Platform: PC, Mac
Release Date: 22 January 2016
Developer: Blackbird Interactive
“Bit Blaster XL”. …I mean, to be honest, you’ve probably figured out what this game is in the first three words, so maybe I don’t need to go on for another 558 more. You fly around, shoot some objects, go for the high score. Repeat. Still, having played a free copy of this arcade shoot ‘em up for a few hours, I can say it’s definitely worth at least a couple of hours of your time.
You play as a small ship taking part in the world’s most violent space programme, trying to blast away the nasty-looking meteoroids that keep drifting into your path so that you and your crew don’t come down with a nasty case of Space Death (which is like regular death, but roughly twice as cool). The trouble is that somebody must have spilled their drink on the laser control unit at some point, since all you can do is fire directly forwards and hope for the best.
The result is basically Asteroids, or at least close enough to Asteroids that it must have got to Steam by falling off the back of an Atari truck, guv’nor, no questions asked. Still, there are a few features that set it apart from the latter game. You can get power-ups, for one thing, which float about teasingly in the void of space until you can zip over and grab them. These include a green one which turns your laser into a lightsaber – incredibly useful for cutting up asteroids – a blue one that provides explosive rounds, and an orange one that creates a laser that bounces from ship to ship and essentially plays the game for you for a little while.
In terms of how it actually plays, the controls are simple, restricted entirely to moving the ship with the arrow keys. There’s also technically a boost mechanism if you hold down the space bar, which might come in handy for better players than me – personally, the ship was already going fast enough that I kept smashing into the sides of the observable universe whenever I attempted a vaguely risky turn.
But they’re also responsive and, importantly, never unfair. I earned all those sudden and immediate deaths, and nobody can tell me any differently. As you improve, the difficulty curve is consistent, and the actual physics of the lasers work as you’d expect them to. Another aspect of the game worth mentioning are its graphics. Playing on the overall retro theme, they consist of 16-bit sprites, which are bright enough that the game feels somewhat colourful and everything you need to see clearly stands out.
There isn’t that much depth, admittedly, beyond the usual thrill of chasing down the highest score you can. If it’s addictive, it’s a game to come back to in short bursts, rather than a long and drawn-out session – a few convenient shots of heroin into the eyeballs rather than an extended trip on LSD in your friend’s basement. Happily, the price reflects that – I got my copy for free, but right now you can get it on Steam for about 79p (before sales kick in).
So overall, Bit Blaster XL’s a sound revitalization of an old game idea. Though it’s really exactly what you’d expect from a shoot-‘em-up Asteroids adventure, if you’re looking for a quick and addictive game you can come back to again and again there are far worse ways to spend your time.