The universe, all of them, would like nothing more than to chew you up and spit you out. So long as you have your friends (and some gold coins), however, you can always gets back up! It helps, too, when you and your friends are space pirate kittens in rock band – at least, that's the case when you play Space Jammers. Developed and published by by one-man studio Spread Shot Studios LLC, Space Jammers is a top-down, twin-stick, rogue-lite, action-adventure, adjective-noun game with a retro slant. Fans of similar games such as Binding of Isaac and Nuclear Throne will feel right at home with the frantic pace, randomized levels and weapons, and stage hazards that compound to challenge you while keeping the experience different each time.
Space Jammers is in Early Access and available to purchase on Steam for $14.99.
There isn't much of a story to Space Jammers. In fact, outside of the game's description, there would be no way to know that your band of misfits are in a band, are trying to fund their multiverse tour, are pirates or even kittens. The game starts quickly and ends just as swiftly if you're not careful. There's no reason as to why you do anything in the game. There's no reason why anything happens in the game, really. It's a chaotic swirl of pixels and bullets that is meant to engage your adrenaline button, not your mind.
Players will rocket from one multiverse to the next, and each one is based on some pop culture franchise, including Super Mario Bros., Star Wars, and even Aqua Teen Hunger Force – a surreal and irreverent show that fits in perfectly with the anarchistic tone of the game.
Space Jammers is an adventure that can be taken alone or with three friends locally (though online multiplayer is in the works). Each level is a sprawling, randomized, layout filled with baddies, guns, and cash, the three tenants of any good top-down action game. The goal of every level is to find the exit, while collecting as much money as you can along the way.
In Space Jammers, money is the key to your progress, and the only thing standing between you and death when your health hits zero. There is no boss stage that you reach after hitting a set number of levels. Instead, the boss will only let you into its domain when you've collected enough coins throughout the levels. On its own, this is not daunting task, as money flows readily from chests and enemy corpses. However, what will drain your coffers is the only other use money has in the game. If you or a friend dies, an ally can come over to pick you back up, but this costs money. The more the players die, and subsequently resurrect (unless you're heartless and leave them to rot), the longer it will take to reach the big bad. The boss can be reached as early as level 1 or 2, or as late as…well, unknown, really. There's no progressing to the boss until you have the cash to pay the checks your actions write, so theoretically it could take forever, if you just keep dying, or ignore the money for some reason.
Players are offered a selection of six characters, each with their own unique ability, ranging from defensive to offensive capabilities. These characters can be customized with a chosen face and hat, just in case you wanted to add some extra personality to your weird space monster (they're called kittens, but they look nothing of the sort). Although the game is designed with co-op play in mind, if you want to go it solo, you can. If you want to play with others, but no one is available to sit on your couch with you, the game will also provide a solution. Randomly found throughout the multiverse are teammates that you can rescue and enlist. Unfortunately, the AI of your computer teammates can not mimic the intelligence of an actual person (unless you're friends with some really stupid people).
The AI teammates have no sense of self-preservation, or even a sense of self. Whatever you do, they'll follow, but will never make any effort to act in their own interests. The rescued members of your band will only fire their guns when you do, and will never actively seek out health pick-ups. The only way, that I found, to heal up your party was to angle your character just right so that when you moved forward, the AI would just happen to walk over a heart and be healed. They're also not too bright, and on several occasions, I found a band-mate stuck in a corner, having no idea how to simply back up and walk around the edge.
As with any game of Space Jammers' ilk, your success is based on two factors: luck and pluck. Everything is randomly generated, from the map layout, the guns that drop, the path through the multiverse, and even the stage conditions (such as moving chests and enemies exploding upon death). You can either get very lucky and have a great cache of weapons to start off with, and easily sailing through calm levels, or be very unlucky and find nothing but melee weapons and hordes of booming baddies. Of course, no matter what fate deals you, you still need the skill to adapt to the riotous situations.
Also with games like Space Jammers, the quality of the product is determined by two things: item variety and accessibility. A game like Binding of Isaac has had so much success because it boasts a huge item pool, counting in the hundreds, so every attempt is an unique experience. In addition, despite its challenge, it's very easy to get back up and try again with Binding of Isaac. If you're going to kill the player a lot, they have to be able to get back into the game quickly. Space Jammers has the accessibility, but not the variety.
Though Sorob Raissi, the head of the game's development and possibly the studio's only employee, promised a large update that will feature "20 bullet types, 40 weapons, [and] 800 possible weapon combinations" recently, in the Early Access build I played (0.450), the variety felt very lax. Furthermore, most of the weapons just weren't fun to shoot. In a game that rewards your accuracy with shorter reload times, a lot of the guns I picked up fired all over the place. There's no set amount of ammo to worry about, but your gun will run out of energy after too many fired shots. Hitting an enemy, or simply waiting, lets your gun recharge.
Enemy variety also left much to be desired. Any given stage had roughly four or five different enemies that you were guaranteed to run into. Most of the baddies you'll face aren't too threatening, but can become a problem in large numbers. Honestly, the enemy that gave me the most trouble were the wall-mounted turrets. The auto-firing guns blend in so easily with the environment, and there's so much happening on screen at once that they're easy to miss. Because of this, the turrets will likely get a pot shot or two on you if you're not careful. In a game where your HP starts at 3 and doesn't get much higher than that, even one errant shot can be devastating.
Along with coins, players will collect exp points. Leveling up increases your overall health and boosts your stats. How much your stats increase seems somewhat random, but it's hard to tell. There's no notice of when you level up, and any stat boosts are communicated via a brief appearance of text near your character's body. Given the small size of the lettering, and the sometimes unreadable font, how much you're getting, and into what stat, will likely be a mystery for many.
Players can control the game either via controller or keyboard and mouse. Personally, I prefer the keyboard and mouse, as it allowed for far more accuracy with my shots and control of my character, versus using a standard Xbox 360 controller.
As is evidenced in the screenshots, Space Jammers uses pixel art, and is accompanied by a chiptune soundtrack to give it that extra bit of retro charm. Compounding with the base elements of sight and sound, players can also add on filters such as scan lines and vignetting to emulate the look of playing on a CRT. The art is cute and charming, even in a game that's focused on killing everything that moves before it kills you. The quality of art likely won't blow anyone's sock's off, but it all works in service to the sporadic and retro feel of the overall product.
Musically the game works, but early on it's easy to notice that track looping rather quickly on itself. The music doesn't change up much, if at all, throughout the levels, so if you don't like the music, I suggest flipping that music toggle to "off" and turning on some 80s synth in the background. The SFX work as well, and satisfying match the visual presentation of Space Jammers.
At its core, Space Jammers is a fun party, action, rogue-like game, with lots of frantic action and enjoyable visuals (especially if you like references to pop culture). The gun-play can feel inaccurate, depending on the weapon, and even means of control, you use. All other problems with the game can be attributed to the game's unfinished status.
Space Jammers is still in Early Access, at the time of writing, and Spread Shot Studios LLC seem to have a lot of content they want to add in as the game develops. Assuming by its release that the elements that can be randomized (weapons, stage hazards, enemy types) increases considerably, along with the quality of those elements, Space Jammers will no doubt be an incredibly fun game with which you can live out your dream of being a space pirate kitten band member or solo act.