August 12, 2011 7 Comments
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like if you crossed a horizontal space shooter with Hot Potato, wonder no more. That’s pretty much what Andromium is, minus the shooting part. I have to admit, when I saw the trailer for this a few weeks back, I thought it looked stupid. And even when playing it, my early impression was not very good. This proves why my decision to never try demos was a good one, because Andromium is a seriously amazing game.
In Andromium you play as a pair of space ships that must continuously pass a ball of energy between them while auto-scrolling through eight stages filled with various traps. Whether you play alone or with a partner, the game is set up with a split-screen. If you play with a partner, you both dodge obstacles while passing the ball between each other. If you hold onto the ball too long, you die. You have three hearts, and if you lose them all you also die. Losing lives deducts points from your total. The object of each stage is to clear the target number of points set for it.
If you play single player, an AI partner with no bullets or obstacles to dodge fills in and does a suitable job. The funny thing is, whether you play with a partner or not doesn’t really matter. You never really feel like you’re working with someone. There’s just too much to pay attention to that you both forget the other is there. It’s really very bizarre. Playing with the AI felt more right to me. Don’t get me wrong, playing with someone else works great too. Especially if you’re at a point in your relationship where you feel you don’t ignore each other enough.
There’s eight stages, all of which feature randomly generated layouts. The themes for them range from dollar-store generic to “what the fuck were they on?” inspired. There’s a stage featuring beautiful neon graphics. There’s a stage themed after classic video games, complete with Mario-style coin collecting. There’s a stage where killer whales jump from toilet to toilet. There’s a.. you know what, fuck it. Once you’ve noted that there’s a stage where killer whales hop from toilet to toilet you’ve really said all you need to.
The controls are very smooth and accurate. Passing the ball is super easy too. There’s no aiming it, so you just press the A button and watch it glide gingerly from your side of the screen to your partner’s. The ball has a timer on it that was the most frequent reason I died. And you know what? I chuckled every time I blew myself up doing it. It’s amazing how you can forget such a key component to the game so many times, but I often did hold the ball too long and was always amused when it happened.
I do have a couple of complaints. One is that the ordering of the levels seems wrong. On more than one occasion I had difficulty beating one level, which was then immediately followed by one that was a total breeze. It gives the game a difficulty curve that looks like Bart Simpson’s hair. My second complaint is a little more severe. Sometimes the traps and obstacles are just not very easy to see. This is especially a problem on the final stage, where the gears that you have to avoid are not drawn in a way to stick out, making it easier to lose track of them. Finally, there’s no Xbox Live support. I don’t want to sound like a broken record but this is the second time this month I’ve played a game that would have been #1 on the IndieGamerChick leader board if it had offered online play. Developers, you have got to try harder to include it.
Oh yes, and there’s an extra single-player mode where you use the left and right sticks to control both ships at the same time. I tried it and set a new world record for fastest rage quit in video game history: 13.7 seconds. If you have the God-like dexterity needed to pull this mode off, congratulations. You are officially a freak of such epic scale that they would have burned you at the stake for it 500 years ago.
Gripes aside, Andromium is one of the best games I’ve played on the indie marketplace. Games that are this experimental are prone to fail. On paper, the concept sounded terrible to me, and the slow start didn’t help. But after only a few minutes it just clicks, and suddenly Andromium really works. In fact, in works so good that I wouldn’t be surprised if a larger studio tried to poach this idea for themselves. It’s unconventional, well presented, and excellently realized. Great soundtrack too. Who would have guessed mixing a stale genre like the space shooter with a childhood game like Hot Potato would have worked so well? Next up I want to see if creator Mike Ventnor can mix a first person shooter with Duck-Duck-Goose.