Can an addiction be a good thing, or should I find a different word to use? I mean I’m sure we’ve all been ‘addicted’ to a game at some point in our lives, just obsessively logging in with any free time we can find, right? I, for one, find great pleasure in pursuit of a higher score and a more nuanced understanding of a game’s mechanics, making a higher score even more within reach the next round. If you’re someone looking to lose yourself for a few hours in a fun and desperate quest for more and more points, Particle Mace needs to jump straight to the top of your must have list. It’s an arcade style game that’s fun to fall into and features a deceptively deeper set of controls than we’ve come to expect from games like this.
Particle Mace has a familiar premise: you’re a little sprite floating through a limited area of digitized outer space, fighting off various polygons that are on a collision course with you. The fun spin this time around is that instead of shooting or bombing these vicious little fragments, you’re employing a weighted multi-headed whip or sling-like weapon to blast asteroids to bits and preserve your own life at all costs. What this translates into gameplay-wise is an incredibly nuanced physics-based attack system that seems to offer endless variations of motion. There are a few different standard modes of play, the main ones being Arcade and Challenge. There are also a couple of multiplayer modes which are a blast as well.
Controls are limited to the speed your ship is moving at and direction, but every move you make swipes your weapon in various directions, at various speeds: like a whip, like a cudgel, or even around and around like a Morningstar. The sling feel of the weapons pack some real inertial punch which can lead to a real controlled chaos feel. The weapon design is pretty fun and not really something I’ve seen in this type of game before, and it also ends up being a pretty effective means of attack.
It can take a minute to catch the feel of Particle Mace’s controls and their idiosyncrasies, but once you do, the addiction just grows as higher and higher scores are reached and different variations of your ship are unlocked. Each different ship has an impressively distinct feel to it, leading to a bit of a learning curve with each one; a feature I found engaging rather than discouraging. To be quite honest though, the second model unlocked, the Heavy, has remained my favorite. It’s just so darn good at clobbering things, there’s a great feel of weight behind it and its slightly slower speed helps my bad habit of just charging wildly to my own demise.
Asteroids are fun to smash but the real joy is in taking out their sneaky red buddies, Enemies. Enemies each have different movement patterns depending on their shape and can really sneak up if you’re not paying attention, but they award more points than Asteroids and offer lucrative bonuses for the more of the little buggers you wipe out in a row. Plus every time an Enemy is destroyed, there’s a satisfying lurch in gameplay, almost like landing an extra powerful combo in a fighting game. It’s crunchy.
Various environmental factors provide their own challenges, as well. Black holes function like black holes, sucking objects towards them and devouring them, which can rob you of not only your life but all the enemy points the black hole ate as its appetizer. The frame of the playing field will start to rotate and move in different directions, usually when you’re surrounded. And there’s always your own lack of discipline to contend with. Particle Mace is not about zipping around as fast as you can to rack up the score and escape destruction. You’ll be forced to strategize on your feet but after a little practice, this becomes almost second nature, and the feeling of pulling a massive escape/attack out of the jaws of death is pretty terrific.
Aesthetically, Particle Mace strikes a fun updated lo-fi feel, moderately familiar but with little visual flourishes and winks (like the rainbow dots dead in the center of the black holes). The screen can get pretty crowded with enemies at times but never causes any eye fatigue, like the effect the Geometry Wars series and other visually similar games can have on some people. The music complements the gameplay well with a nice dark electronic score rising and falling to reflect gameplay (I’d definitely recommend headphones).
So who is Particle Mace for? I’d say most people. It’s a game basically anybody can enjoy thanks to its straightforward design and simple premise. Again, it definitely has the possibility of being strongly habit-forming, so if you’re someone who loves to crunch through more and more difficult challenges you might want to try it out fairly soon. And it’s a blast to play with friends, especially if you, like me, hate to lose and are what could kindly be described as a “graceless winner.”