I’m sure everyone, deep in their sub-conscious, has fond memories of Christmas. I remember vividly that for one Christmas all I wanted was a spaceship, a real one. In retrospect that’s a pretty big ask to place into the hands of my parents but if the Thunderbirds could have spaceships then why not me? Ah the impeccable logic of a six year old. I bring this up because as I played Astro Tripper (a top down shoot-em-up from PomPom Games, available on Steam and PSN) I couldn’t help but think if I actually got my spaceship for that fateful Christmas, my life would hopefully be something like this.In Astro Tripper you take control of a small spacecraft and laser your way through hordes of attacking aliens. Unlike most shoot-em-ups, the action takes place in a closed off platform instead a side-scrolling corridor. This means that enemies can attack from both sides so you better keep your eyes peeled as the opposing side mounds up. The platforms are nice and varied ranging from battleships to insect hives which ensure the backdrops never grow stale, and what backdrops they are.
f you go into Astro Tripper expecting a story, prepare to be disappointed. The game is all about visual
spectacle and narrative takes a back seat. So much of a back seat in fact, that narrative’s been left behind at the car park and visual spectacle has driven off on his own. The backdrops look as though they’ve been lifted straight from an electro-punk dreamworld and become all the more euphoric when the lasers start flying and the enemies start exploding in all their neon glory. One recommendation I do have is to put on a little background music as you play. The right kind of music (I for one choose this) can fit in with the aesthetic perfectly. With the lights dimmed and the volume up, Astro Tripper can be an amazing experience.
As I mentioned before, Astro Tripper completely lacks a story. However, you shouldn’t take that as an entirely bad thing. The gameplay mechanics and high score system means that context isn’t really necessary and any attempt to shoe-horn in a story would ultimately seem forced. Who needs context when you have a spaceship I always say. The shooting works well but I was using keyboard controls, an experience that makes it painfully clear the controls were optimized more for gamepad’s. As you fly around blowing up a wide array of colourful and interesting enemies (a neon green robotic death-spider being a particular favourite) you encounter power-ups that dramatically increase the lethality of your two weapons: ‘spread’ that shoots in an arc, and ‘straight’ that dosen’t really need explaining.I advise you to pick up those power-ups, as if there’s one thing that Astro Tripper displays straight away is itsbrutal difficulty curve. Even on the easiest difficulty the first level proved problematic for me. This is a game that takes a lot of commitment to progress in so prepare for hundreds of thrown gamepads and smashed keyboards. The problem though is that there’s a very thin line separating ‘challenging’ from ‘frustrating’ and to Astro Tripper’s detriment it falls down on the ‘frustrating’ side. Firstly, with a screen full of explosions and lasers it’s often difficult to see where the enemies are spawning in, leading to a number of cheap-shot deaths thanks to an enemy spawning right on top of you. Secondly, there’s no checkpoint system. You can fight your way past numerous enemies, beat all the stages and finally make it to the boss, only to be blind-sided by a shot you didn’t see and then it’s off to the very start of the level. The game also employs a time limit for each stage, so any attempts to play slow and carefully will often result in failure. Instead, the game expects you to whizz around shooting and dodging everything on the screen, fun when you pull it off, but that’s regularly a tall order.
By all accounts Astro Tripper can be a fun game to spend short amounts of time with. Sadly despite it’s visual flare, you often come away feeling as though you were cheated out of victory by that one stray shot or that god forsaken time limit. I’m all for games being challenging but playing Astro Tripper feels like the player and the game are locked in a deadly war of attrition and in the end the game outlasted me.
Developer: Pom Pom Games
Developer: Pom Pom Games