This is a fizzing neon vision of the scrolling shooter: a limited left-right arena in which waves of beautifully abstract baddies come whirling towards you, spitting bullets as they go, and turning into even more deadly enemies if you don’t deal with them swiftly. In other words, Astro Tripper is pure videogame.
You get two weapons, and two game modes: linear adventure through all levels, and endless challenge mode where the enemies keep coming until you go down. Pick up the power-ups as they come, aim for the high score.
The levels are angled three-dimensional structures, echoing the designs of PomPom’s previous games, Mutant Storm and Space Tripper. Like Space Tripper, these environments have an element of depth to them, so that you find yourself whizzing around various platforms at different heights and angles as you shoot your enemies. But the 3D design here means that play lacks fluidity, and is occasionally inconsistent, so that you end up shooting the curve of the level, or missing enemies who are at the wrong altitude. Worse, momentum will routinely see you tip off into the abyss. And why can’t we shoot transforming enemies?
Astro Tripper is not a game that caters to the weak. It demands precision while at the same time feeling somewhat haphazard. Mutant Storm was perfect in its progression, allowing you to unlock one level at a time. Lesser humans could expect to progress, superior humans could opt for Hard difficulty. Not so in Astro Tripper. Playing on Easy is fairly challenging while Hard borders on the preposterous. It’s a game that needs a great deal of tuning for a wider audience.
As it is, you will be in danger of clawing out your eyes, and those of everyone around you, unless you are absolutely, definitely a Space Tripper genius hoping for something equally knuckle-destroying. We remain in favour of the PomPom project. We adore the company'saesthetic and enjoy the minimalist nature of its games (we made our own Mutant Storm levels for heaven’s sake). With Astro Tripper, however, we cannot break through the frustration barrier, and we are left without a satisfying boom of accomplishment.
Nov 5, 2009