As anyone who’s braved Steam’s Early Access will attest, porting mobile games to PC is rarely a successful transfer. The experiences we crave while sat in a dental waiting room isn’t always as thrilling while hunched over a keyboard. It was a surprise to see Rob Fearon release a special edition of his simplistic top-down shooter, Death Ray Manta, onto your favourite of digital store fronts – its simplistic nature feels much more at home within the context of what has become the most popular format for arcadey games. The seconds-lasting bursts of gameplay favour teenagers ignoring their family during dinner then someone who’s put forty hours into grinding The Witcher 3.
It plays like any other twin-stick shooter you’ve enjoyed over the years, scratching the Robotron-like itch you get from impulsively wasting your mum’s change at the Butlins arcade. There are zero compromises made to modernity – Fearon has made it his modus operandi to strip any fat away from the core concept. There’s a very real attempt to fulfill some power-pop edict of: ‘Don’t bore us, get to the chorus’. There’s barely even a title screen, just one-button press and you’re blasting wave after wave of adorably murderous fish. No power-ups, no unlockables, no story to stifle your fun. Only shooting enemies and collecting gems. You’re face immediately with the Sisyphean goal to force yourself through the building challenge. You’ll play until dodging bullets becomes an atavistic part of your brain that you’ll no longer even notice.
That remit toward simplicity also works on the soundtrack. One single track that loops throughout the entire game. It’s useful that the singular song is filled with endless layers of synthwave gorgeousness. I have the song playing now while I write this. It’s the kind of song you’d imagine would be playing in a nightclub where it’s acceptable to wear reflective shades. It’s like kung-fu fighting coke dealers on a Miami beach. It’s a song the clouds would sing in a ketamine induced daydream. It sounds like a Ferrari Testarossa pleasantly humming through empty Roman roads. It wrapped itself so snuggly around my mind that I began writing my own lyrics:
Death Ray Manta
With your Death Ray eyes
Death Ray Manta
Set the night alight
Death Ray Manta
Let the World survive
It goes without saying that I’m a fan.
If you were just glancing at screenshots, the restraint inherent in Death Ray Manta’s design will be lost on you. The graphics are an area where Fearon has no qualms with letting everything loose. The screen is chock with seizure-inducing sprays of colour; neon-kissed bullets and enemies fire at you from all angles. It’s an 80’s idea of VR technology set to full-tilt. It fills me with immense happiness to see something reveling this much in excess. Imagine if George Miller had decided to go into video game art design rather than direct Mad Max, that’s how much fun Death Ray Manta has with its clutter of killing-objects. In true ‘shmup’ fashion, you’ll be straining to see yourself on-screen.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but my only wish is that there was more to Death Ray Manta. What’s here is good, reaching for great, but without my ever-so noble journalistic integrity to push me on, I would have only played for a scattered few minutes. There’s a minuscule thirty-two levels to work through, and I was consistently making it past level twenty in the time it takes to watch a Seinfeld re-run. Very quickly I began applying my own meta-game, tasking myself with collecting each levels gem without blasting their guards away beforehand. A little something extra, even just a high-score leaderboard, to give me reason to pick up my controller would have been welcome.
Death Ray Manta has distilled the idea of twin-stick shooters down the very foundation. But without building anything on that foundation you’re left with something akin to a demo – a short presentation of what could be done with the concept. There are brief pleasures, but not enough to sustain it once the novelty has worn off. Even at its low-low-low price point, I can only recommend it for bouts of procrastination inbetween writing long-winded video game reviews.
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