4 out of 5. An absolute gem hidden within itself. If you can get past the brick wall learning curve, you're in for something truly special, paying homage to the bests of the genre.
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SPOILER WARNING

In order to give this game a proper review, I have to reveal some of its surprises. I encourage you to read the below review anyway since I don’t think the spoilers will ruin the game, but if you’re extra sensitive to such reveals, by all means give this game a go – just make sure you don’t give up before the end!

How Metroidvania is it? Medium Fit. It doesn’t start out as a Metroidvania, but eventually becomes exactly what a Metroidvania fan might be looking for. The beginning part might be hard to get past for most people though.
Primary Challenge: Melee Combat, Ranged Combat
Time to beat: ~5 hours
Review Info: The Steam Review Code for this game was provided by the Developer.

More Info

Developer: Flying Fire, LLC
Publisher: Flying Fire, LLC
Sub-genre: Metroid-Like
Features: Map System, 2D Platformer, Melee Combat, Ranged Combat, Fast Travel/Teleporters
Difficulty: High, Brutal
Linearity/Openness: High Gating - No Handholding
Platforms: Windows, Steam
Release Date: 2017/11/29
Available Languages: English

Store Links

    Steam    

Buy Destroy Space Aliens if you like…

  • A Classic Megaman level of Challenge
  • Gameplay twists and surprises
  • Evolving Bosses
  • Meticulous Ambush Based Encounters
  • Gameboy Brick Aesthetic

▼ Review continues below ▼

Destroy Space Aliens is a perfect example of why I don’t review games until I finish them – because this game defies its terrible first impressions spectacularly. Starting any piece of work that is meant to be consumed is extremely difficult. You need to build faith with your audience that you’re going to take them places that are worthwhile, and this is especially true with hard video games since you’re also asking them to “git gud” to get to the end. The only thing that Destroy Space Aliens offers from the outset is a nostalgic presentation from perhaps all the wrong places – but where it ends up is something truly special, and it’s really a shame that most people won’t get there.

The first thing you’ll see if you play on Normal Mode is a message that warns you that the game does not save your progress. Instead you must enter a long and arduous password every time you boot up the game to move forward. Then, you get a message introducing the plot – which is to “Destroy Space Aliens.” With the influx of so many games made based on the developer’s nostalgia, it was pretty easy for me to simply assume what was to follow. I thought at the time of starting that I was in for yet another interpretation of someone’s childhood, and so often these interpretations cherry pick all the wrong things. The password system to me was “clear evidence” of this. Add in the fact that your character moves slow and his attacks seem to have animation lag, and I was sure that this wasn’t a game that was worthwhile. After you get past the intro stage, you’re given a level select screen which sealed the deal for me – this wasn’t a Metroidvania, and I didn’t need to be playing it for the review project.

A year later I discovered Flying Fire’s developer blog and found out I had made a mistake; at some point in the game – I didn’t know when – the game does indeed become a Metroidvania. Feeling slightly sheepish, I finally sat down to force myself to the end of the game, fully expecting my opinions to remain the same.

The game is frustrating, at first. You’re given two weapons and both of them are liabilities. After each swing or every shot you have a tremendous amount of end-lag that you have to remember or else you put yourself in the position to be hit every time you strike. But, while the game completely fails at tutorializing its mechanics, its rules are consistent. After punching that brick wall for tens of minutes, it finally clicked. I realized that the end lag could be subverted or even canceled by jumping, and in fact you can double up on attacks if timed correctly – this is very similar to many of the official Igavania games and its copycats. There are basically only three Enemy types, and once you learn their patterns it’s only a matter of reacting to every given ambush. Then, I reached my first boss, and it was not only fun to fight, it was that special level of challenge vs. capability, the kind that makes you feel like the boss when you finally overcome it. So now my goal was to fight more bosses; my appetite was whet.

I can make comparisons between Destroy Space Aliens and classic Mega Man – certainly the bosses are very reminiscent of what that series has to offer. But, the levels themselves are set up in more of an RPG manner – you don’t walk into situations where the enemies are waiting for you most of the time. Instead, the enemies just appear around you, already setup to ambush, and you have to figure out how to escape without taking damage. You’re given two tools for this from the beginning – you have a sword and a ranged “Hadoken” style attack. At first it seems like the sword is just better – it takes 3 hits to kill most things with the sword and five with the gun. But of course range is always a bit of an advantage, and even better the gun pierces every enemy it passes through making it great for crowds. Plus one of the three enemy types likes to stay just outside of your reach, forcing you to switch to the gun. All of these advantages make the gun seem really good, but remember you’re trying to get out of ambushes; killing things fast is also very important. It’s a wonderful balance that adds some interesting options to an otherwise super simple combat system. Although, with four stages to choose from, it’s a little disappointing to find out that you don’t unlock any new powers from any of them. It begs the question as to why you’re given a choice in the first place, but the reasons became clearer to me later on.

After completing the four starting stages you’re given a 5th – and still no Metroidvania. This final chosen stage is harder than the four previous, but at this point I was determined to see it to the end. Every boss up to this culminating “Final Level” has had some similarities which helps you to recognize the next boss’ pattern more quickly, so by the time I reached this 5th boss, I felt like an amazing pro at the game, and it made defeating the challenge that much more satisfying. As the boss explodes, the game suddenly turns upside down and changes the rules entirely; it becomes the Metroidvania I was promised.

I’m not going to go into too much detail on what follows after this point, but I will say that the level design, subsequent bosses, and everything else from that point forward is basically perfect. Every new Metroidvania Power Up I found filled me with a special glee that made me more excited to see what came next. The final encounters are as memorable as the best games in the genre (and they’re clearly inspired by those titles.) I could add a criticism that some of the unlockable power’s control schemes could use another button or two. But, for the most part the second and third acts in their entirety are like a powerful release from the frustrations of that first act into pure gaming bliss.

And it was at that point that I realized the design intentions of the game’s progression from a level select to the meat of the game. There’s a dichotomy that every designer has to deal with; the in-game character’s power level vs. the player’s capability. The goal of a game centered on challenging the player is to help the player grow, but often in Metroidvania games finding power-ups or leveling up can undermine that (and sometimes even make it boring.) Those first four levels are like a school before you’re released into the world, with the fifth level as the final test. It’s necessary for the Metroidvania section of the game that you clearly understand the game’s mechanics and have mastered them, otherwise I’d wager it’d be MORE frustrating for the player. But, even though the focus of the beginning of the game is to force the player to achieve this mastery, it still maintains some portion of your ability to choose where you go, telegraphing the Metroidvania castle you’d soon be playing.

But Destroy Space Aliens is still so bad at welcoming the player from the outset. I think most players are going to give up just like I did, maybe even rant to all their friends about how terrible controls feel from the start, and how bland the game seems at first. But it’s SO WORTH IT to push through. The final area of the game brought back feelings of accomplishment that I haven’t felt since I defeated Sigma in Mega Man X for the first time. I have been made a fan of this game, but I still have to question whether I can, with such a rough beginning, give this game a high score and include it with other games that handle the all-important first impression so much better. Can I place this game in my top rankings when the reality is that most players will give up for completely rational reasons?

Well, I just did.


Final Score

4/5

Scoring system overview


Metroidvania Breakdown

Combat
– 4

Overcome overwhelming ambushes and take down challenging but fair bosses

Platforming
– 3

Platforming isn't really a challenge unless enemies are introduced

Exploration
– 4

The Castle's intriguing maze-like design hides secrets in rewarding areas

Puzzle
– 2

No puzzles to speak of other than the typical ''how do I get up there?''

Story
– 3

The narrative eventually becomes an awesome hook with an awesome payoff

Graphics
– 3.5

The level of detail on the enemies and backgrounds is astounding, if you like the green monochrome aesthetic

Music
– 3.5

Music is catchy and appropriate given the aesthetic

Replayability
– 3

Speedrun, sequence break, or just do things in different order, there are a decent number of ways to play, but not high


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