(Disclaimer – this is a review I wrote for The Vita Lounge originally, hence the difference in formatting. I’m moving it to my own site for archiving sake. If I replay the game one day, I may re-write this for consistency reasons)
On paper Space Overlords seems like it is full of things I’d like – the ability to play as a super powerful being which is capable of ravaging planets; a space-travelling story; a level editor and ability to share your creations with the world. Yet as I look back over my playtime I can’t help but think one thing, I just wasn’t having any fun.
The game tasks you as the eponymous Space Overlords – god-like beings with tremendous power who created the universe – on a journey across the galaxy to purge planetary defences. There is a story in here, told through rather stylish silhouette-style cutscenes, but it wasn’t anything that particularly caught my attention. There are some nice touches too, such as a galaxy where your goal is to free an enslaved overlord brother, but generally the story devolves into tedium as you listen to inane conversations between the natives of the planet and your character before each mission.
After choosing who to play as from a lineup of multiple overlords, each with different stats and abilities, you’re sent to your first planet. Your task is simple – destroy it Rampage-style, with your character towering over all structures and capable of smashing most of them with a single punch. The Overlords have a number of abilities when in battle – normal attacks, a charge move and a special attack. The latter two types of attacks are on cool-downs to stop overuse. You’ll quickly settle into a routine of stomping through metropolises destroying everything in sight which at first can be a satisfying feeling.
Of course it isn’t as simple as just smashing up the environment, each planet has its own defences to repel the invader. These range from simple turrets and groups of enemies to moving shields and toxic gas clouds. On their own these may not pose much of a challenge but combined with each other they pose a formidable gauntlet for your character to overcome – unfortunately this is where the game’s problems start showing.
For starters, at times your character feels incredibly weak – worlds apart from the god-like being I thought I’d be controlling. For example, if you find yourself caught in a moving shield that’s pretty much game over and you’ll start your run again from the beginning. The game aggravates this by adding modifiers to each planet such as turrets doing significantly more damage (which means your overlord will die in 3 hits) or requiring all buildings to be destroyed by using the charge (which means you have no method of escape if a shield appears out of nowhere to mess up your run). All of this can result in some really cheap-feeling deaths. There were multiple times when I died repeatedly on a level due to getting trapped and having no method of escape which quickly built up frustration. Even after beating these challenges I didn’t feel a sense of accomplishment.
All of this may have been more tolerable if you could jump back into the action straight away but Space Overlords features excruciating 30 second plus loading screens each time you die, even if you’re replaying the same level. It feels unnecessary and really sapped my enthusiasm for trying again, knowing that I’d have to wait for so long. It’s worlds away from the instant-restarts of other challenging games such as Hotline Miami.
Other technical issues stand out too; hit-boxes seem completely random with occasions where I was able to strike a turret from miles away while at other times I had to be on top of it to connect. The game’s framerate felt incredibly inconsistent too, regularly dipping low when many things are happening on screen. It never became unbearable but it certainly was noticeable.
Conversely, the game’s level editor felt easy to use and well put together. You build your world from scratch, choosing the type of planet and its atmosphere then populating it with buildings. A little more explanation on what everything did would have been appreciated, I basically had to figure out each item’s use from playing the missions. Generally though I found the editor to be a good piece of kit. It’s a shame that there weren’t a great deal of user-made levels to browse, although that’s largely beyond the developer’s control. Thankfully, the base game itself contains enough content to keep you occupied for some time, there are 7 chapters available each with multiple worlds to conquer.
Presentation-wise, Space Overlords uses a basic 3D look. I’d hesitate to call it ugly, but it’s far from attractive and uses a lot of blocky shapes and bland textures which makes it difficult to compliment. It’s competent and fits into the viewpoint and type of gameplay available but would’ve benefited from being refined a little further. The soundtrack meanwhile is the complete opposite – an addictive mix of electronic songs that I was whistling long after I’d finished playing and definitely a high point of the game’s presentation.
Space Overlords clearly has a number of good ideas and some elements of it are handled well but I feel like the developers forgot to ensure they were making a fun game while they kept adding features to it. Too often I found myself frustrated at cheap mechanics when I’d hoped to be enjoying myself rampaging through a planet as a celestial god. This sadly meant that I came away from the experience disappointed rather than enthused.
Space Overlords feels like a project too ambitious for its own good – a lot of decent ideas are at play but none developed well enough to make the experience enjoyable, leaving a disappointingly frustrating package.