Astroman – Review

Astroman, from StarQuail Games, is a quite excellent MetroidVania.

Although, it does differ slightly from other games in the genre and so to dump it in with them isn’t entirely accurate. Rather than being set in one huge level, Astroman takes place over nine huge levels, with a hub world between them. You must find equipment to upgrade your ship to access later levels, and items for Astroman to enable more efficient exploration of previous levels.

As you can also plainly see, it’s a 2D platformer.

So, that ship of yours. You were happily driving it around in space (does one drive in space?) when you were shot down and landed on a planet. Bits of your ship were scattered across the system (I won’t call it a solar system, there’s no sun) and its up to you to find them so that you can go home, or wherever you were going in the first place.

You do this by running around in elaborate, huge, 2D levels, and shooting a variety of excellently designed enemies, each with unique attack patterns that you must learn, prepare for, and exploit. Explore the levels carefully, because as well as heart containers (collect four for an extra heart’s health) they may contain an item to aid your adventure. A boost pack allows Astroman to travel further, and a spring jump allows him to do Mario-style double and triple jumps to get to hard to reach places.

You might also find parts of your ship, which is used to travel between levels. Initially an asteroid belt limits progression beyond the first three levels, but find a gun for the ship and you can blast your way through to the next three where you’ll find more items to aid your journey. As your skills improve, you can return to previous levels and seek out more heart containers that you couldn’t reach the first time round, or ship parts that proved illusive before.

Initially the game can be very vague about where you need to go. There’s no clue in the hub as to whether a level contains a ship part or an upgrade, which means you need to explore without even knowing if there’s anything to find. In world five, though, you can find the scanner which will tell you which levels contain items for you to find. This improves the experience greatly and get it as soon as you can.

That leaves only a slight issue in the night-time levels. One gimmick that these levels employ is that in certain places they fade the screen to black and only let you see a tiny (really tiny) area around Astroman and other enemies, as well as around some special blocks. While it’s a neat effect, it makes exploring these areas impossible and feels at odds with the overall theme of the gameplay.

It’s only a problem in a few of the levels, and doesn’t affect the player’s ability to finish the game, but it leaves them never quite sure if they’ve explored those levels thoroughly or not.

As mentioned, Astroman’s levels are massive, and you’ll be exploring a lot. Each of them has multiple routes through depending on the skills you possess at the time, and returning to previous levels is a lot of fun, even if there’s just a few heart containers to find, as you reach places that you had no idea even existed.

As well as looking wonderful, with three distinct styles of world and crisp graphics with lovely smooth animation, Astroman plays great as well. The controls are responsive and the jumping has a nice weight to it that makes it a joy to play.

There aren’t many Xbox LIVE Indie Games with the scale of Astroman, and certainly there are no platformers on the service that offer levels as big, or the sheer amount of exploration that’s found here. While the main campaign will take around four hours to complete, finding everything that the game has to offer could take more than double that. There was a lot of ambition in creating this game, and StarQuail have pulled it off almost perfectly.

Astroman is available now for 240 Microsoft Points.

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One Response to Astroman – Review

  1. Pingback: Win a Copy of Astroman « Achievement Locked

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