Spectra is a “twitch-based” racing game that puts you behind the wheel of a small, futuristic space racer as it rockets down a procedurally generated track that resembles the offspring of Rainbow Road and Tempest. Purposefully stylized to resemble a game from the late 1980s (complete with cheeky “Insert Coin (0)” text), the game offers ten race tracks that are different every time you play. The hot racing action is backed by a chiptune soundtrack by Chipzel (of Super Hexagon fame), which is clearly the best part of the game. The rest is a humdrum racer whose random tracks fail to inspire joy and a memorable gaming experience.
Like Sonic the Hedgehog, the key to victory here is to go fast. Your racer is constantly moving forward while steering left and right to avoid obstacles, walls, and collect glowing cubes. The large, diamond-shaped blocks are the game’s primary nemesis and they appear in random groups. They are not easily avoided, especially after passing through speed boosters. Ramming into these blocks deducts points from your overall track score but can also bump you off the track resulting in an instant game over. This will happen a lot and it sucks because losing means having to go back to the very beginning of the course. Blame doesn’t necessarily fall on the player because of the vehicles slippery controls. The annoyance of working with a vehicle that requires frequent overcompensation in the more rigorous portions of the race doesn’t equal to a whole lot of fun.
Filling in the time between obstacles are a series of floating cubes that add timed multipliers to your score. The game offers a small window of time to collect more cubes in the event you miss a few in a chain, but because stages are littered with them there’s no need to worry about missing out on a high score. Scores are the fuel that drives Spectra. Earning a good enough point score unlocks new tracks and attaches a star ranking based on performance (with three being the highest). It doesn’t take much to unlock new levels so the real challenge is getting to the end of the course.
Spectra looks pretty with its Tempest-style colors, but unfortunately, there are no variances in it’s aesthetic. Each level looks exactly the same as the one that preceded it and while they’re pretty to look at initially, the visuals lose their luster. The soundtrack, however, never stops being great. Chipzel’s work here is fantastic and it makes suffering through the rest of the game almost worth it. I just wish the gameplay got out of the music’s way. When you fail a track, starting over resets the piece, which sucks when you’ve reached a particularly awesome part of the song.
Spectra is an average, straightforward racer that’s easy enough to grasp. And yet, it comes off as half finished. The scope of the game is small and narrow, the slinky control scheme could use some tweaking, and the levels beg for more variety. At its best, Spectra is little more than an endless runner that would have a happy home on iOS/Android devices. Additional obstacles and differences in level design would go a long way to give Spectra the character it sorely needs. Until that happens, spend your money on the soundtrack instead.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.