I’d completely forgotten I’d bought this until a recent browse through Nindie Spotlight caused me to stumble back upon it. I’ve spent a fair while with it tonight and… yeah, it’s alright.
If you’ve played the already immensely successful Vampire Survivors then you’ll already have a good idea of what you’re getting into with Void Scrappers. If not, it’s as good a starting place for this type of game as any, really. Stuff and things are all present and correct, you know?
If you’re new to this sort of thing, the currently rather popular genre is kind of a more approachable play on the arcade arena shooter. They’re dead easy to get started with because for the bulk of the game, you’re only really required to move the ship/hero/whatever around. Firing is taken care of so just tootle around the rather generously sized arena avoiding the enemies, ensuring you get close enough often enough to take them out without running headfirst into them.
The initial moments tend to be gentle and sparse so there’s plenty of time to get used to things. When you knock out an enemy there’s a chance they’ll leave behind some scrap to collect, collecting the scrap fills a bar up. When the bar is full, the game gives you the option to choose one of three power ups. Pick one, power up, try and fill the next bar to do it over again. That, largely, is it. Like I say, it’s pretty approachable stuff.
Of course, there’s wrinkles. Void Scrappers is an especially gentle take on the genre for the most part so the difficulty ramps up quite slowly and games can take quite a fair chunk of time to work through as a result. This is where we come to the two tricks synonymous with the genre! As time goes on, the amount of enemies on the map increases. Yeah, the increase is at a fairly leisurely pace but still, there will be a lot of enemies on screen as a game progresses. Huge amounts of the things.
Now, whereas a more traditional arcade game would be content to let the player wing it as best they can (think how brutal something like Geometry Wars gets as the arena crowds), the other trick the genre has up its sleeve is to let the player build up a ridiculously overpowered arsenal of weapons. To excess.
It’s not a genre enamoured with keeping the player on the backfoot, the player rapidly becoming a whirling bringer of particle death is the whole point. For me, that’s the part that makes the genre vastly more approachable than most other arcade arena shooter games, they’re beyond generous in what they let the player become, they’re a spectacle too and -importantly- not in a rush to kill the player off. They’re chill. Ish.
The genre thrives on the tension between the player being an absurdly loaded killing machine with weapons, explosions, whatever going off all over the shop and the sheer amount of baddies that assault them as time goes on. The choice of 3 power ups when the bar fills up means there’s a neat element of randomness to exactly what arsenal the player carries each play, how fast, how frequent and how deadly each individual weapon is.
Personally, I’m always going to prefer my arena shooters a bit more on the immediate side but I have to admit, the setup makes for a rather lovely portable game experience. I can certainly see why Vampire Survivors has found its success alongside the Steam Deck, let’s put it that way. Sure enough, I lost a good few hours to a couple of rounds of Void Scrappers (yep, each go does take a chunk of time) and it’s a fine space-y example of the genre.
The problem, for me at least, is always going to be that the dopamine hit from a spreadsheet design of these things depresses me more than it excites me. I’ve never been convinced that compulsion is one of the primary goals of game design, a game that keeps you playing isn’t admirable! It’s kinda offensive to want to entrap players!
As the past decade or so has seen this sort of design (through the poorly named “roguelike” moniker and through live service games taking MMO design to its extreme) bleed into an enormous amount of games, I’ve found myself retreating more and more into games that don’t pull this crap on me. Fortunately these are bountiful times and finding games that avoid this nonsense isn’t the heavingly great task it could be.
I won’t pretend I don’t get a bit sad when I stumble into a game I would probably love were it made a decade and a bit ago before the fixation on this stuff took hold, I also won’t pretend I don’t have a handful I do return to every now and then (hello Destiny 2), as ever this stuff is messy and so am I.
But still. I want to find my zone in a game, not have the game try to own my time. Your mileage may vary, natch.