by Lee Hazell
I love it when a game comes along and makes me sound like Mark Brown off of Game Maker’s Tool Kit. Son of Scoregasm is the pseudo-sequel to Scoregasm, both of which were developed by Charlie Knight, and both of which are twin stick shooters in the mould of Geometry Wars or Super Stardust HD. You move the left stick to move your ship around any one of the game’s 28 arenas and you point the right stick at whatever you want to blow up.
The context for all this wanton destruction – the King of Space wants you to retrieve his stolen biscuits – bookends your campaign and has the good graces to stay out of your way as you carve a path of devastation throughout the cosmos. Similarly, the graphic – whilst retaining an Asteroids-style retro charm – purposefully choose function over flash. The play areas are simply laid out with white lines, adding a red glow to any surface that might be hazardous to your ship’s health – and the hulls of enemy vessels rarely venture outside of the realm of basic geometry (aside from the creative bosses). This neatly removes any distractions from the real focus of the game, the gameplay.
What makes the Scoregasm franchise unique is the fact that unlike so many other games of its kind, it does not give its players the utility of a board clear, which usually comes in the form of a bomb that could wipe an entire screen of enemies out with the press of a button. To keep this immense power balanced, you would start out with only a few bombs while the game occasionally rewards you with more when you hit certain points milestones at extremely long intervals. Scoregasm’s approach is to allow you to use and regain these explosives far more often, but they can only be used to clear your ship’s immediate vicinity, not the whole area.
Called ‘Pulse Power’, this is an ability that requires near constant use. Enemies come at you thick and fast demanding to be dealt with immediately in order to preserve your fragile ship – one hit and you’re staring the game over screen in the face. To regain use of the Pulse Power, you must use your primary weapon, the ship’s gun. At first, your gun is a single-barrelled pea shooter that feels neither powerful nor satisfying to use, but after the first few kills your bullets fan out and one stream becomes three making it the kind of offensive weapon you expect to be given in a game like this.
However, enemy shots can only be cleared with Pulse and if you go a while without killing an enemy, it reverts to its original form becoming almost useless against the relentless onslaught of enemy ships. This makes for an interesting balance in the later stages as you are forced to juggle between using Pulse to survive and making sure your gun never runs out of momentum, lest it go limp.
Furthermore, this balance becomes an exact science for anyone getting deep into Son of Scoregasm’s endgame of high scores and harder difficulties. Shooting scores points but Pulsing adds to your multiplier. So, if you score a ton of points, but your multiplier is zero? Then anything times zero is zero. Getting high scores and the game’s numerous medals that come with them is only achievable if you strike the right balance between shot enemies and pulsed enemies. You can even Pulse indefinitely if you figure out the rhythm.
This means that to the top of all of the scoreboards, you must constantly be taking risks and heading towards danger to make the most of your Pulse ability. It’s an ingenious way of quickening the game’s pace and heightening the challenge, forcing the player to make difficult choices that could easily end in disaster, but might just end in glorious victory. It keeps you on the edge and it’s an exhilarating way to play
Son of Scoregasm is an intense game. The first time I realised the opening level was titled ‘Gentle Start’ I laughed out loud. It was as if the game was mocking me. Fortunately, the game has plenty of level variety to keep the challenges fresh, each new map providing a new, imaginative and inventive gimmicks like laser grids, rolling crushers and huge enemy types. To ease your divine suffering at the end of each level, you are given a choice. Do you choose the green gate leading to a harder level? Or the red gate which leads to an even harder level. It’s a smart bit of design that allows you to customise your own level of challenge, especially if the last level took your sanity to the limit.
Charlie Knight hasn’t created the most polished package. The graphics are basic but practical, the story is cute and terribly British but is so minimal that even the word basic seems too complex to describe it. There is the occasional bug and once or twice the collision detection sent me to an early death screen, but ultimately a game like this lives or dies by its gameplay. It has to keep you engaged with challenge and that challenge has to be so refined you never feel like throwing your controller through the screen. It has to be tactical so not to bore and it has to be intense to demand that elusive ‘just one more go’. Son of Scoregasm achieves all of these things and kicks 2017 off to a great start.
Son of Scoregasm is out now on Steam and PSVita.