I likes me a good shooter. Flying around in a little space ship blasting things is one of the most fundamental aspects of video games since pretty much forever. Spacewar! and Space Invaders being two of the earliest video games of note. All you really need are some cool graphics and some nice sound effects and whole seconds of enjoyment are in store for you before you get blown up! Seriously. These games are kind of hard.
According to the developer’s website, 1993 Space Machine is an indie game that was originally intended for release on the Commodore Amiga in 1993. Just so that we’re clear: the Amiga remains the greatest computer ever made. For whatever reason Space Machine was never published and languished until one of the developers put it up on Steam Greenlight in 2015. Now you can play it! It’s fun!
Space Machine is a throwback to a very particular era of shooters. And that era happens to be the one I was exposed to as a kid. Therefore, by use of the nostalgic-transitive property, it is the best era. It plays much like any number of Sega Genesis shooters. It reminds of games like Thunder Force, Gradius, and the infamous Zero Wing. It’s a horizontal shooter where you upgrade your initially tiny ship with all sorts of fun weapons as you move inexorably from left to right as hordes of enemies come at you. Some of the enemies are squids! Or possibly jellyfish. Anyhow, they probably shouldn’t be in space. There is no water for sea creatures to live in, and, also, tiny space ships shoot at you.
The unique mechanic Space Machine brings to the table is a movable shield for your ship. You can use the shoulder buttons on the controllers to move a ninety degree shield to any position. This shield will block tiny bullets, briefly losing some potency before regenerating. If the body of your ship takes a hit, you’ll lose some of your shielding, eventually dying after a couple hits. Much of the strategy in Space Machine revolves around position your shields in such a fashion that they’ll tank shots coming from a certain direction while you deal with other threats with your weapons. It can be a bit tricky to keep track of, but it added just enough depth without becoming a super fussy mechanic.
The key to the shooters of this vintage working is the upgrade system, and this is where Space Machine shines. You have the option of nine different ship body types and twenty different sub-weapons to choose from. Some of the body types are small and fast. Some are larger but can carry more weapons. The subweapons ranger from basic forward blasting to spread shot to homing missiles. Each body type and weapon is upgradable using money found in the levels. Lot’s of replay value to be had figuring out the ideal configuration for your style. The old school games this reminds me of the most is Tyrion, a great DOS shooter with an upgrade economy that maybe I’ll have to stream someday.
Two things Space Machine is not (Curt the Invert complains about games he doesn’t like):
1) It’s not Gradius. Ugh, I hate the Gradius games*. I complain a lot about them in the stream. They look super cool, but the upgrade system is so much arcady garbage that I can’t even. How those games work is that you gather upgrades as you move through the level eventually turning your tiny ship into a weapon of mass destruction. When you die (and you will die) you get reset back wimp ship. But, now you’re further in the game, and those power ups are much harder to come by and the enemies are harder, so you die a lot quicker. It felt like the only way to survive in those games involved powering up in level one and then memorizing the game so that you didn’t die. It was designed to waste your quarters and always struck me as no fun on consoles.
2) It’s not a “bullet hell” shooter. “Bullet hell” is the name given to shooters of a slightly later vintage than Space Machine. They rely less on an upgrade system, and more on a singular mechanic to navigate elaborate patterns of enemy shots. It’s probably more of a personal preference, but I could never get into these games. They are super hard, and I’m more about wanting to see what cool upgrades look like when you max them out then mapping bullet mazes. This is more of a personal preference, so know that if you like “bullet hell” games, that is okay. Just understand that you are wasting your life.
Overall, I enjoyed 1993 Space Machine. It’s a fun shooter from the era that is most nostalgic to me, and throws in enough modern touches to make is playable on a limited time and mental space budget. My only regret is that I haven’t had a chance to play it multiplayer. You can have up to four players simultaneously, and I think that would make for some glorious fun. Someday the Burpy Crew will make some friends and we will try this.
*Except for Life Force. You could use the Konami Code on Life Force for thirty lives. That made it actually fun to play.