphics, and while they look okay like that, there’s something about the purity of the default grayscale display that kept me coming back to that view. The graphics are pleasingly simple, and it’s very easy to see what is going on. While the screen never gets busy enough to test the visuals to any degree, the overall look took me straight back to Tetris and trying to find a strong enough light source to see the screen when the batteries were going. You can add to that the audio; sound is simple but effective as well, pleasing chiptune ditties bouncing along and pew pew noises coming from the mighty Spacewing.
So, the look is bang on for the period, as is the sound, but how about the gameplay? Well, it is certainly in keeping with the period as well; in both a good way and a bad way.
Let me take the good stuff first. The levels are short, and not awfully challenging, but the shooting action is pretty good fun even if there is no way that this could ever be called a bullet hell twitchathon. There are a number of options open to you as the pilot of the ship, and this starts with which choice of projectile you choose to use. There is the default, a standard blaster that fires a stream of bullets out of the front of the ship. From there, you can have boomerangs that fire out of the front and the rear, or bombs, or a three way blaster with a short range. The first gun is by far the most useful, but each of the others do have uses, helping to open up paths through the levels; picking the right gun at the right time is a good challenge.
The enemies that appear are fairly generic whilst the bosses are also fairly forgettable. While the challenge is to make it through a whole level of Spacewing War without losing all your lives (although if you do, you can continue again from the start of the section), there is enough of a hook to keep pulling you on. It helps as well that the game throws achievements at you pretty non stop, and in an interesting move, this is the first Eastasiasoft game that I’ve played to have an achievement tied to actually finishing the game. That’s a step forward as well.
Bad points come in regards a wooliness to the collision detection, which is not good when you are trying to fly through narrow spaces, or shoot small enemies. A number of times I’ve been shooting through a gap in the scenery, convinced that since my bullets are going through the gap, the ship will too, right? Wrong! The Spacewing must have the biggest tail of any aircraft ever, as it seems to constantly catch the edge of a gap and send us spinning to our doom. The bullets are also somewhat tricky to walk onto the enemies, and sometimes an enemy will fly down what you would be willing to swear is the line of bullets, not get hit, and then crash into your poor ship.
And last but no means least, why on earth is this an Xbox Series X|S optimised title? It is not what I would call optimised for anything except maybe a Game Boy. This is one of my pet peeves: tiny little games having to be installed on precious internal storage for no good reason than to put a little sticker on the corner of the screen. And breathe…
All in all, Spacewing War is a fun trip down memory lane, especially for those of us old enough to remember these type of games from the first time around. For others, it’s a good look back at the past, helped that the shooting action is stronger than the sum of its parts. If you like to shoot things in defence of the Earth then Spacewing War is worth a try.
Spacewing War is on the Xbox Store