R-Kelly visited us the other day, and while cleaning out our closet we stumbled across this old clip from the now (sadly) defunct “NRG” gaming mag and a dusty demodisk with ‘Space Barnacle’ on it.
We’ve painstakingly trained a Staffordshire terrier to copy the disk files, and type out the article on the computing device (and even add sme links). Check it out.
It’s time to re-assess your allegiances, as this year saw old hands come up against some exciting new platform heroes. Established stalwarts like Megaman, Turrican and Sonic all received the 16-bit update, while new kids on the block Gunstar Heroes and Rocket Knight Adventures sent us into overdrive, and Bubsy… the less said about Bubsy the better. Before we start casting votes on this year’s best platformer (see pg. 94 for details) we have a late arrival that may just swing a few voters – and would you believe it’s on the IBM personal computer (PC)!?
This is a classic tale of revenge, though less Friday the 13th and more Hamlet. The opening cut scene has your spacecraft in hot pursuit, being chased and shot down by some attackers. Looking pretty messed up, your dying father doesn’t exactly effuse tender words. Not electing for taking the moral high ground, he hands you a gun, his last words to avenge him. Then his head explodes. From then on out, you’re on your own. It’s not often interstellar visitors are celebrated after landing on unknown planets, and Space Barnacle is no different. You, looking like a distant relative of Birdo, need to make sense of your surroundings, which is to say, by destroying reactors, opening doors and shooting anything that moves.
Space Barnacle takes a lot of its inspiration from Metroid (expect a sequel next year!) in terms of exploration and upgrades. It is heavier on the shooting, though not in the run and gun sense like Contra. Some areas area inaccessible until you get the correct equipment, which could be tools such as a parachute or rock-blasting tool. Curiously, this means some back-tracking, but the world isn’t so huge that you will get lost: where you’re to go next is usually quite intuitive. One design niggle however: there were a couple of times where I wasn’t sure if there was any platform below to land on, so you will need to make occasional Indiana Jones style leaps of faith. The platform jumping aspects are solid and will provide a reasonable challenge. It’s that familiar riff of changing the platform variables to demand sharper precision from the player. When not timing your jumps you will contend with hostile hyper slugs, Metroid-looking jellyfish and creatures that are best described as “crustacean”. The saw blades and retractable spikes suggest things weren’t too great before you got here either. Also, with the exception of a few available platformers, saving is not an option, so you need to complete this game in the one run. Luckily, after you die, you start in the last scene you were on, so you don’t have to start from scratch (hoping more platformers catch on to this idea – I’m looking at you Sonic).
Though the well animated creatures produce some nice and brutal death animations, there is not much variation in the lithic landscape itself (check out our exclusive preview of Donkey Kong Country for the future of 2D graphics, next issue). Music is a high point, starting with some robot-spiritual choir practice progressing to some upbeat galactic funk that fits with the mood of the game.
By now you’re probably thinking, where does Space Barnacle sit amongst the titans? Should it even be mentioned in the same breath as Sonic or Contra? Well, Space Barnacle is a portfolio of good game design, albeit borrowed. However, what it does, it does well. It doesn’t push far enough in either the adventure or action arenas to break new boundaries, but it does create a satisfying middle-ground. It lacks the ‘new world’ wonder of say Another World, but still manages to holds its own special charm. For those reasons, Space Barnacle should be remembered for its solid, albeit familiar gameplay. For the record, Super Mario World still holds the mantle as best platformer.