Back in arcade gaming’s golden age, few genres stood above Shoot-Em-Up titles, where games like Space Invaders, Asteroids and Defender dominated the coin-op experience. Their popularity declined in the 90s, but even now, SHMUPs retained a dedicated fanbase, kept alive through modern efforts like Ikaruga and Jamestown. Now we find Red Cabin Games releasing Space Scavenger in early access, incorporating roguelike mechanics into a SHMUP and it becomes a challenging experience.
Space Scavenger provides little in terms of story, and all we’re told is that whilst piloting a mining vessel, your ship gets sucked into a black hole. It’s a journey to make your way home, and there are 12 levels in total, spread across three galaxies with each mission being procedurally generated, so no two playthroughs are alike. Levels require you to investigate local planets, and upon doing so, you must defeat all enemies to reach the next stage. There’s a noticeable difficulty curve between galaxies and to make life harder, Scavenger includes permadeath with no saving. If you run out of health, it’s back to square one.
We can improve this
Each campaign begins with a bog-standard mining ship, but during exploration, you’ll discover a series of modules to customise your ship with. These provide many benefits, such as increasing your ship’s size, which allows further modules to be attached along with a health boost. There are also various weapons to choose from, ranging from heavy artillery to crossbows and you can fire two at once. Some have limited ammunition or a recharge time, so caution is advised when using them.
Space Scavenger’s levels aren’t particularly inspired, but combat makes up for this, becoming quite entertaining and there’s good enemy variety. The real fun lies within the modular system though, and customisation feels incredibly smooth, allowing for great flexibility with ship design. This is only let down by weapon placement, as these modules can’t be rotated like other parts, so it may not launch shots in your chosen direction. This is fixable with some creativity but ultimately proves a minor flaw to an otherwise fluid approach.
Stronger, better, faster, something
Each level is filled with meteors, but some have crystals contained within them. Depending on how deep they’re embedded, they can be mined with a simple attack, but some require heavier weaponry and once obtained, they act as your currency. This becomes usable in shop visits that unlock after completing the first galaxy, letting you purchase new modules or, for 25hp per crystal, restore your health. If you need more crystals, modules can be recycled into them, which is useful when you obtain duplicates.
It’s quite polished for an early access title, bringing a smooth presentation and fitting soundtrack but proves light on actual content. Red Cabin Games have confirmed plans to add more modules and two new modes before full release, but in its present state, all we have outside the campaign are daily challenges. This mode plays differently by modifying gameplay, bringing in features like double damage or limited healing. Competing for the highest score across an online leaderboard, it’s a good way of varying gameplay but immediately limits itself by only allowing one attempt each day.
Space Scavenger makes for an interesting debut from Red Cabin Games. It never reaches the lofty heights of fellow SHMUP titles but carves a unique identity, bringing enjoyable combat and versatile customisation. It’s a shame there isn’t more of it and comes across as rather barebones. Replayability only goes so far, but considering the low price point, this is easier to forgive. For genre fans looking for a new fix, it comes recommended.
[Reviewed on PC]