Stuff I bought as well as Perfect Dark, No.1
Perfect Dark XBLA has finally been patched into the condition it should have been released in in the first place, so I bought it. So far it seems to be just as fantastic a game as I remembered from a decade ago, but with nicer graphics and a silky-smooth framerate, so well done to all concerned.
I'd had a look at R:O when it came out, following a tip from an alert WoS viewer, but found it a competent and stylish Galaga clone ruined by being far too easy. At the point where the trial game timed out, I'd have cleared 20+ levels without losing a life, and I like the challenge in my games to show up a little earlier than that.
However, the game quickly got an update ratcheting things up a notch or two, and now that it puts up a fight it's right up there in the top division of Xbox Live Indie Games, with an impressive average rating of over four stars.
Despite costing a mere 80 points (68p or so) it's a beautifully-presented game, depicted in the glowing abstract neo-retro style popularised by Geometry Wars and set in a rather lovely pseudo-3D starfield that gives it the feel of the old-skool coin-op cabinets with the screen set deep inside, as well as providing a subtle means by which to limit the width of the play area.
The gameplay DNA is pure Galaga, with only a few deviations from the formula which nonetheless manage to give the game a considerable amount of strategic depth. The most obvious is that like Galaga's own sequel Gaplus, your ship can move vertically as well as horizontally – in this case, to any point in the play area – and autofires at a rapid rate when you press A.
You're also provided with a shield, operational while you hold down the B button and which lasts for about four seconds (regardless of number of impacts), which is a long time in a fast-paced game like this. You can use it purely defensively to avoid bullets and enemy collisions in an emergency, or as an effective offensive weapon capable (if you position yourself well) of taking out most of a wave of enemies as they swoop onto the screen.
Shield recharge icons are dropped fairly frequently by destroyed enemies, as well as the only other power-up in the game, "Extra Gun". This attaches drone ships to your spacecraft (which each add one bullet stream), mostly overlapping it but each sticking out slightly, causing it to become a little wider and present the aliens with a bigger target.
When you're hit by a bullet or enemy fighter you lose a drone ship if you have any. Only if you've already been reduced to your original single-shot status does being hit actually cost one of your three lives. I haven't encountered an upper limit on drone ships yet, the most I've managed to attach at one time being four.
As you progress through the levels the enemies become more numerous and more resilient, but never to the point that your weapons struggle to cope with them, as long as you can hang onto at least the double-shot. Every 16 waves you'll meet a (not particularly fearsome) boss, and more frequently you get to play Challenging Stages where you can rack up a bunch of easy points from aliens who don't fire back.
The depth in Retrofit: Overload arises chiefly from two things. One is the simple combo scoring system, where if you shoot waves of enemies as they fly onto the screen, the point value of each enemy in the group doubles, to the point where an alien who'd be worth just 20 points if shot in formation can net you over 3000 if nailed as he's swooping into position.
The second lies in clever use of your shields. As previously noted, they can serve as an effective offensive weapon if you get into dire straits (eg finding yourself on Wave 25 with only a single-shot ship), whereby you can charge headlong into the midst of the biggest formation of enemies in the hope of making one of them drop an Extra Gun powerup.
However, if you can avoid using your shields, every shield powerup you collect while your shield gauge is full nets you a very worthwhile 10,000-point bonus. Grabbing several such bonuses on each wave can make an extremely significant contribution to your final score, given that achieving 1m points in a game is a pretty respectable tally (WoSblog's best at time of writing is 3,141,450), so you have to constantly balance safety against avarice – the classic trait of all great arcade games.
And for all its crazy bargain price, make no mistake – Retrofit: Overload IS a great arcade game, and one which would sit very proudly in the Galaga bloodline. (In fact, in several ways it's basically the missing link between Gaplus and Galaga Legions.) Only Microsoft's stupid continuing refusal to let Indie Games include working global leaderboards lets it down a little, but for 80 points you'd be an idiot to pass it up.