In the world of twin-stick shooters/shmups, games that fall within that particular genre can, broadly, be categorized in one of two ways: “score-fest” and adventure. The former focuses on how high of a score you can achieve to lord over your friends, such as we see with the infamous Geometry Wars. The latter entails a bit more structure around the game’s levels with a set purpose of going from A to B, as seen in games like Gunstar Heroes or Square Off. In all of these games, there’s a core element of surviving against hordes of enemies and their sometimes screen-filling barrage of bullets. Rarely, though, do you come across a game where your survival isn’t important, so much as the successful defense of that most precious of commodities: sherbet.
Sherbet Thieves is a twin-stick shooter/shump that finds its way into a little side category of the genre, that of “defense” shmup, and has the honor of sharing such a niche with the classic Robotron 2084 (the pater familias of the twin-stick control scheme). The premise of Sherbet Thieves is simple, if not bizarre: a space farmer wants to protect his crop of sherbet from aliens, pirates, and other horrors. Across the game’s 14 levels, your primary goal will be to protect the varying amounts of sherbet from being taken and brought to a Fly Overlord. In order to keep the sherbets from being taken, you’ll have to contend with laser gun toting cows, space hippies that blow defensive “smoke” rings, and space squids that run from your weapon shots. Some of these foes will seek you out solely to try and end your life, while others will grab the sherbets and bring them closer to the Fly Overlord, or overlords in some levels.
To aid you in keeping sherbet safe for frozen dessert lovers everywhere, you’ll have at your disposal an arsenal of weapons from which to choose. This arsenal includes such deadly, and fun, weapons like the Alien Blunderbuss, your standard spread shot, and the Ion Pitchfork, a short but constant stream of energy. Of course, none of these are available to you at first. You will start with a simple, single-shot laser, three hearts’ worth of health, and a few gravity bombs (which I’ll talk about shortly). As you defend more and more sherbet, the kindly space farmer will pay you for your trouble so you may acquire some of those fantastic death-dealing devices. What’s more, as you defeat enemies, they’ll drop sun drops that help level your weapons (for the duration of the level) to make them more powerful.
Keeping the sherbet away from the sweet-loving overlords entails more than just blasting all enemies in sight, though that definitely helps; sometimes you have to use a little strategy. This is where the gravity bombs come into the picture. Instead of wiping out all enemies on the screen, releasing these bombs causes a gravity-well to appear that pulls in any nearby sherbets (and enemies). Deploying these bombs at just the right time and location can help keep the sherbet away from the overlords and even pull them to a spot of your choosing. These bombs can also be the one saving grace when you die. Death is inconvenient, but not game ending. After a brief period of time, you’ll respawn with your weapons reset back to their base levels. Dropping a gravity bomb right before your imminent demise will ensure the enemies don’t make a clean getaway with the sherbets.
Of course, bringing a friend along to help you out definitely has its benefits. Each player has his or her own health bar and set of gravity bombs, but the primary and secondary weapons that you select for one player are the same for the second, meaning you can’t “game” the game by spreading four of the seven weapons across two players. It’s a restriction that makes sense as it would definitely make Sherbet Thieves way too easy, even if you crank the difficulty up to “Sherbet Mercenary.”
There’s no doubt that Sherbet Thieves is a bit of an odd duck game, but it’s one that straddles that line well between solid gameplay and wacky premise. The reason why you’re fighting off the hordes of foes isn’t quite as important as the execution of such a task, and it’s a nearly flawless execution. Best of all, playing with a friend is not only fun, it allows for some interesting strategizing for what weapon loadout to choose and who should drop a gravity bomb and when. All in all, I’d say Sherbet Thieves is one sweet deal.
Sherbet Thieves is For: Twin-stick shooter/shmup fans looking for a little more Robotron and a little less Geometry Wars
The Co-Op Experience: Grab a friend and defend the orbital sherbet farms from invading space flies, space cows, and space squids... in space