Can House of How's bullet hell title offer more than the rest?
Even in the niche world of virtual reality (VR) development it can be hard for a fledgling studio to get noticed, no matter what videogame they’re trying to make. House of How maybe new to this side of the industry but its team is made up of Gears of War and HoloLens veterans who should know a thing or two about making a standout experience. Enter Spartaga, a retro inspired bullet hell title that aims to test your accuracy and dexterity in one foul swoop.
Much like titles such as Geometry Wars, Spartaga is one of those titles that manages to mix a very simplistic gameplay mechanic with rock hard levels that certainly don’t always suit the casual player. Much like Blasters of the Universe which VRFocus reviewed recently, Spartaga is a mind and body challenge that involves plenty of movement and an acute degree of spatial awareness.
Utilising a single motion controller – either on Oculus Rift or HTC Vive (reviewed) – you take control of a solitary spaceship, flying about in a highly stylised, neon drenched virtual world which looks awesome. The controller and ship are perfectly synced as one, meaning no matter how fast or slow, or in whichever erratic direction it needs to move it does so. Which is needed, as this is a bullet hell wave shooter – yes another one – where you’ll need quick reflexes to pass levels and outmanoeuvre projectiles.
As other wave shooters like Space Pirate Trainer have done, even though you have a full 360-degree environment to enjoy all the action takes place at the front, so there’s only 180-degrees to worry about. That by no means makes for an easy ride, and at some points enemies will fly by so you can turn around to shoot them if necessary.
Split over four stages with eight areas in each and a boss battle at the end of each stage, Spartaga definitely takes a leaf out of classic videogames. The ship only has a certain amount of lives to complete each level so to help you’re offered a few special abilities. Before starting an area there are several upgrade options if you’ve earned enough cash. Multi laser lock-on, an EMP blast or a shield (very handy) for example. The former is the bog standard, while the others need to be bought and then further upgraded. While these can – and do – offer tactical advantages the best ability isn’t one that can be bought, it has to be earned.
As the myriad of enemies come in groups you can blast away to your hearts content – the standard laser auto fires. Actually taking a moment to plan what you’re shooting at, hitting four of the same enemy type in a row, unlocks a limited time mega laser which annihilates foes very quickly whilst upping the score multiplier. Continue this method and the laser will be refreshed, adding a neat little touch to a fairly basic gameplay mechanic.
So is Spartaga the VR videogame everyone’s been waiting for, well not exactly. It’s one of those titles that really doesn’t have many negative qualities. House of How has created a fast-paced, action shooter that offers difficulty and addictive gameplay in spades. It just feels like it’s a year too late.