Moose Life feels like a game that’s existed as long as videogames. Moose Life feels like a game I’ve never played the likes of before.
Moose Life is really confusing like that. Seriously, it’s kinda baffling.
It’s Llamasoft doing what they do best – a psychedelic arcade game, Vidkidz inspired, honed through 40 odd years of learning on the job, of craft and expertise. Particles fly, words explode, sheep baa. It’s beautiful, hypnotic, it is the zone incarnate.
If Polybius is the videogame as urban legend, Moose Life is the videogame as hauntology, an echo of something familiar that never really was. A day at the seaside never taken, a game never played in a pub, a sports centre, a chip shop. 10 pence pieces never spent, a name in a high score table never entered, a score never beaten.
Moose Life is uncanny in its authenticity yet also unsettling in its impossibility. An anomalous videogame, unstuck in time – too old to be new, too new to be old. Too perfect a combination to have existed before now.
And yet you could swear…
Everything, and I do mean everything, explodes
The amount of explosions in this thing is, quite frankly, obscene.
Thinking back to a lot of the time I spent with Space Giraffe and yeah, it was most definitely out there. That said, despite its reputation it certainly took a while to really let go.
By the time I’d survived through to Level 11 of Moose Life for the first time, my eyesight was absolutely broken.
Not in some metaphorical sense either! For a whole ten minutes afterwards anything and everything I looked at moved. Even words on my phone were zooming towards me.
It took until a good way around the halfway mark for Space Giraffe to have a similar effect on me. It’s completely wild. I loved it!
I can’t imagine sticking your head inside it in VR, blimey. That’s gotta chafe.
Ostensibly, the objective is simple. Shoot enemies, take pills, save the animals, claim a high score. And yet.
Moose Life is a game of Chicken, of forever ducking and weaving inside the map. It is Defender mapped to a 3d space except the player is constantly facing the same way, staring down an endless one way tunnel of bold colours and chunky pixels.
Enemies rez into position, pixels all up the place. Your lasers shatter them back into pixels on contact. Mostly. Sometimes the player ends up changing the state of the enemy, an abstract shape becomes animal, threatening. Cubes shift colours, seem angrier somehow as though the digital distillation of Zelda’s anti-Zeroid cubes.
Pills drift into the map offering some of the most ridiculous power ups ever to bless a videogame. Your moose throws a moose party, your moose splits into two – a mirror moose, reflected on the opposite surface.
If a pill drifts past the player, it still exists on the map. Lurch into a panicked reverse, try and remember the baddies that got through your defences so as not to blindly career into them, exploding your moose into pretty colours. Instead, find the pill, explode everything else into pretty colours.
Moose Life is Defender x Ballblazer x Encounter x Devil Daggers x Blaster (with a moose).
There’s so much going on in Moose Life, so many influences, inspirations – work done with intent and coincidentally – that it’s difficult to know where to even start describing it.
The Vidkidz influence is strong, it’s almost Defender mapped to a 3d plane. There’s a hefty dose of David Levine as drifting back and forth within the play area feels a lot like playing the Lucasarts classic Ballblazer (only wilder, obv)
The giant Robotrons flying towards your space moose are more than a passing nod to the criminally underappreciated arcade triumph that was/is Blaster
At times, it has the intensity of Devil Daggers shot through with the DNA of Paul Woakes’ excellent (and all too forgotten alongside Mercenary), Encounter.
It’s the videogame equivalent of a scotch drinker’s dreamiest dream. It’s the special stuff.
It’s early days yet but I rather suspect Moose Life might well be the best Llamasoft game since/alongside Space Giraffe, though as ever that’s all a bit “which best thing is the best?” so maybe ignore me.
Ok, let me try that again.
I’ve adored pretty much everything Llamasoft have punted out on recent gen machines, each and every game having been remarkable in its own standout way. Each game has had a distinct personality, never formulaic unless by necessity (and even then we’re talking Tempest 4000/TxK which are Llamasoft’s formula anyway. Well, and Dave Theurer’s too obviously. Let’s not be rude!), always taking steps to someplace else.
Moose Life feels important in the way Space Giraffe did. Steps forward, yeah? Big arcadey steps forward. It shouldn’t feel as fresh and new as it does but it absolutely does. It absolutely is.
I don’t know where we go from here but I can’t wait to find out. I bet it’s full of stars there too.
Moose Life is available on PC and PS4 in normal-o-vision and VR. I’ve been hammering the PS4 version and yes, yes, yes.
Like I wasn’t going to give a game called Inksplosion that looks like this a try.
You know, me liking colours and all that.
Let’s just stop for a second again and do another screenshot (all pics here taken from the Steam page because I couldn’t be bothered with the faff of getting the ones off my PS4, sorry)
Yeah, there was absolutely no way I was going to let this pass me by.
Just look at those colours, they’re fantastic. Go on, let’s do one more picture.
It’s some sort of visual hybrid of (my own) War Twat and the all time greatest Asteroids game of all time, Spheres Of Chaos. That’ll do me.
Sorry. I’ll calm down now. I’m okay. I haven’t been this excited about colours in a game since Ultralight Beam. It’ll pass in a second.
Anyhoo. As twin stick shooters go, there’s probably few surprises here. You’re faced with a jumble of waves and each wave finds you having to use a different weapon to clear the screen. Clear the screen, move on to the next wave. You now have a different weapon. Shoot those baddies! Clear the screen! And so on.
There isn’t really that much to distinguish each weapon from the other and as far as I played, not much to distinguish each enemy from the other either. But that’s okay, yeah? I’m not playing this for mechanical marvels, I’m playing this because I really really like watching colours explode across the screen and Inksplosion does that perfectly.
Inksplosion is, primarily, a game about making things explode to smear colour across the screen. Every thirty seconds or so the mess will be cleared up and you get to do it all over again.
My only real gripe is that the announcer that declares each weapon you find yourself suddenly equipped with comes across more Viv Stanshall On Tubular Bells than befitting of an arcade game but I’ll freely admit that I have very, very specific ideas of what speech in arcade games should sound like. Also, I dearly love a lot of Bonzo stuff but Tubular Bells brings me out in hives. Not sure I can put the blame for that on Inksplosion, really.
Phew. Got a bit lost there, sorry. Anyway. Inksplosion set me back about four quid and I don’t regret a penny of it. I plumped for the PS4 version but other formats are available.
I’m not saying my eldest knows me well at this point but I had to nod shamefully when they asked did I buy this game just because it had “Willy” in the title.
I’m not sorry though.
I’m sort of ducking in and out of this a bit. It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s that it’s such slow progress getting anywhere that I find I get the most out of it playing through small chunks at a time.
I’m a fair few hours spent and really, I don’t feel like I’ve made it far at all. Just looking at the huge amount of upgrades still unavailable to me and the cost of them suggests unless the game surprises me, it’ll keep me going for a while.
It’s not even an especially difficult game so far, anyone used to sort of 8 bit arcade adventures won’t find much in the way of surprises. You meander round a bit, do a bit of jetpacking here and there, shoot some baddies and grab objects to plonk in another object.
The slow progress is largely down to enemies taking a long time to chip away at and the materials for upgrades being slight whilst the cost of upgrades are high.
I can totally understand if that’s off putting – certainly, me of ten years ago would be having none of it.
But! I’m not me of ten years ago and I largely don’t care. I tend to like this sort of arcade adventure, thanks to no longer needing a multiface to save me having to repeat sections (and to save at all, I suppose) I’m fine with pushing forward achingly slowly providing I’m fine with the rest of the game. Which so far, I am.
Well. Except for the ‘jokes’. I’m rarely fine with videogame jokes but even by videogame joke standards, I definitely pulled a few faces at these. Still! Worse things happen at sea, eh?
Anyway, unless it does something especially awful I’m likely to see it through to the end. Can’t complain too much then and it’s maybe worth a look if you fancy a slow crawl through one of the older videogame formats around. Luckily, I do.
Willy Jetman is available on a few machines, as usual I’ve been playing the PS4 version.
It seems kinda fitting that after a fairly lengthy enforced absence from playing much in the way of videogames, the first game I want to post about is by Tom Sennett, author of the last game I posted about.
Ultralight Beam is the perfect distillation of the be-positive-scribblepunk aesthetic Tom’s been working with for years and as aesthetics go, it’s definitely one of my favourites. Combine that with an arena collect ’em up? Yeah, I’m down for that, alright.
Look, you just collect stars and avoid monsters, right? There’s not really that much to explain.
But sometimes you don’t need much more than collecting stars and avoiding monsters.
Because sometimes avoiding monsters and collecting stars feels really fucking good.
And when the game looks and sounds really good too?
Don’t look at me to go picking at it, wondering if and where it could be better.
Byte Driver is a neo-vectrexvroom vroom videogame. The vroom vroom is important because Byte Driver is speedy in a very specific early eighties arcade/home computer kind of way.
It’s a game where every turn is a really wide turn, every straight a chance to try and go fast without crashing into a mine, some bullets, or something videogamey.
You go forward, you go fast. You take a turn, you go fast. Vroom Vroom.
Sometimes, you slow down to hack a car and then you have to make a choice really fast. Hacking a car throws up a menu with some goodies to choose from, which is so far so videogame, except you’re still in a car going fast. That’s still going fast whilst you try and choose whether you want to upgrade something or cadge some energy in order to survive, in case you weren’t managing to keep up.
Without energy, you won’t be going fast any longer. You won’t be going anywhere because it’ll be game over.
Here’s a quick video to show how it works:
Yeah, yeah, I died pretty quick there, you can stop laughing now.
Byte Driver is available on Steam and Itch in exchange for some money. Needless to say, I enjoyed it.
Please sir, I cannot tell a lie – I absolutely love Radian Games stuff. One of the select few developers that I’m fairly likely to grab pretty much anything and everything they put out, if at all possible.
Whilst their very first XBLIG release (the wonderfully titled “Joy Joy”) slightly missed the mark for me, I’ve enjoyed just about everything I’ve played of their twin stick and shootybang games since, XBLIG, phone and on. I’d be hard pressed to pick a favourite (seriously, I like them that much) but if you really made me choose, Inferno in all its incarnations would be pretty much near the top of my list.
It was the easiest sell for me. It’s essentially Berzerk meets Gauntlet with the faintest hint of ARPG to it. Pretty much the kind of game I’ve spent the best part of 40 years losing hours to and I don’t really see any reason to change in that regard. Especially not whilst I’m still enjoying myself so much with that kind of thing.
You no doubt know the drill already. You find yourself in a maze, you have to get to the exit. Between you and the exit lies an enormous amount of enemies and a number of locked doors. Collect keys to pass through the doors, use lasers to get rid of the enemies. Get to the exit, find yourself in a new maze with more enemies, more doors more keys and do it all again.
It’s a videogame in the absolute purest sense. A direct descendant of I don’t know how many arcade and home computer games, a game that does exactly what it needs to do with absolutely no bloat or complication. A game where you get from one end of a maze to another, with colourful lasers.
I love it.
I love that there’s very little in it that couldn’t have existed in the eighties but also, it absolutely could not have existed as the game it is then. The upgrade shop, the absurd amount of particles, the much more relaxed difficulty curve make it more a game of the now. Did I mention the absurd amount of particles? It has an absurd amount of particles. It’s great. I love particles, me.
Anyway, it’s been around a few years on the PC but with it recently (finally!) seeing a console release I’ve been playing through it all over again and yep, still works for me. Still works for me very well indeed.
I’m not sure at what point I managed to lose my way but I do know me of relatively few years back would be ashamed by more recent me for avoiding Skool Daze Reskooled because of how it looks.
Like, I’m not here to argue it’s an amazing looker of a game but I’m definitely here to point out that for someone who defends making games at most levels, it’s pretty bloody hypocritical of me to make a thing of this. Especially when what it might well lack in looks, it more than makes up for as a remake.
I’ve been kicking myself about this for week or so now. Considering my roots in remakes, it’s pretty atrocious of me. I’d be made up to be able to write a Skool Daze a tenth of what this is and Molyneux only knows, I’m personally responsible for making games that look worse. Honestly, I’ve no defence.
Crucially, I’m not damning it with faint praise. It is a great take on Skool Daze. If this had landed on my old remakey haunting grounds and/or been entered into one of the prominent remake competitions I used to run, I’d have been a strong advocate for it. You would think the recommendations of my friends and peers would have tipped me off, but nooooo.
Live and learn though, eh. Not exactly the first time I’ve been wrong.