Frima's super self-aware A Space Shooter For Two Bucks hits all the right notes with smooth, space-blaster gameplay, a solid progression system and some comical, if cliche, dialogue.
Frima's latest PlayStation Mini is probably the best they've released, but we can't help but feel like the game's title does it a disservice. Sure, the obvious and witty name suits the game's tone, but jumping in we expected a bog-standard sh'mup with little additional fluff. A Space Shooter For Two Bucks! is actually much more than that — it's a solid shooter with good dialogue and an addictive progression system.
Steering itself carefully away from the "hard-as-nails space blaster" label, A Space Shooter For Two Bucks! incorporates a clever progression system that makes the game balanced throughout. By collecting floating shrapnel and completing levels, upgrades to protagonist Commander P. Jefferson's ship can be made. Because of the smart upgrade system, your arsenal always feels one step beyond the enemies', giving the game a satisfying quality. There are different difficulty levels to tinker with if you're a masochist, but we most enjoyed the game when we were blowing everything to bits and collecting shrapnel to make our ship even more overpowered.
The progression system reminded us of Ratchet & Clank. It's addictive because as you get more powerful, you'll want to test out your new weapons. Consequentially, as you test out your weapons, you'll earn more shrapnel to buy more goodies. It's an on-going cycle that makes the game outrageously addictive. The game's level breakdown makes it accessible in sub-five minute chunks, but we ended up playing through the campaign in just a couple of sittings. Definitely a case of once you pop you can't stop.
The Ratchet & Clank comparisons don't end with the progression system. The game's (voiced) narrative has the same kind of self-aware tone as Insomniac's space-shooter, with protagonist Commander P. Jefferson bearing a strong resemblance to Captain Qwark. The narrative's crude, obvious and cliche, but it's still comical. The stand-out slices of dialogue are between Jefferson and the trashy space shop clerk, Jenna. Jefferson's flirtatious arrogance leads to some hilarious encounters, and the voice acting is spot-on.
The dialogue's complimented by the game's visual tone, which has a retro 16-bit vibe to it. It's pretty stylish, with chunky detailed sprites representing the characters during conversation. Unfortunately, it all gets a bit samey as the campaign goes on. There are a limited number of enemy types and backgrounds, and it would have been nice to see a bit more variety. Thankfully, there are a number of stand-out boss fights throughout the campaign, each utilising a number of unique patterns and weapons. They help to add some variety to the campaign when it starts to get exceedingly repetitive.
Controlling Jefferson's craft can take some adjustment, with the ship occupying a floaty inertia unlike more exact sh'mups. Given the game's style, the lack of precision doesn't really hinder the balance, though it can be frustrating on higher difficulty levels.
With a survival mode and piles of achievements to unlock, A Space Shooter For Two Bucks! is certainly much more than its no-nonsense title might lead you to believe. It's a fairly complete Mini, with an addictive gameplay hook and witty dialogue. As Jefferson himself would say, "That was worth the two bucks."