I don’t really like the whole “old games=hard” thing games has a tendency to default to assuming, mainly because there were a lot of old games and amongst them, a lot of kinds of old games. From the humble text adventure to the platformer to the shooter, difficulty and approachability tended to be rather all over the shop!

So, you know, not that different to now really. Saying old games were all hard is a bit like saying new ones are because Dark Souls exists. It’s silly.

That said, some of them are absolute monsters and I had forgotten quite how monstrous Space Cruiser was/is. My main recollections of the game shrouded in the mists of a lot of life having been lived since it sat in the cafe at the local swimming baths alongside Hunchback and Scramble, and I don’t think I ever really consciously paid it much attention on MAME in more recent years – not out of any particular dislike or concern, just I hadn’t really thought about it in a lifetime.

Partly out of necessity (a dude needs his old games) and partly after finally letting the wisdom of Yak from a few years back sink in after one of my more grumpy moments about the Arcade Archives range (“if we won’t pay a fiver for an arcade game, who will?” and as ever, man has a point), I’ve been grabbing some stuff from the all too tiny bunch of old games you can buy on the PS4 and trying to not just stick to another copy of Scramble or I, Robot either.

I definitely wish the games had more pleasing bezel artwork instead of whatever that is.

So yeah, that’s kinda meant if I’ve got a fiver spare or whatever, taking a punt on some half remembered thing because, well, why not? The worst a game can be is not to my tastes. As I’m going through a bit of a space shooty (and in particular, space shooty with a simple coloured scrolling pixel starfield if possible) phase I figured why not eh over Space Cruiser.

Oof. I know my reflexes and co-ordination are far from what they used to be but still, oof. I’m definitely spending more time losing lives than progressing on this one. Enjoying myself, mind!

I have no idea what the term du jour for this sort of thing is but it’s a bit Moon Cresta, even down to having a ship docking sequence. Think one screen at a time, bunch of aliens flying around in some formation – not rigid like Space Invaders, more chaotic like the latter parts of a Galaga stage. A very dawn of the eighties blast.

Coloured pixel starfields are the best starfields.

It’s got some lush presentation going on, some definite showy-offy bits. A short animated sequence of your spacecraft launching opens the game, your progress is marked in an on-screen map at key stages and my personal favourite thing – the colour cycling asteroid blasting stages that start off fairly reasonably paced but quickly descend into a glorious nightmare of, like, a whole few colours cycling pretty fast.

It’s as effective a simple trick here as it is in today’s games, though obviously needs a hefty epilepsy warning just in case.

There’s definitely the occasional thing here where I’m like “Ref! Ref! Come ‘ed, that was a foul, easy” (the first time I got wiped by the first stage’s high speed red ball, I swear I swore swears no-one should swear) but in space, no-one can hear you appeal to an imaginary referee so I just had to get on with it.

You can try Space Cruiser for yourself through MAME or on a bunch of consoles as a title in the arcade archives series. It’s pretty good.

Here’s me failing repeatedly to make any sort of decent progress. Like I say, this game is hard.

I’m not saying I really enjoyed the first Super Destronaut or anything but the time from spotting Super Destronaut DX2 had launched on the PlayStation store to me scraping together a few quid to buy it could be measured in minutes.

I can’t say I was disappointed either.

A chaotic scene from Super Destronaut DX2, amidst a shaking screen and chromatic aberration, the player's spacecraft destroys one of an incoming wave of colourful glowing enemies.

You can probably see why, right? It glows.

It’s a game that doesn’t need much of an explanation, it’s a very traditional shoot ’em up, think somewhere between Space Invaders and Imagine’s Arcadia (you can pick which format) – waves of enemies find their way onto the screen, you shoot them. That’s the deal, that’s as much brainpower as you’ll need.

Because everything is super big and super chunky, it looks absolutely fantastic in motion. It’s far, far, far from the most challenging game ever made (the other one, really) so it very quickly turns into a game of sitting back and enjoying the light show as the firework-like explosions tear across the screen.

A screenshot from Super Destronaut DX2. An almost Factory Records yellow border surrounds a play area, the play area is a wireframe landscape with wireframe structures in the distance. At the forefront, waves of very colourful, very chunky simplistic pixel enemies are blown apart by the player's chunky rocket ship.

Much like other Petite Games stuff, Super Destronaut DX2 manages to hit a lovely sweet spot of just enough challenge to feel like I’m in control of the action and way more than enough shiny to satisfy my flashy-light addiction. It rarely demands too much of my skills but really appeals to my love of glowing pixels.

There’s a couple of modes to mix things up a bit, nothing drastic (best score possible in X minutes and the like), more than enough to stop me getting bored and I am, as anyone who has played stuff I’ve worked on before now, certainly a fan of that sort of bite size arcade gaming so it works for me.

All told, it’s a very Rob-will-like-this game and indeed, I do like it. A lot.

As usual, I’ve been playing the PS4 version. Other formats are available. I can’t really see there being much difference between them.

Horizon Shift ’81 immediately brought to mind Binary Zoo‘s excellent Duo. It’s the same gimmick of the player moving along a horizontal line that runs through the centre of the screen, being able to flip either side as required to shoot the baddies.

Awkwardly, it also managed to stun me into silence for a brief moment when I realised that Duo is now over 15 years old and come on! Ref! Ref! That was a foul. So I guess it won’t really be a point of reference for most folks. Ah well. Duo is really good and I’d recommend giving it a go if you can.

Whilst the basics are shared between the two games, there’s a lot more going on in Horizon Shift ’81 than I’d expected. As well as the horizon flipping, the player can jump their way out of trouble or use a Space Giraffe-esque bulling mechanic to push any enemies off the line. It’s kinda chaotic, really.

It's a screenshot from Horizon Shift 81. There's a sort of Breakout theme to this one with coloured bricks at the top and bottom of the screen. The player is, once again, riding a line across the middle of the screen.

The chaos seems to extend to the baddies turning up too. Perhaps there is a pattern to them appearing but with so much going on, I found it really difficult to make one out. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, just a heads up in case you prefer your games to be about learning patterns and that.

Every so many levels there’s a boss fight too and they provided me with a welcome break from the chaos. Here things are observable, learnable and I won’t go as far to say tactical but certainly easier to concoct a strategy for. They’re also really quite peaceful so I found I wasn’t especially worried about finishing them off quickly before being plunged back into the chaos.

So aye, definitely a lot more than I was expecting when I first booted Horizon Shift 81 up. It’s deliciously messy and whilst I can’t say that stuff always hit the spot, I love the whole “sod it, we’re having this and this and this and this and” attitude towards designing games.

I like my games to have rough edges, I like them messy, I like to see people throwing stuff in even if it’s not the most perfectly polished or necessary thing to find its way into a game.

I liked Horizon Shift ’81, is what I’m trying to say. I picked up the PS4 version (as usual) but other formats do exist.

It's the key art to Void Gore. A crystalline spaceship flies into a Giger-esque landscape past a sinister skull demon with glowing red eyes. It's very metal.
  1. Void Gore” is a phenomenal name for a videogame. Straight up perfection.
  2. It has an incredible piece of key art, which is why I’m leading with that not a screenshot.
  3. I’ve rarely been so grateful for a fade to black in a videogame. Bloody hell.
A screenshot from void Gore. A giant yellow skeletal demon shoots bullets all over the place whilst a spaceship tries to take it down.

Void Gore is a cracking, intense, randomised high score shooter. Simple rules, shoot everything before it shoots you, use your surrounding circle to wipe stuff out for maximum effect. At one stage, the circle clears bullets, at another it clears everything within it. Get a high score.

That’s it. It’s quickfire stuff – games can be over nearly as quickly as they begin, especially whilst you’re still in the process of upgrading your spaceship. Game over comes incredibly swiftly to the point you can see why the game describes each stage as a new hell to survive.

(Spoilers: it’s because each stage is a new hell to survive)

A screenshot from Void Gore. The player is flying through some tentacles whilst things explode around them.

Survival becomes slightly (only slightly!) easier with a few ship upgrades (and the option to unlock multiple background styles is a nice one), but mainly it’s a game that needs practice, a growing familiarity with its handful of hell monsters and their behaviours. Knowing when to hold off and when to hit that kill circle button to maximum effect.

It’s great new arcade stuff but man alive, it can be exhausting playing a game that’s this full on whilst wanting to try again for a better score, often.

We live in a post Super Hexagon world where more often than not, instant restarts are just how things work. Whilst quick, Void Gore gives me a few moments as it fades to black, a chance to recompose myself, get my breath back a bit. It’s an almost-instant restart and just time enough to settle down again.

It's a screenshot from Void Gore. There are skulls being blown apart in a flood of bullets

It’s something I found myself really grateful for!

As much as I’m a fan of putting the least distance between player and videogame, I’m also a fan of being able to relax for a moment before going at something another time. Those few seconds make a tremendous difference to me in stopping the game from being frustrating as well as brutal.

It keeps a rhythm going, it adds a reset for the brain.

Sometimes, it’s the small things, perhaps not even there by deliberate design, that I appreciate the most. Or maybe I just really like breathing? I dunno, I’ll get back to you on that one.

Anyway.

I grabbed Void Gore for the PS4 but other formats exist. I’m having a ball with it. Two thumbs up from me, alright. Go gerrit.