The past few years have seen a renewed interest in side-scrolling action games, particularly those that follow in the footsteps of classic action games like Contra or Mega Man. Fast-paced bloodletting, unrelenting difficulty, a plethora of foes to fight and weapons to use – these elements have been mined time and again to great success.
Too Angry To Space clearly aims to fit into that mold, shaped as it is like a forgotten Sega Genesis action-platformer. Alas, what the game has in silly charm and energy, it lacks in polish and overall quality. It's a well-intentioned action game that is increasingly frustrating to play, limited in scope, and single-minded in its quest to gain nostalgia points just for existing.
For those still interested in playing it, Too Angry To Space is currently available on Steam.
The game opens with a magnificently conceived cutscene that could only have been borne of genuine affection for 90s-era action. Conveyed via comic-style still frames, the setup here involves a space station being overrun by aliens, who take control of the station's numerous security robots.
Turning on their human masters, the robots make quick work of everyone on board… except for one lone soldier who was conveniently in the bathroom the whole time. As per action media logic, said soldier swears vengeance on the aliens and begins a one-man war to reclaim the station.
I cannot conceivably downplay how much I love this opening. It revels in its own stupidity, the kind of absurd pulp science-fiction premise that other games treat as serious to their own detriment. It's silly, it delivers on fun one-liners, and it teases an experience that will be similarly ridiculous.
Alas, I'm saddened to say that the story begins and ends with this cutscene. After the game's opening, there's no attempt to contextualize the player's efforts or build on the fun tone that Too Angry To Space initially establishes. No other cutscenes appear to break up the action, and there isn't any effort put into further characterize the soldier – named Red Madson – or the aliens he so brutally slaughters.
It all appears to suggest that the game's creators feel the "story" is merely set dressing. and that the action is meant to be the sole substantive focus. That's a shame because I feel that a tight central narrative could have added something special to a very familiar style of gameplay.
As implied earlier, Too Angry To Space feels like it belongs in the age of 16-bit action games. Like many side-scrollers of the era, players must guide Madson through a series of increasingly elaborate levels, jumping from platform to platform and blasting through enemies all along the way.
To deal with the assorted aliens and tank-like robots strewn about stages, there's a small selection of weapons at one's disposal. Starting off with the virtually useless pistol, players quickly get access to an assault rifle and double-barreled shotgun. Both are viable weapons for dealing with most enemies and feel right in terms of attack power and speed. The game later grants use of a Rocket Launcher, which helps with one particular enemy type (floating eye-shaped aliens) but can be just as easily applied to other foes.
Movement in this game is fast, a necessary design choice since enemies don't relent in their attacks and require immediate attention in order to progress. Fortunately, killing said enemies is quick and thrilling, with explosions ringing out when robots fall and organic foes splattering upon being pelted with sufficient firepower. The visual feedback for kills feels most reminiscent of Doom, another game fond of showing its rogues' gallery dying in increasingly gruesome fashion.
I really quite enjoyed the brutality and speed of combat when I first started playing. It reminded me of older action games that used the prospect of controversy-raising violence to great effect, delivering on the promise of over-the-top character deaths and intense thrills. I'd hoped that this would be an example of that classic template being revived for modern audiences, revitalized with new insights and understandings about gaming.
Unfortunately, that hope was in vain. Too Angry To Space's old-fashioned approach to action gameplay is a double-edged sword that ends up derailing the experience, turning my glee into frustration within mere hours, and burning up all the goodwill it's earned with me in the process.
The game chooses to create difficulty not by making the enemies increasingly capable or by putting the player's survival skills to the test, but by relying on archaic platforming mechanics to repeatedly trip up unsuspecting players. Too many deaths resulting from not having sufficient peripheral vision to see where Madsen would land after a jump, as the only reliable way to figure out what's below him is to crouch down into an immobile position. This slows pacing down to a halt and makes it so that leaps of faith are the rule of the land.
Matters aren't helped by a steady increase in instant-death hazards – such as fire pits and toxic spills – after the halfway point of the game. On top of not being able to see where a given platform is, the player then has to worry about missing a jump and dying within seconds. And since area checkpoints are only accessible while you still have lives, every jump and every move becomes a gamble.
The checkpoint system, or lack thereof, is another substantial problem. Part of the marketing for Too Angry To Space was fixated on the game's use of a lives system, which feels reminiscent of arcade games. In theory, this system is supposed to encourage thoughtful trial-and-error… but in practice, it makes any and all mistakes potentially game-breaking.
Having less than three lives when entering a new level is effectively a death sentence since much of your time will be spent trying to get past one particularly frustrating obstacle or enemy grouping. There're no mid-level checkpoints, so if you fail one too many times or choose to quit the game, the next play session will send you back to the start of a given level.
That the boss battles don't fare any better is hardly surprising. All of the battles I experienced followed the same formula: duck/dodge out of the way of the big machine, jump back into the fray and fire a few shots, return to hiding place, rinse and repeat. One battle was against a large tank while another had me facing a walking robot, but aside from the bosses and mild room variation, there's no substantial difference in how battles turn out.
All of this, coupled with the normal enemies' unyielding attitude in battle, makes for the play that feels like a chore. Fights are drawn out. Repetition of levels and areas is to be expected, and fun gives way to frustration, well, before the game reaches its midway point. I grew to hate playing and replaying levels as the game progressed in its sad and misguided manner.
One thing that the game unambiguously gets right is its presentation. Too Angry To Space certainly looks the part of a 16-bit game, with its cartoon-esque character models and seemingly hand-drawn 2D environments. I can also appreciate the worn-out future tech look to levels, matched by plentiful blood splatter and battle damage from past combat.
There's a distinct "lived-in" feel to the game that the best of science-fiction stories can convey with ease, so the game at least has my respect in that regard. That being said, I do find myself wishing that the game had more variety in its enemy designs and locations. There're far too many instances of palette-swapped enemy tanks and reuse of the same basic grey-and-black metal backgrounds for my tastes.
I'll also give credit to the soundtrack, which manages to be high-energy and intense yet capable of blending into the action so as not to be too disruptive. And Madson's voice actor delivers some fun lines, though his routine gets repetitive rather quickly, and the whispered tone does feel somewhat at odds with an otherwise rough-and-rowdy action game hero.
This is a game I sincerely wanted to like more than I did. The promise of an old-school side-scrolling dripping with blood, bullets, and bountiful explosions is quite appealing to me and others. Yet the game that sits before me is a poorly-designed mess, with obtuse platforming and unforgiving constraints that end up souring any fun that might be had.
It looks good and it's conceptually a fun idea. But with so little in the way of content and so many restrictions placed on the player, I can't conceive of any scenario in which it can be wholeheartedly praised.
|+ Fittingly Old-Fashioned Art Design||– Archaic Platforming|
|+ Energetic Soundtrack||– Cheap, Punishing Difficulty|
|+ Fun Opening Cutscene||– Underwhelming Boss Battles|
|– Repetitive Enemy And Level Design|