Spectra's a decent high-score chasing arcade title backed by a stellar soundtrack provided by Super Hexagon's Chipzel. Like that mobile title, the Northern Irish artist's work gives the gameplay an energy and edge that evokes the 80s era, while the game's basic if neon-infused aesthetic attempts the same with the visuals.
Though the game's tracks are procedurally-generated from its soundtrack, you're not really aware of the same fusion of gameplay, visuals and music as you'd see in the likes of Rez HD, nor even is there the feel of a throbbing undercurrent that twinned soundtrack and graphics in Tetsuya Mizuguchi's other notable work Lumines.
It's closer to Studio Liverpool's collaboration with DJ Sasha for Wipeout 3 in that regard, music tracks providing a quickened pulse to the on-screen action. While stylistically there's a certain Tron comparison, Spectra at times feels like Wipeout for the Pac-Man generation: racing an anti-grav craft around simplistic tracks gobbling golden cubes and avoiding potentially fatal barriers.
The game offers 10 tracks, subsequent courses unlocking if you've managed to make it a certain percentage through the current one. Completion of these 10 unlock a Hardcore mode - same music, same track design, but with a much higher barrier count. Another music title parallel: think Guitar Hero on Hard.
Craft acceleration is out of your control: your only concern is guiding it left or right across each two-lane track. There's a certain lack of finesse in the craft steering, offering the a controlled precision similar to slalom skiing.
The idea's to keep weaving around the elongated hexagonal barriers and collecting cubes to build up your high-score. Cubes grabbed take a few seconds before they're added to your overall score; hit a barrier before they do, and you lose those points.
It's all about threading the digital needle and measuring the weigh up risk versus reward in the split-seconds. Hitting boost pads will increase your score multiplier but give you less time to react to upcoming dangers. Skirt close enough to barriers and you'll receive bonus points (and a lovely gentle vibration along the triggers), and some cubes will be nestled between numerous barriers which on later levels require god-like timing to slide in and out of.
It's a simple concept and a number of addictive arcade games have hinged around similar ideas. Yet while other titles infuse old-school thrills with modern day additions, Spectra doesn't build anything on top of its initial premise. As such it feels basic.
Tracks are visually identical. Additionally and even regardless of the imperfect craft controls, some passages seem near-impossible to steer through with barriers stacked close together, so if you hit one barrier you're going to hit several. It feels unavoidable and at worse you get punted off the course completely, into the star field beyond and back to a restart.
While there's dual markers of your level time, a percentage counting up to the level's completion, a timer counting down to a track's end, there's oddly no true end to the courses that we could see. Even as we touched 99.9% completion, barriers and collectable score cubes still stretched out ahead of us - it's oddly unsatisfying despite a stack of info popping up congratulating you on scores, level completion and if you've worked up the leaderboards.
It's a title we can only recommend to check out if you're a fan of this particular style of game, and even then it's not going to offer you the long-term hook the better examples of the genre offer. after a few plays you'll have seen everything you need to. It's a decent first stab by Gateway Interactive but the only real essential here is Spectra's soundtrack.
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