It’s easy to make the Asteroids (Atari, 1980) comparison as soon as you see Super Space Serpent Secondary Edition (SE), which is actually an enhanced version of the original, and very quietly released, PlayStation Vita game from 2015. Super Space Serpent now returns with more flash and bang and is, at least for the time being, an Xbox One exclusive title.
Super Space Serpent SE takes gaming back to its humble beginnings by offering a gameplay experience that is quite literally instantaneous, a game which immediately connects with the player’s base instinct for an instantly gratifying shooting experience, where the only goal is to chase a high score.
Long before experience points, achievements, KDRs, secrets, true endings, and other outcomes and rewards which now grace video games, there was only the chase for the score. When gaming first began in the late ‘70s and boomed in the early ‘80s (and before the infamous video game crash), a score was the only thing enticing players to get hooked on a game; the only thing worth chasing and pursuing. In fact, the earliest pro-gamers emerged during this time as they dedicated their very existence to setting record-breaking high scores. Times were simple back then, as in the absence of powerful graphics and sophisticated design, instantly appealing and apparent gameplay was all these games could sell themselves on. That being said, it’s also this very reason why these relics have stood the test of time, as even to this day they are just as playable and enjoyable.
Super Space Serpent SE is a twin-stick shooter, and while it may appear to be a modern jacked-up Asteroids, the gameplay and shooting mechanics actually feel like a combination of Space Duel (Atari, 1982) and Black Widow (Atari, 1982). With the left analog stick, you can manoeuvre your triangle-shaped spaceship around, and pointing the right stick in the desired direction auto-fires a steady stream of shots. If you play some of the Atari arcade hits from three decades ago, the spaceship had a certain weight and methodical momentum about it, but in Super Space Serpent SE this spaceship almost has the same momentum as a mouse cursor. A as a result, the basic movement feels very floaty and twitchy, but the shooting is rapid enough to almost make up for this. Even so, the rapid-fire shooting turns it into a no-brainer sort of shooter, whereas in the old arcade cabinets there was a sense of rhyme and reason in the shooting. There’s nothing offensively bad about the gameplay, but at the same time it lacks the polish and methodical subtleties which games over three decades old fare much better in.
The action gets pretty insane very quickly, with enemies and projectiles of all imaginable shapes and sizes barraging at you from all directions, and all sorts of symbols and messages flashing on screen without context. Thankfully, the game is contained to a restricted playing field, and so the player can at least work around defined boarders. Still, the gameplay progression and design are completely unpredictable after a few stages.
Before polygons and pixels, arcade gaming was all about vibrant and zany vector graphics. It is a fascinating visual style and a bit of a lost artform in video games, which films like Tron (1982) did such a great job of romanticising. Super Space Serpent SE goes guns blazing with its vibrant neon-style vector graphics, and while most games come with the stock standard seizure warning, in the case of this game it is actually worth stopping for a moment to ring your GP just to be on the safe side. The graphics borderline hallucinatory levels of colours and particle effects, and the action very quickly becomes a blur at which point your best strategy is to shoot anything that flickers. Perhaps some people will digest the graphics better than others, but those visually impaired will certainly feel very challenged. From the scrolling grid backgrounds to the vibrantly coloured vector objects with all sorts of visual effects, it is very difficult to keep up with everything, and much like the infamous unaired Pokémon episode, it is potentially harmful too.
The music alone proves to be the most enjoyable aspect and if you find yourself getting sick (figuratively and literally) of all the vector shooting action, then you can listen to any of the game’s tracks at your own leisure. It’s the type of techno music you’d expect from a sci-fi themed video game, but this soundtrack pays homage to the early 2000s of British techno music, which may be nostalgic and enjoyable to those who grew up listening to the music of games like Frequency, Amplitude, and even Fantavision.
Everyone has heard about the urban legend of Polybius, the vector-based shooter with graphics so insane that it could control a player’s mind. Super Space Serpent SE almost fits the vague description of Polybius, and while it won’t possess your mind to the point where you want to board a UFO, it will ask permission to access your Microsoft account details. At least the game is polite enough to ask your permission, and like the follow-up email from Microsoft will advise, you can always manage your permissions.
Super Space Serpent SE is a homage to a magical and yet crazy era in video games, but even so it lacks the mechanical subtleties and polish of similar games that are three decades older. The music is certainly an enjoyable aspect, but the visuals are certainly not going to be for everyone.