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Space Impact Kappa Base

For: N-Gage

N-Gage's first shoot-'em-up will test your thumbs

Product: Space Impact Kappa Base | Developer: Method Solutions | Publisher: Nokia | Format: N-Gage | Genre: Multiplayer, Shooter | Players: 1 | Networking: wireless (network) | Version: Europe
Space Impact Kappa Base N-Gage, thumbnail 1
Ever played one of those insanely hardcore Japanese shoot-'em-ups? You know, the ones that only get a half-page review in console magazines, because they're niche, and get raved about, albeit with a not-so-hidden subtext of 'this is amazing, but you're not good enough to play it, n00b'.

Well, with Space Impact Kappa Base, N-Gage has got itself a shmup every bit as hardcore as those titles. It truly separates the men from the boys – if by 'men' you mean 'people who are unfazed by screens full of bullets from the very first level', and by 'boys' you mean 'everyone else'.

Space Impact is bloody hard. Too hard, arguably, in that a lot of people will play the first couple of levels, get frustrated, and never come back to it. Which is a shame, because it's superb visually, has some genuinely innovative gameplay features for its genre, and includes well thought-out connectivity, too.

There is a plot: it involves (more than) mild peril, and lots of things that need shooting. You're the man or woman for the job. So pick a character and a ship (or Skyblade, as they're called here), before customising the three weapons you can carry.

This is a big part of the game, actually, in that you earn money playing the missions, and then spend it on upgrades or new Skyblades. So, you might start off with your three weapons being gun pods, a beam cannon and an auto-turret, but later on might splash out on a shockwave, homing missiles and orbital lasers.

The visual payback for resorting to such armament, like the rest of the game, is great. Big, bold, colourful graphics give it a pleasingly distinct style, with proper meaty exposions and a varied range of enemies to prove it with.

The controls, meanwhile, have been kept simple, with an auto-fire option enabling you to focus on movement and triggering your special weapon.

Oh yes, that. Another innovative feature is the way you have to 'graze' bullets to build up a Combo Gauge. In fact, the idea is most familiar to us from console driving games, where you fill up boost meters by going past cars as close as possible without hitting them. So here, you have to let bullets graze your Skyblade to fill up the meter, before pressing '2' to trigger the special weapon. Or, you can wait for it to fill up two or three times, to get a more powerful effect.

And there are a shedload of bullets to do this with. If we weren't reviewing the game, we might have lost heart around our ninth go at cracking the second mission, such is its toughness. And this is on 'Easy' level.

Our problem isn't with the difficulty level in itself, but in the sheer steepness of the learning curve, since there's little sense of playing your way into the game before slamming cockpit first into the tough stuff. It's like – and this is pure speculation on our part – Nokia rounded up a ninja team of shoot-'em-up experts to make a game, but then it made one that would challenge their focus group's gameplay skills, rather than those of the more mainstream consumers who'll make up a large part of the N-Gage audience.

It's a shame, because everything else about Space Impact is excellent. The World Battle online mode is well thought-out, for example, getting you to play individual missions and then upload your score to the rankings table as soon as you die.

There are even four modes to play this in: Kill Count, Max Combo, Score Attack and Boss Attack. If you're the competitive type, this'll provide endless replayability even when you've played through the solo missions, especially as you buy new weapons and Skyblades.

So, to the score. We'll be honest: we spent a good few days swearing at Space Impact and thinking we'd give it a 6, purely because of the difficulty issues.

But suddenly, over a weekend, it clicked. We started to make progress, scraping our way through levels, buying some new weapons, mastering the bullet-grazing thing, and starting to feel a real sense of achievement. Maybe a 7, then.

But since then, we've become genuinely addicted, and in a weird way, this is exactly what happened with the almost-as-hardcore System Rush Evolution. We've been going back to earlier levels with our newly-bought weapons to improve our score and rating, and discovering the quirks of those various guns, lasers and missiles.

We've completely changed our tune, in other words. If you're prepared to put in the time and effort, Space Impact opens out into a wonderful shooter that you'll be playing for months.

We'd still question the wisdom of not making it a bit more accessible for mainstream gamers. But taken as it's intended, as a more hardcore shooter, this is (eventually) marvellous.
Space Impact Kappa Base
Reviewer photo
Stuart Dredge | 4 March 2008
Its ninja difficulty level will put more casual players off, but stick with it and you'll get a super-rewarding shooter with depth in droves
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