Inside Pulse 12

Review: Evasive Space (Wii Ware)

Evasive Space
Genre: Action
Developer: High Voltage Software
Publisher: Akinai Games
Release Date: 02/16/2009


Evasive Space is a game that showed a lot of promises from the previews. When I first heard I was going to be assigned this game, I gathered all the info I could find. After doing some research, I decided that the game needed to be put on my “anticipated” list, which is a much better place to be than on my “dreaded” list. The game was touted as an old-school shooter, with spacecrafts, meteors and robotic enemies. I immediately saw the ingredients for a great game, something that could be a nice throwback to another era, but with updated graphics.

Just in case you are reading this and thinking “Nice! An old school shoot ’em up!” let me say that my first impressions were dead wrong.

Along the way, something seems to have gone awry. In fact, it’s more than just something. It looks like everything which should have been fun about this game somehow missed the target. Let’s see how this came to be.

STORY

Your character is a Space Guardian named Konki, and your mission is to go through space to find the Constellation Stones from the evil, evil Dr. Dark Matter. I want to emphasize on how evil the villain is here, as the stones that he stole are actually the source of light in the galaxy. Not only that, but the game also mentions that the stones compose heaven. Are we simply talking about the sky here or about a more spiritual heaven? The game never bothers clarifying the issue. In fact, the game never bothers clarifying anything when it comes to its story.

Once you are done with the intro, the only way the story progresses, and I use the term lightly here, is when Konki chats with her computer before the start of each level. These chats never amount to much of anything, as they usually are nothing but senseless techno babble. For example, from time to time, your computer will mention that the following mission is crucial if you want to gather fuel for your ship’s coupling or if you want to make it through the hyperspace portals of the energy field. I may have gotten this phrase wrong, but you can change the placement of the words and it will still make just as much sense. At other times, it might ask you to rescue spacemen who are wandering aimlessly in the void of space, without really knowing who they are or how they got there. One thing the game rarely bothers to update you on though is Dr. Dark Matter’s whereabouts, which is a shame really as he is supposed to be your main antagonist after all.

As you can guess, the story seems to be an afterthought; a mere excuse to explain the game’s setting. If you are going to play this game, it won’t be because the storytelling is so intense and gripping that you just can’t let go. If such is the case, then you are probably the kind of person who reads Archie comics and cries when he dumps Betty for Veronica. The narrative depth is about the same in this case.

Story Rating: Bad

GRAPHICS

I was honestly surprised at how good the game looked. Your ship is tiny when compared to the playing field, but it is entirely understandable because you have bullets and obstacles coming at you from every way. The backgrounds and levels are beautiful, giving the whole game a great sci-fi atmosphere. The purple hue that seems to emanate from every element on screen gives me a small Geometry Wars feeling, but if you are going to get inspiration from a game, it’s as good as any other. The enemies are easy to distinguish and great looking, even though they are a bit bland. All in all, the game looks extremely polished and is very pleasant on the eye.

Graphics Rating: Good

SOUND

The music is generic at best and irritating at worst. All of the tracks are your standard techno/atmospheric affair, like something you would hear near the end of the night at a club. I didn’t notice a lot of variety, and quite frankly got almost annoyed by it right after the end of Act I. I usually try to play video games with the sound on as I truly believe that most soundtracks add to the feel of a game by giving it an atmosphere and a mood. Games from the Mario series are a great example, as is the recent Mushroom Men for Wii. However, I quickly gave up in this case and replaced the in-game music for my own selection of tracks.

The sound effects are good, except for one which nearly made me want to blow my brains out. I am talking about the countdown sound that happens before each mission begins, which also happens to be the sound that plays when your time is about to run out. Since a lot of time in this game is spent starting a mission over because your time just ran down, the sound quickly becomes synonymous with failure, and its grating nature does nothing to make it more endearing. The singing of birds, this is not.

Sound Rating: Mediocre

CONTROL AND GAMEPLAY

This is where things get bad. First of all, I think that the concept of the game is a good one, but it was poorly executed. Not only that, but it was not advertised honestly. Remember how I said at the start of this review that the game was touted as a classic shooter in the previews? It does play like a shooter, except for the little fact that you never shoot. Your ship does not have a gun, so the entire game is spent evading from the enemies’ hostile ways. I guess this is why they call the game Evasive Space. All I’m saying is don’t trust other sites that classify the game as a shoot ’em up.

So what we are left with is a game where your purpose is to collect items without getting shot down by the bad guys. It is an interesting concept in itself as it has rarely been done before. I for one cannot remember ever playing anything like it. The problem is that the execution does not seem to match the expectations brought on by the concept.

For a start, there are three types of environment: narrow mazes that must be navigated without touching the walls or being hit by an enemy, sandbox stages where you must run around trying to collect things like spacemen while ducking asteroids, and auto-scrolling stages where you must try to stay on screen at all time. All of these bring something different to the table, which is a plus, but all of them also happen to be hindered by the loose and sloppy controls. The only button you will ever need in Evasive Space is the B button as it activates your ship’s engine. You simply point at the screen with your remote to show in which direction you want to go. The further from the ship you point, the faster it goes. In theory, it is all simple and nice, but in practice, the ship takes too long to start or stop, and steering by pointing is both imprecise and uncomfortable. The result is that you will more often than not crash into objects which you have seen long before you collided, but which you couldn’t evade even though you tried.

Thankfully, you don’t die every single time you hit something. In fact, I have never once died because my ship took excessive damage. However, you do freeze for 2 or 3 seconds each time you bump into something. Since some of the stages are based on a “time attack” model where you are racing against the clock, and so it can become frustrating when you get stuck in the middle of hostile territories. For example, some stages feature one of the Constellation Stones, which you must collect, and it is in the middle of a triangle to enemy turrets all pointing to it. The best thing is that they all shoot at the same time. This means that more often than not, you will get stuck in an endless situation, where you are nothing but a sitting duck for the turrets as each time they get you, you are frozen until they shoot you again. Only with the recoil from their shots will you finally escape, but oh, will you look at that, you only have five seconds left before you have to restart all over again.

As you can see, “frustration” is the name of the game here. It is not frustrating in a good way, like Mike Tyson in Punch-Out, where all you had to do was study a pattern and then apply your counter-attack. In this case, it is frustrating in a, “It’s not fair!” way. Sometimes, I can easily outrun the bullets, but at other times, they will catch up to me as soon as they leave the screen.

In the end, I felt as if I was playing a space version of the board game Operation, only with more guns, as I was met with an irritating buzz each time I touched the borders.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Poor

REPLAYABILITY

There are two things that could make you come back to this game. The first one is a multiplayer mode, which pits you and your friends in the sandbox levels which I have previously described in a competition to see who can accomplish the goal the fastest. The second one is an online leaderboard where you try to finish the levels faster than the other people who played the game. The problem is that both of these modes are played on the same frustrating levels which I talked about in the previous section. Obviously, it’s going to be as much fun the second time around as it was the first time, which is not necessarily a good thing. In fact, it’s like walking barefoot on a trail of broken glass once by mistake, then turning around to do it all again to see if you can do it faster… or inviting another friend to do the same.

At least, the modes are there, and would probably be enjoyable if so was the rest of the game.

As a side note, I have the top time in two levels as of February 25th, under the pseudonym “GUY”, which also happens to be my real name. It is probably the thing I appreciate the most about my given name. I never had any problem at the arcade when it came to choosing which initials I would put in the “Top Scores” section.

Replayability Rating: Poor

BALANCE

One thing I can say is that the game is even in its cruelty. Apart from the tutorial and the first few levels, Evasive Space is frustrating all the way. The problem is that I have a suspicion that some of the levels, especially the sandbox and auto-scrolling levels, would be much easier if the controls were tighter. The maze levels however would probably be just as much of a pain in the neck as some of the passageways are barely big enough to fit your ship and must be navigated as a speed so slow that it takes away any sense of exhilaration from the game.

Balance Rating: Mediocre

ORIGINALITY

As I have said before, I don’t think I have ever seen a game that was entirely about dodging bullets instead of firing them. The concept is a great one, and it deserved a better fate than its result ended up being. The only other games that come to mind when I am playing Evasive Space are Geometry Wars for the atmosphere, and Irritating Stick for the aspect of navigating mazes without touching the borders.

It truly is an interesting idea, as it could have been fun if the emphasis was more on speed and tight controls. Let’s hope they don’t give up on this one and actually give the idea the game it deserves.

Originality Rating: Great

ADDICTIVENESS

I don’t know how one can become addicted to frustration. On the addictiveness scale, it is just above listening to nails on a chalkboard. I seriously had to play this game in short bursts of 15 minutes in order to review it, otherwise I would have quickly become annoyed, with physical effects being noticeable to boot. My heart would pump faster, and not in an exciting way. It’s not often that I want to break something when I finish playing a game.

Addictiveness Rating: Worthless

APPEAL FACTOR

I can’t see many people wanting to play this. It plays like a shooter where you don’t shoot anything, which will probably turn off traditional fans of the genre. Most people wandering on Wii Ware with a few bucks to spare will probably spend them on more recognizable names, like Mega Man, Tetris or Strong Bad, and frankly, I can’t blame them. When the highest point in a game is its graphics, it usually appeals to the same people who bought Haze or similar games where style prevailed under substance. Unfortunately, how many of them own a Wii?

Appeal Factor Rating: Dreadful

MISCELLANEOUS

This game is everything a game shouldn’t be. It is neither relaxing, nor fun, nor does it help you step away from reality for a moment. When I was done playing with Evasive Space, each time I could feel the rage building inside me, as if someone had just been trying to pick a fight. I have been trying to find a redeeming quality to this game, but other than “it looks pretty”, there’s not much I can say. There’s not even any extra other than the credits.

Miscellaneous Rating: Dreadful

THE RATINGS

Story: Bad
Graphics: Good
Sound: Mediocre
Control/Gameplay: Poor
Replayability: Poor
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Great
Addictiveness: Worthless
Appeal: Dreadful
Miscellaneous: Dreadful
Final Score: Poor Game

Short Attention Span Summary
It’s a shame when a good idea gets dragged down by poor execution and frustrating gameplay. I truly feel like the end product could have been much more interesting with some tweaking and better controls. As it is however, I cannot recommend this game to anybody, as it is the closest I have been to being actually angry at a game, and I am a man of a calm nature. Simply put, this is the kind of game that could make a Jedi Master turn to the Dark Side of the Force in about half an hour.

  • Would you consider sticking with a game because you want to beat it, being addicted to frustration? (i.e. Mega Man 9, Super Street Fighter II Turbo Akuma, etc.) Or perhaps that’s just the pride of being able to clear a game getting in the way?

    Nice review, though. I, too, was a bit curious about this game at first but I would be led to believe there are better things to spend my points on.

  • Guy Desmarais

    Sticking with a game despite the frustrations depends on the reward and the challenge. If I feel like a game is being tough because the developers want to challenge me and because it is in the spirit of the game, I will stick with it. However, if I feel like the game is tough because the controls are broken or because of poor design decisions, I will often consider giving up, simply because I am not getting anything out of the experience. Most Mega Man games are in the first category, which unfortunately wasn’t the case for this game.

    Thanks for the comment!

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