Lately, it seems that in video games, everything that is old is new again. Publishers are resurrecting the much loved titles in their back catalogs by creating “HD remasters” of the likes of “Final Fantasy VIII” (1997) and “Gear of War” (2006) by re-releasing the games with extra content, updated graphics and full support for modern systems. Whether you view this trend as a cynical attempt to cash in on nostalgia by effectively selling the same game to players a decade later (albeit with a bit of added spit polish) or an honest attempt to make the classics of yesteryear accessible to new players, the demand for remakes is strong.
Beyond re-releases of aging big-budget titles on consoles, the kinds of mechanically simple, yet fiendishly challenging experiences that were once the hallmark of arcades are enjoying a resurgence on the PC and mobile devices. And building a simple, top-down shoot ‘em up that emulates masterpieces like Atari’s “Asteroids” (1979) has become a popular project for the smaller developers that release their games via Steam and app stores.
In such a saturated genre, the crucial question for newly released “Bit Blaster XL,” an “Asteroids” clone by developer Nickervisionstudios, is can it measure up to titles like Valmbeer’s sublime “Luftrausers” (2014) and Bizarre Creations’ “Geometry Wars”(2003)? Unfortunately, the answer is mostly no.
In “Bit Blaster XL,” the player takes command of a spaceship and must destroy asteroids and enemy ships to raise their score, while avoiding colliding with asteroids and dodging enemy fire. There is no fire button, so the player’s ship automatically launches projectiles in whatever direction it is orientated, meaning that the player must point their ship towards threats and hope for the best. The player’s ship also moves forward automatically, so all the player can control is the ship’s orientation and its speed (via a speed boost button). Killing enemies awards the player points, as does picking up the ammunition they drop, which is essential as the player’s ammo count depletes rapidly due to their ship’s constant firing of its weapon. Weapon pick-ups, which replace the player’s weapon, occasionally drift across the screen, offering the player a chance to vary their play style. They include homing missiles, bouncing projectiles and a host of other armaments. The game ends when the player dies after colliding with an enemy or an asteroid, or after they are hit by enemy fire. Rinse and repeat.
Given that “Bit Blaster XL” can be described in less than 200 words, the player inevitably sees almost all of what the game has to offer within a few minutes of gameplay. Though there is a progression system that allows the player to unlock a collection of ships, each with different characteristics, the motivation to unlock the full set never seems to materialize. The game’s only true replay value comes from the desire to increase one’s high score, which admittedly is formidable over the short term.
Games like “Broforce” (2015) have demonstrated that pixel-art can be gorgeous, and by comparison the visuals in “Bit Blaster XL” feel merely adequate. Predominantly white spacecraft and asteroids cruise against a slate-gray background with occasional splashes of color introduced by projectiles and pick-ups. The design of the spacecraft is uninspired and asteroids are simply circles. The highest praise that can be given to the game’s visuals is that they hang together successfully by virtue of a well-chosen color pallet.
The game’s music is an abject disappointment. Its soundtrack appeared to consist of a single short loop of entirely forgettable electronic music.
“Bit Blaster XL” ultimately rehashes tried and tested mechanics that other games have implemented with far more panache. From its uninteresting art to its mediocre gameplay “Bit Blaster XL” disappoints and underwhelms, providing a few minutes of enjoyment at best. Those seeking an addictive, quick fire score attack experience should look elsewhere.
“Bit Blaster XL” is available now on Steam for $0.99.