Last year was a good year for old school shooters – with Z-Exemplar, Zenodyne R, Arengius, and Xydonia, among others emerging in either completed or demo-based flavours. Hawking suggests that 2017 will be no worse off, providing yet another new 80-90’s style arcade experience.
Being a new retro game, it’s not uncommon to make some sort of offering to the retro gods by paying tribute to what came before. As such, Hawkwing comes with most of the expected features – various powerups for your weapon, speed, shield and some Gradius/r-type-style “options”. Enemy forces similarly show they’ve learnt little since the 1980s and apparently continue to sink millions of space dollars into the construction of small ships that explode from a single bullet. The rest of the money goes on select fat ass ships that take a ton of punishment to put down but carry generous amounts of powerups. And of course, there are a few oversized ugly space monsters (don’t worry, they think we’re just as ugly too) to face off against.
Yes, all the retro trappings are here and, yes, the old school CRT monitor settings are present, but adjustable and turn-off-able. With that out of the way, while retro stylings are a dime a dozen these days, the good ones still stand out, and Hawkwing is one such example. Highly derivative though it may be, the visuals are pretty well done and a pretty stunning facsimile of what I’d expect to find in the arcades circa late 80’s to the early 90s.
Gameplay-wise, it’s a pretty smooth ride too. The pacing feels about right, with a slow but steady progression of enemies, a decent mix of enemy types and environmental hazards, and enough opportunity early on to get a taste of the various levels of powerups before things get harder.
The weapon powerup system takes a peculiar (but not unheard of ) approach, which I dub the “Electroman Method” – powering up your weapon is not a strictly linear process of “bigger, better fireballs” but rather each “level” changes the weapon entirely, each with its own pros and cons. The first powerup collected turns your bullets into minirockets with a slight homing tendency, quite handy indeed. The next level turns it into a wave burst, hitting a wide area with upward/downward firing capabilities, but a much shorter range. At the final level, you get a classic laser burst, which is powerful, piercing straight through enemies, but narrower than the burst waves and the slowest of all the weapons. Not a bad system necessarily, though I personally prefer the Raiden et, al. style where you can focus on collecting specific coloured weapon powerups to switch to, and powerup, a preferred weapon.Aside from this, there are a few areas that could use a bit more polish, though.
Aside from this, there are a few areas that could use a bit more polish. For keyboard players, the game uses the usual key cluster on the bottom row of the keyboard (avoiding the international keyboard Y/Z problem by using the XCVB keys), which is all well and good. However, for some unholy reason, the “fire” key is to the far right (B) rather than the more commonly designated left (X), the not-intended-for-frequent use smartbomb key is also for unknowable eldritch purposes jammed between the intended-for-frequent use fire and the barrel roll keys (yes, yes, the memetastic barrel roll) meaning you awkwardly need to keep two fingers apart like Spock playing a space piano. No doubt, this is all due to an infernal contract where the developer gained elite basketball skills in exchange for eternally damning anyone who wants to do a barrel roll, which when I think about it, may not be a bad thing after all.
Another potentially divisive topic is one which is always on the news: walls. Touching walls, just like in real life, causes instant death. This may not be entirely uncommon game design, but can be annoying. More annoyingly: touching an enemy who is already in their exploding death animation also kills you… I suppose it is somewhat realistic but clashes with the standards ingrained into my skull from pretty much every other game ever.
The control scheme is probably the biggest offender, but easily fixed with the full version comes out – rebindable keys, please. Aside from that, even if some of the design could benefit from some tweaks, Hawkwing is shaping up to be a pretty good derivation of classic shooters. The only real question remaining is whether Hawkwing’s full version will bring anything particularly new to the antique table, or stay content to replicate what came before. Whether that would be a problem or not, though, will depend on you.
Hawkwing | download