The developer House of How reached out to us at the beginning of the month to give us a sneak peek at the title they have been working tirelessly on, and pouring their efforts into. Right off the bat, I could tell this project was something special, it was clear the devs held it close to their hearts.
Spartaga is a bullet hell action arcade game, where your hand is represented in game as a spaceship. Anyone who has played Valve’s The Lab free title, will be familiar with the genre as it features a little game called Xortex 26XX, which is actually one of the sources of inspiration for Spartaga. Making the decision to develop a game in this genre is daring, essentially going up against Xortex. But House of How had a few ideas to liven up the gameplay, and aimed to deliver a title with more depth and content, even going as far as partnering with the popular electronica duo Carbon Based Lifeforms to create fresh new tunes, specifically tailored and written to enhance Spartaga’s gameplay in a special mode aptly named “Carbon Mode,” which I must say has resulted in probably my favorite VR game soundtrack to date.
Where Xortex is very much a simple arcade shooter, Spartaga digs in and explores the genre, including 32 levels of hand-crafted gameplay, with 4 major bosses along the way. The game offers up to 3 different gameplay modes for each level (speedy, pacifist & elite), all adding up to a great deal of content and huge replay-ability, especially as each level has its own leaderboards. You’re sure to find there’s plenty of challenge to earn a high-ranking spot.
The scoring system is based on a variety of aspects: completion time, different enemies are worth different values of points. Basically, the more HP the enemy has, the higher points are awarded. This is where another unique aspect of Spartaga’s gameplay comes into play. If you destroy 4 of any one specific enemy type in a row, you are awarded a special laser-beam weapon that delivers more hit damage but only lasts for a short period. This laser-beam can be “extended” by continuing to kill in groups of 4. This is the main challenge of Spartaga, destroying the enemies in groups of 4 to get the laser-beam and continue destroying in groups of 4, essentially allowing you to equip the laser-beam throughout the entire level. This results in a perfect run, getting the max combo possible for any level. This is possible in each and every level, and each and every game mode (and a huge challenge as you progress to harder levels). Note that if you hit any other enemy type before you reach 4 of one kind, it will result in a “break” and your combo will be broken.
On top of the wealth of levels and gameplay modes, the creative, introspective and more artistic Carbon Mode essentially overhauls the visuals, adding brilliant streaks of light, mini-swirls bursting of multi-colored particles, or snow falling in reverse amongst other interesting effects. Along with the visuals, Carbon Mode drops the retro-beat-heavy soundtrack used in the regular mode and enables the serenely beautiful ambient score from Carbon Based Lifeforms, a truly moving experience in my opinion. You can opt for Carbon Mode On or Carbon Mode Intense. Both use the same music, but intense ups the visual effects quite a bit, and is more taxing on your rig.
Skins, skins, skins! Plenty of skins that can change a variety of visual aspects for the entire game. You can unlock different types of of weather, or environments, particularly helpful for less powerful machines, as you can switch to a simple environment to save on CPU resources, or use a pool, or even further refined “water,” which ripples slightly and reflects everything above it beautifully. You can get different skins for your fighter ship, weapon pointer, plus there’s a bunch of other skins to unlock.
The menus are great, simple and straightforward, easy to use and super responsive. Thoughtfully included is a database of all the 30 different enemy types with a brief description along with your kill stats for that specific enemy. If you need a brush up on the entire game, clicking the “help” button on the main menu will give you a gameplay overview including specifics regarding the laser beam and scoring.
All in all, the gameplay is absolutely solid, everything runs and feels fantastic. The difficulty curve is executed brilliantly as the challenge appropriately increases with each level. By the third tier levels, good luck getting a perfect run as I have yet to accomplish one after countless attempts. The game as a whole feels so thoughtfully pieced together. The developer’s vast history in VR/AR is evident. It’s that history I’m sure that has helped in adding a refined feeling to the title that is simply lacking in others in this genre.
Spartaga delivers one of the most rewarding and comprehensive VR Bullet hell shooters to date. An audiovisual feast to indulge in, especially thanks to Sweden’s Carbon Based Lifeforms’ mesmerizingly beautiful ambient score along with the core developers’ impressive background of work.
To recap all of the features of Spartaga, check out this outline from their Press Release:
- Intuitive controls- Your controller is your starfighter! Dodge and shoot effortlessly.
- 32 Handcrafted levels (not procedural waves!)
- 5 Play Modes
- 4 Challenging Bosses
- 27 Enemies with Unique Behaviors and Attacks
- 4 Upgradeable Secondary Weapons including Multi Strike, Invulnerability, Smash, Slowmo, and Blast Missile
- Synchronized art that moves to the music
- Unlockable skins
- Leaderboards and life tracking for dozens of hours of replay
As it happens, to celebrate Spartaga’s launch day one of the developers and founder of House of How, Russ McMackin, is doing an AMA on reddit which you should check out and take the opportunity to ask any questions about Spartaga or Russ’s rich history in the VR/AR space.
Get your hands on Spartaga now, on Steam for $19.99