Sometimes the case can be argued that simplicity can actually be key in a great game experience. Spectra for Xbox One is guilty on all counts. This 8-bit space racer had me anticipating the finish line, and the sound of that inevitable cathartic achievement pop each and every track. While not breaking the mold in any way, it creates a very nostalgic experience reminiscent of classic arcade gems. Bright, bold colors, retro sound, and a simple control scheme make this an entertaining blast to the past.
Spectra is broken up into 10 different tracks, each one increasing in difficulty little by little. Your job is simple. Make it to the end while maneuvering around track obstacles. As you speed along, you collect small cubes that raise your overall points. Placed in the tracks are speed pads you can run over, giving you that deep space boost. There is a small inner battle you must choose before launching yourself over one of these, do I wanna go faster and shoot for the finish, or risk losing control and starting over? The overall objective here is quite simple and I feel that’s where Spectra shines. It’s the perfect pick up and play game. Especially for an achievement hunter. I found myself still putting hours into the game after beating it just to try to get some of those 50G bragging rights. Whether you have ten minutes to kill or an hour, Spectra will show you what it is, and fast, having you re-playing and wanting that finish line glory.
Presentation here is very pleasing to the eye. Showcased are bright neon, Tron-like graphics that really sell the 8-bit retro vibe. They are crisp, and the track obstacles and point cubes have a cool fluorescent glow sitting in front of the black galactic space setting behind you. It’s important you like the visuals here, because there is a problem. These are the only visuals you get all game. This is a huge missed opportunity by developer, Gateway Interactive. What they capture in the first track is amazing in presentation, it would have been nice to see that effort spread throughout all of Spectra’s 10 levels.
The only thing simpler than the plot would be the controls, and that’s not a bad thing. The main control function is to either move your ship left or right. That’s it. The developer did give you a few options here based on player preference. You can either use the left or right triggers, d-pad, or the analog stick. I found the analog stick to be a little bit tighter for me and easier to grip for the quick weaving in and out of obstacle filled zones. Once again, I feel here is another missed opportunity. New ship features or some way of unique track features would have been a welcomed addition.
Where Spectra can do no wrong in my opinion, would be in sound design. The joyous NES chipboard style audio is such a compliment to this game. The soundtrack was done by Chipzel, who also did the score for Super Hexagon, and really helps fill the gaps where the gameplay leaves empty. You almost want to get to the next track for the achievement, just as much to hear the electronic chiptunes at work. It really accompanies the vibe and intensity Spectra offers.
Spectra delivers in trying to capture the classic joys of retro gaming, but doesn’t bring any depth along for the ride. It’s modest concept and repetitive nature hit home for the most part and is just a few laps behind of what could have been a jewel amongst the Xbox One indies.
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