Preview: Spartaga – Returning to 80’s Neon Bullet Hell

Bullet hell videogames have soul all of their own, they’re not first-person shooters (FPS) or highly precise simulators, instead they tend to be a quintessential arcade game, arming players with ridiculous weapons to take on evermore impossible odds. It can seem like carnage, as titles like Geometry Wars prove they can also be highly addictive due to a combination of simplicity and challenge. So indie studio House of How decided to create Spartaga, a virtual reality (VR) homage to this genre, with an early peek showcasing it’s going nicely. 

Just like vertical scrolling shooters, Spartaga gives you command of a single solitary ship, just this time you get to entirely control the craft in a virtual environment just by moving the motion controller. If this sounds familiar VRFocus reviewed Galaxis Wars back in June, which features the exact same gameplay mechanic.

Spartaga screenshot

With Spartaga however you don’t even need to shoot, it’s entirely automatic just aim the laser pointer that’s emitted from the nose of the ship at an enemy and it’ll start to fire. This works perfectly well, but it does kind of feel like some of the challenge is taken away. House of How has implemented some thought to what enemies you shoot and in which order with a bonus powerup. You can simply hit whichever enemy comes in close, however destroy four of the same in a row and you’ll be provided with a very powerful laser that’ll destroy most opponents in single hit. Continue this pattern and the laser will increase in power as well as improving the multiplier for the end score.

The ship also has a secondary weapon which can be selected prior to the start of each level. This comes in the form of a multi target lockon shot, a shield and a couple of others. These – as well as your standard laser – can all be upgraded with cash earned from completing levels, so the higher the score the better your payout will be.

Being a bullet hell videogame, not only do you dish out the punishment the enemies do to, and this is where some of the biggest challenge of Spartaga lies. Each enemy has its own particular attack, some dive bomb, others shoot from a distance, while some will attack in large numbers. So it can get to a stage where your vision is almost completely filled with laser fire and ships, requiring not only careful flying but also good use of the roomscale environment. Stand in one place and you’ll soon find the ship engulfed with no room to manoeuvre.

Spartaga screenshot

Spartaga’s gameplay isn’t your usual VR affair, offering the type of experience that used to be very popular and now starting to find its way to head-mounted displays (HMDs). It could still be classed as a wave shooter, but it does offer a more unique way of looking at the genre – certainly offering more of a unique challenge than the standard fare usually rolled out. If House of How can offer enough gameplay variants then Spartaga should offer an interesting challenge.