Really Slick's first game, Retrobooster, is a cave-flyer, survival shooter that returns to the days of gaming yore where flying around in space meant you had to be conscious of pesky things like physics and gravity. So we dusted off our piloting skills and took it out for a spin.
Retrobooster is set in the not too distant future where an alien species has invaded and driven off much of the human defending forces. You're a "junker" - think space garbage man - who happens to repair busted up ships in his spare time not giving another thought to the invasion. Until it winds out at your doorstep and you're suddenly humanity's best hope. Provided, that is, you don't crash into the nearest wall first.
In the same vein as Asteroid and Lunar Lander, Retrobooster employs Newtonian physics to give your spacecraft the same sense of weight, mobility, and thrust that you might expect from flying a ship around through space. When you speed forward, your ship continues moving in that direction even when you're no longer firing your boosters. Firing your guns applies just a little bit of kickback and pushes your ship backwards slightly. Don't be surprised if you spend the first few levels just trying to keep yourself from smashing into every hard surface in a 50 km radius. Fortunately, you do have a reverse thrust to help slow you down if you find yourself hurtling towards the nearest asteroid, and you have a shield you can enable at will that will help prevent those crashes from being fatal until its charge runs out.
I probably ended up re-playing the first level four or five times before I felt comfortable enough with the controls to feel like I could move on to greater challenges, i.e., level two. It's not that the controls are particularly complex or tough, they're just precise. You're easily tempted into thinking that holding down the thrust can't really apply that much force, but then you quickly become space scrap. That precision, however, is Retrobooster's strongest selling point.
Retrobooster may have all the trappings of a shooter, i.e., fly around in enclosed spaces shooting at things and making your way to an exit, but it's really a game of finesse. It is less about zipping around a level gunning down all the enemies as quickly as possible, and more about being skillful enough to do so while maintaining some semblance of control. As the levels progress, the difficulty increases by not only introducing a greater number of foes with different attack patterns but also challenges like puzzles and timed objectives. Throughout it all, you have to keep your cool and really be in control of your craft. This holds particularly true when trying to rescue the occasional group of humans scattered about the place.
Rescuing the humans that are pacing back and forth in certain areas is optional but doing so does have its benefits. First, your ship's hull will be repaired slightly and there's always the chance they drop a power-up. Second, you get points for collecting them. Of course, if you fail to rescue them because you crush them with your ship or set them on fire with your thrusters, then you lose points. So there's a certain degree of risk/reward depending on how confident you are in your piloting skills.
When adding another player (or three) to the mix, your task doesn't get much easier. Sure, more ships means more firepower to wipe out the alien foes, but it also gives you something else to run into. That isn't always a bad thing as playing "space bumper cars" with your friends can be fun. With so many other things to run into and try to avoid, however, having another sentient object flying about that you're trying to avoid brings with it its own kind of challenge. Fortunately, each player has their own set of lives with which to spend in an attempt to clear the level so if a member if your crew can't quite hack it with their flying skills, the whole team isn't punished.
Once someone is out of lives, however, they can't come back until someone else finds a "Give Life" token and have an extra ship to spare. It's a nice arcade feature and avoids the "you stole my last life" issue. Despite the chance to revive your comrades, power ups/weapon drops aren't shared amongst players. If you pick up some ammo for one of the other primary/secondary weapons, you're the only one that will benefit. The co-op gameplay can be fun, but most of the time it feels like a nice add-on rather than a great piece of the overall whole.
In our interview with developer Terry Welsh a couple years back, he mentioned that a lot of other games that employ the types of physics found in Retrobooster often hold back some to keep things easy. He doesn't. He felt like there's a "bit of poetry" to designing and implementing solid controls for a game like this, and playing through the game you get a real sense of that. Every minor thrust and adjustment is responsive even when it seems like you're totally out of control. When you finally start picking up on the meter and pattern of that poetry, too, you can't help but feel a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. "I am a leaf on the wind, watch how I soar."
The problem is it's the type of game that will largely appeal to that part of the gaming community that feels that games like Geometry Wars would be better if your ship was influenced by gravity, force, and inertia. Shooters should be more about the challenge of flying than blasting away at enemies and dodging bullets. Retrobooster should be a big hit for that crowd. For others, it will likely be a fun, but at times painful, trip back to high school physics.
The Co-Optimus Review of Retrobooster is based on the PC version of the game. A code for the game was provided by the developer for review purposes.
The Co-Op Experience: Up to four players (one on keyboard, the other three on gamepads) can team up to make their way through all 30 levels of the campaign.
Co-Optimus game reviews focus on the cooperative experience of a game, our final score graphic represents this experience along with an average score for the game overall. For an explanation of our scores please check our Review Score Explanation Guide.