Local multiplayer is a tricky proposition. In a world of online connectivity and matchmaking, inviting others into your home to play a game is something exceedingly rare. Within the past year, the market has seen a resurgence in “couch co-op” games, but it seems that for everyone that's up to the challenge of entertaining a group of friends, there is another handful that just doesn't quite get there. Unfortunately, In Space We Brawl is one of those that falls short.
A twin stick shooter set in outer space, In Space We Brawl puts you and your friends in the roll of spaceship pilots who, for no reason other then to blow each other up, shoot an assortment of weapons at each other in the confines of an arena. The arena has no walls, so flying off screen one way brings you back on screen another, but the developers try to shake things up by curving the physical space, so flying off in the upper left brings you back in the lower left.
On paper, that description seems pretty clear, but the mechanic doesn't feel right in practice. There are a multitude of other games that employ similar mechanics, going all the way back to Pac-Man, but nearly all of them tend to focus on corridors that loop back around rather then having the entire screen open. With no boundries, the space turned into an aggravating game of cat and mouse. I often used that to my advantage when facing off against bots, but when facing a friend, it felt cheap, like an unearned exploit. Games devolved into just the fastest ships with the longest range weapons, which cuts off nearly all the variety that ISWB actually offers.
The options are quite staggering, as each ship offers a different kind of experience, as well as the ability to choose a fun secondary weapon, like missiles that can be steered, a powerful shotgun burst, or a charged laser that just chews up real estate as it cuts its way across the screen. With the different looks and bright colors, I never found it hard to find my ship on the screen, even in the heat of the moment. Flinging the fastest ships across space is a blast, but larger, slower ships are exactly that, larger and slower. It's amazing that the developers managed to give the ships such a feeling of weight, but it just doesn't fit with the fast, almost dizzying nature of the twin stick combat.
I have to give it to them though. Were it just a straight arena match, the heavier ships, with their ability to take a beating, would be able to hold their own. Unfortunately, the maps, while possessing an absolutely beautiful background of spaces both real and imagined, are simply littered with outside interference. Asteroids of various sizes clutter one starry backdrop, while another is bombarded with solar wind carrying all types of objects that, while destructible, serve as additional sources of damage. To often, matches were decided by these outside forces, with one in particular ending at the hand of some small, invading alien ships.
Besides the arena experience, which can be... enjoyed by a total of up to 4 players at once, there is a challenge mode which serves as a tutorial, teaching you the basics of flying, offense and defense. It's a long course, consisting of over 20 individual lessons made more palatable by the voice overs of the various officers in charge of your training. Sadly, about halfway through the lessons, the difficulty of completing the challenges spike, making the training far more aggravating then helpful. With this being the only other mode, the entire package feels feature light, even for a moderately priced downloadable offer.
That seems to be the way of In Space We Brawl.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!