|System: X360 (XBLA)||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: CrunchTime Games||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: CrunchTime Games||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Sept. 3, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-2 (Online 2-8)||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Robert VerBruggen
One of the most interesting and recent videogame phenomena is the "new old-school" game. Through WiiWare and Xbox Live Arcade, studios can create and sell fresh titles in classic styles. The most obvious success has been Geometry Wars, a complex but Asteroids-esque 2-D shooter presented in high-definition graphics - a Super Nintendo kind of game with Xbox 360 visuals, instantly downloadable for a low price.
CrunchTime Games's debut title, Shred Nebula, is similar, but it has two unique selling points. One is the neat set of bells and whistles it adds to the old formula. Two is Arcade Adventure Mode, where players progress through a set of stages, complete with a storyline, instead of just racking up points until they die.
The best way to get acquainted with the game's innovative features is through the Arcade Adventure Mode's tutorial. It's overwhelming at first, as Shred Nebula utilizes the Xbox 360 controller to its fullest; for a while, the simple act of guiding the ship where you want it to go is frustrating.
As expected, the left joystick steers the ship, but the joystick will not propel the ship forward; the LT button (left trigger) does that. The LB button (above the left trigger) propels the ship backward, which is crucial - it lets you turn on a dime, and shoot at enemies while flying away from them. What's more, pushing the stick left doesn't turn the ship left, and vice versa. Rather, pushing left on the joystick turns the ship toward the left of the screen, even if it's facing down to begin with, and thus has to turn right. It's awkward, and it takes some getting used to. Also, the designers didn't learn much in physics class, as in the middle of space, the ship grinds to a stop when one turns off the propulsion. What's slowing it down? Space air?
The X button fires the ship's main weapon, for which ammo is unlimited. It only points forward, though defeating many enemies without dying can enable scatter fire. With the A button come two explosive missiles that travel in a circular motion and only explode if you shoot them or if they hit an enemy on their own. Y is turbo, though the difference in speed isn't dramatic. RB enacts an active shield that protects the ship from enemy fire (use is limited).
The right joystick fires various weapons you acquire through your journey (selectable with the D-pad); ammo is limited, but these weapons fire in whatever direction you thrust the right joystick, much as the main weapon does in Geometry Wars. They're invaluable for taking down crowds of enemies without turning the ship to face each and every one of them, as you would need to do with the X weapon alone.
At first, the only available right-joystick weapon isn't a weapon at all; it's a scanner, which brings us to the 20-plus levels (some of them secret) of Arcade Adventure Mode. The idea is that space explorers from your community got lost, and you're trying to figure out what happened to them. To do so, you explore each stage (heading in each direction until you arrive at the white line representing the edge of the universe), come across the wreckage of their ships, use the scanner to download "beacon logs" with important information, and execute a "hyper jump" to head to the next stage. Oh, and blow up the countless enemies who'll get in your way.
Each foe's A.I. follows an identifiable formula, but even the weakest opponents can be quite a challenge. They'll use shields, kamikaze-attack, and send a variety of their own high-tech projectiles your way.
It's a joy doing battle with such worthy opponents, and the action gets downright frantic at times. The game features good level designs too, with mazes through poisonous fog and a few simple puzzles. The graphics are spectacular, though sometimes it's tough to know which space rocks are in the background, and which ones block your ship's movement on its two-dimensional plane. Before any of this gets repetitive, you've beaten the game.
What really brings down Arcade Adventure Mode is that, despite all its efforts to break out of the arcade-shooter mold, it's called Arcade Adventure Mode for a reason: Whenever it's game over (three ships, plus any extras you earn), you can just start a the next game in the exact spot in the level you left off, with all the enemies you've killed still dead, and with all the damage you've inflicted on living enemies still in effect.
Since there's no coin slot on the Xbox 360, there's really no pressure at all not to lose ships, or to learn to take down each enemy without sustaining damage. All that's lost is points - and if you want to play for points, what's wrong with the old-school "kill waves of enemies until you die" format (of which Shred Nebula does have a mode, called Score Attack)? And what's the point of a story mode where beating the game is absolutely meaningless? All this accomplishment proves is that you've invested two to three hours and kept going after each death.
Even if playing the stages for points sounds fun -- if you're the type who can't stand a friend having a higher top score in Tetris, Pac-Main, Asteroids, etc. -- the way the game handles those points is odd. Each "game over" costs you all the points you've earned so far in the level. Therefore, if you beat almost the entire level and die by the last enemy, you'll end up with no points save the extras you get from clearing the stage. But if you die twice in the first half of the stage and not at all in the second, you'll get a lot of points.