Sun Blast by Obline Software is a neat new indie space shooter that combines Starfox-like quasi-3D gameplay with a fun arcade feel. There is nothing groundbreaking about the gameplay, graphics, or sound, and the story behind the game is as thin as a pixel, but that is all intentional as the designers go for a full nostalgic arcade experience that they end up pulling off quite well.
Once you purchase Sun Blast from Steam for the price of a few rounds on an arcade game and fire it up, it only takes a minute to get into the action. The background story is that two equally-ridiculously named alien races- the Spearkons and the Ankoladons- have teamed up to attack your solar system. As the captain of a small spaceship, you must repel their elite attack strategy that involves sending waves and waves of identical ships at you in a straight line. In essence, we are talking about old-school space shooters like Space Invaders but in a persistent single-direction tunnel, where you can move your ship up, down, left, and right, but never change direction. If you ever played Starfox or if you just watch the intro video, you’ll get the idea.
You have the option of choosing different ships for your epic space battle, with different skins and slightly different movement speeds for each axis. Since this is an arcade-style game, that is all the customization you get, and there is no way to modify, enhance or improve lastingly on your ship which both a bummer and also true to arcade form. As you fly along the space tunnel of doom at your foes, there are also limited powerups that you can get, some of which slightly enhance your weapon or give you a temporary shield, but they do not stay with you indefinitely and I’m sorry to report are not that cool. One of the simplest things I think could be done to enhance the fun of the game would be to give more varied and satisfying weapon powerups, because as it is, you really only get to fire a little faster with a different colored pew-pew beam.
Despite the lack of awesome powerups, the game itself is still quite fun and polished. The controls are smooth and your ship handles as you would expect it to. The hit box of your craft is a bit confusing in the earlier levels as you get used to dodging and shooting things, but becomes more intuitive as you spend more time playing. The levels themselves are pleasingly varied, taking you from a shoot-em-all level, to a survival level where you dodge obstacles, to a timed level, to a boss fight. The variety keeps things interesting and each level type plays as smoothly as the next, encouraging you to play on.
The music and sound effects in Sun Blast are pretty sweet, and some of the music I’d even call spectacular and worthy of being included in a glorious 80’s sci-fi movie soundtrack. The graphics are similarly nice, and while they are not amazing, they do have a unique and consistent visual style that works perfectly within the genre they are going for. My only gripe with the overall gameplay experience is that when you die it takes you back to a somewhat arbitrary previous level, rather than letting you replay that same stage again. There was nothing I could see that was telling me when my save points were being made, or why I had to replay 3 levels every time I died on a particularly hard stage. Dodging giant space mines while listening to killer 80’s style tunes definitely made the replays more palatable.
For less than the cost of a personal pizza, Sun Blast is a fun arcade-style gaming experience that is definitely worth your change and a few hours of fun. It’s just too bad we can’t turn high scores into cheap candy or bouncy balls.