Retro Review – The Next Space
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation Portable
Still got an urge to revisit your old arcade days? Recently having reviewed the SNK Playmore title, Chopper I, I bring you another option from them for reliving the glory of late 80s gaming: The Next Space, a PS Mini for your PSP. Is the force strong with this one, or will space be its final frontier?
Like Chopper I, The Next Space is a top-down shoot ‘em up (shmup) title, with an emphasis on gameplay instead of story. Players take control of an advanced spacecraft, fighting through massive waves of alien enemies. The overall goal is to reach the end of the level and defeat the boss, without perishing in a fiery explosion. To do this, gamers must juggle avoiding collisions or gunfire from foes (as one hit can destroy you) and giving your adversaries the business with your main cannon – which is fired by a single button. The only downfall to this setup is for each and every shot you wish to fire the button must be pressed again – with no hold-for-continuous-fire option. Enemies can take their fair share of damage and usually come in swarms, so your thumb is going to feel very sore, very quickly – limiting both playtime and replayability.
What makes the title stand out, however, is the power-ups. These devices are placed around key points in the level, and provide gamers with some serious firepower. Every augment displays a letter, and if you shoot the device, it will cycle through the different letters available. From there, simply fly over it and that power-up will automatically install itself on your craft.. Each has its own special attack (ranging from bombs and missile launchers, to flamethrowers and energy cannons) and even changes the aesthetics of your ship. Players are free to switch between them as they see fit, selecting either personal favourites or the best weapon for the situation, which makes for diverse gameplay that would not only have been a blast back in its day, but still holds up strong in this age.
The Next Space’s enemies also help bring the title to life, and they shy away from the usual ‘bullet hell’ formula. Instead of having each enemy shoot a hail of bullets at you constantly, some instead fly in specific patterns with the goal of colliding with you or boxing you in. Even the environment gets in on the action, setting up things like laser gates that must be avoided, lest you become a smoldering ruin. These foes make for a very impressive, diverse, and engaging experience that will be a joy for older players to relive, and for younger gamers to try for the first time.
However, two issues that presented themselves within Chopper I also show up here: coins and load issues. To play the game, players need to press the Triangle button to insert a virtual quarter. This credit gives you three lives to work with, and if you lose them, you’re brought to the continue screen, where if you wish to continue you must pop in more currency. Unfortunately, you can mash the button until the cows come home and never worry about losing the game – unlike in the 80s where you only had so much money. To make matters worse, when you die or continue after death, you restart in the exact spot you perished with enemies keeping any damage dealt to them – meaning a less-skilled gamer can exploit this system by spamming their fire at a boss, taking any and all shots from it, and relying on their limitless virtual coins to eventually get through the game. As with Chopper I, The Next Space would have greatly benefited from a fixed amount of coins or continues.
Also, on many occasions when the game loads a new enemy or the continue screen, it ends up freezing for a few seconds. These occurrences are limited enough to make the game playable, but frequent enough to break the sense of immersion, as well as scare the player into thinking their PSP has frozen. It’s a shame this issue presents itself, as it greatly distracts from the fun that is The Next Space.
Graphically, the title is very impressive – especially considering its age. While its retro, low-bit look gives the title a welcomed classic feel that gamers of all ages will enjoy, it’s the character design that drives the title home. As mentioned, each power-up gives your ship a brand new look, but the range of different enemies is staggering – all of which have their own interesting design. From simple spiked spheres of kamikaze death, to intricate shield-toting vanguards, it’d be impossible for players to find themselves bored of destroying the same foe again and again. The only problem one will find is that the same background of stars is used for every level, which gets very dull after the first few rounds – a coffee stain on an otherwise brilliant game cabinet.
As for sounds, it’s about what you’d expect from an old-school arcade shooter. Clunky synthesized sounds covering explosions, gunfire, and the like are accompanied by a tense, pumping electronic soundtrack full of jumpy lead lines and pounding beats. A good throwback to times since past that older players will get nostalgic over, and, while the younger generation might not care for it, they will at least respect how far audio has come along since.
When all is said and done, The Next Space proves that even after nearly 20 years, it still has what it takes to be a great casual game. Whether you’ve spent hundreds of quarters at your local arcade, or you just want to see what all the hype was about, this is an awesome place to spend your remaining PSN balance. Although it has some hiccups here and there, the fun gameplay and brilliantly conceived enemies more than make up for it. So dust off that PSP, jump into the pilot’s seat, and get ready to blast some space foes!
Final Score: 4.0 / 5.0 and a super-secret space laser!
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