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  1. #1
    NOT CONFUSING AT ALL Killer French Bread's Avatar
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    Default Space Giraffe (Xbox 360)

    'He who is desireless is found, and the spiritual of the world will sound,
    But he who is desire bound, will see the mere shell of the things all around.'

    Another way of interpreting this passage from the Tao Te Ching is that if you are filled with pre conceived notions, you only witness the manifestations of something. Only if you are open minded will you see its essence. The reason I’ve opened this review with a bit of Lao Tzu inspired hokum is that it sums up a lot of peoples’ experiences with this game quite nicely. Most players never see the essence of Space Giraffe; they approach it with their expectations of what a shooter should be like and get frustrated when it slaps them in the face for their audacity to assume. You have to stop and listen to this game before ploughing in. It is partly the player’s fault there is so much misunderstanding, but also partly the fault of the game designer. There is a very steep learning curve and it is not immediately apparent what you must do. There is an explanation in the menu, but that does not make things suddenly clear to you, as you will see when I attempt to communicate the scoring techniques. You have to slowly learn the basics and get a feeling over repeated play for what the game wants you to do. Its creator – notorious Welsh hippie and maker of mentally hard games, Geoff Minter – is a harsh master. If I can compare him to another eastern mystic it would be Bodhidharma, the monk who walked over the Himalayas and took Buddhism from India to China. Bodhidharma too was a glutton for punishment (he supposedly cut off his own eyelids in order to be able to meditate even longer) and was also quite harsh on those willing to learn the secrets of his art. Legend has it he made a student stare at a wall for 8 years before he would teach him anything. Granted, Geoff Minter isn’t quite as severe as this! But you need to pay your dues and listen before you see more than just the shell of this game.


    Okay, enough of the philosophy. Basically this game is a tunnel shooter and an evolution of the arcade classic Tempest. Geoff Minter has a lot of experience with this type of game, having made Tempest 2000 on the Jaguar and Tempest 3000 for some Nuon DVD contraption. That may be why this version is a little forbidding compared to its predecessors. Its maker himself is bored with the fundamentals of tunnel shooters and wants to take it to the next level. Evolve it to such an extent that the maker feels confident enough to state ‘This game is not Tempest!’ on the first page of the instructions. You are still required to shoot enemies that are scrolling up a 2D plane receding into the horizon, but if that’s all you attempt to do you will fall far short of what this game asks of you.


    The game is effectively 2D as you can only move the titular giraffe left and right, and ‘tunnels’ is perhaps not the correct word as the playing fields can wrap around various types of shapes, some loop back on each other in star or box shapes, while others have closed ends such as the S or U shaped stages. Each stage is quite short and there are a hundred of them. Every 8 levels a new enemy is introduced. At first you only have to deal with the X shaped enemies which fire bullets in slow bursts and slowly plod their way up the playing field onto the lip of the stage where your ‘giraffe’ is located. Once they reach the lip they can be rammed off (‘bulled off’ using the game’s terms) if you have extended a barrier, a ‘power meter’, which protects the giraffe from certain enemies. This barrier lights up a portion of the field and slips back towards the lip unless you shoot something or use one of the rationed jumps. If you leave the barrier to reach the lip and something touches you, you die. But the point of the game is to herd as many ‘bullable’ enemies onto the lip (not all of them are, and you need to quickly learn which is which) whilst also keeping the protective barrier active. It becomes a kind of management game as you weave between the bullets picking off the odd enemy to keep you safe and extend the power meter, and marching all the others past to the lip where you can satisfyingly bull into the bunch and raise your multiplier bonus. This multiplier is vital to getting top scores as it can increase your total by up to nine times. It’s very satisfying bulling enemies as the giraffe makes a sound like a dive bombing tie fighter and the bulled enemies make hellish cow noises. Kinda sounds like you’re ploughing a jet powered lawn mower through a cattle market.


    There are also another couple of scoring tricks. One is to juggle the bullets shot out by enemies. You can reflect them back with your own firepower and they are sent to the back of the screen to return at some later point. Of course if you do this too much you end up with dealing with several waves of fire all at once, but this is another layer of the brilliant risk and reward style scoring the game presents to you. There are also power ups to collect. Each one gives you an extra jump, collect enough consecutively (without spending one on a jump) and you get increased firing speed and eventually a token to reach the bonus stage. The bonus stage is a chilled, flower collecting timeout compared to the madness of the main mode.


    Things get more intense when the more complex baddies appear, many of which can’t be bulled so need to be taken out before they can use one of their attacks which often distort the screen. Some of them spin the screen, some of them make it wobble, and some of them create multiple enemies. You need to eliminate the bad ones and move the good ones to the lip with precision shooting. Another improvement over Tempest in this area is you can use the other analogue stick to aim your fire, so there are almost twin stick shooter elements at play. There is no shoot button as your giraffe is constantly firing. If things get out of control you add more risk to the moment when you need to make the daring dash across the screen to ram the enemies. Bulling enemies is the most lucrative way to play but also the most risky, as whenever you move from one side of the screen to the other you are running into whatever the enemies are firing at you. Add a bunch of trippy effects onto the screen that are designed to distort your vision and you are effectively running into the unknown. The best way to think of this part of the game is to compare it to that playground game British Bulldog where you had to run from one end of the school yard to the other without being caught. Space Giraffe is a bit like a 2D version of that, you have to wait for the right moment, then slip across unnoticed and maybe do a bit of dodging in the process.


    And this is when a lot of players get stuck. I already touched upon how some enemies distort the screen, but I’ve probably not conveyed to well just how crazy this game looks to begin with. It already feels like you’re looking at one kaleidoscope through another and then you have everything spinning or wobbling if you start doing badly. A lot of complaints centre on not being able to clearly see what is coming at you half the time. And yeah, you can’t. That’s the beauty of the game though, not a flaw. In one review I watched on YouTube the reviewer talked about how he liked the game but ‘sometimes you cannot even see what has hit you, and that is unforgivable!’ Presumably after that death he went off to play whatever game he does consider forgivable. Too bad, because if he’d kept on playing he could have had one of the most unusual gaming experiences ever made.
    Tic Tac, sir?

  2. #2
    NOT CONFUSING AT ALL Killer French Bread's Avatar
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    To compensate for the lack of visual clarity, everything in the game has its own distinct noise. And they really are distinct – the giraffe makes a sound of a plane dive bombing when it bulls enemies, ‘suicide flowers’ scream and some enemies make the Knights of Nee sound from Monty Python. Learning all these sounds helps you build up an image of what is happening just from the audio clues. When I said this game rewards those who listen, I wasn’t being figurative. You can sweep your bullets left and right to sense what is around you before deciding to bull into a crowd of enemies. If you hear the sound of a wine class being tapped you know there is a dangerous flower barrier is growing nearby (these are invulnerable once they reach a certain point and cut the level in two temporarily). You might stop here and decide against charging across the stage, but if you’ve played the game enough you will know that if you hear the deeper glass sound it means the flower is shorter and further away and hasn’t grown much, and it may still be safe to bull. There are many situations like this as you map out the levels using the sounds reflected back when you feel around using your giraffe’s bullets. It must be like how a blind person uses their stick to feel around the streets by tapping left and right.


    You are still straining to see and selectively shoot the bad enemies, yet also using your hearing and also using a general awareness, a stage management of sorts, to learn where certain enemies will be at certain times. You start to learn the safe spots and what you can and cannot do on certain stages. As much as many beginners moan about the game being unfair, it is possible to avoid death with a little circumspect play once you master the basics. I personally have beaten all 100 levels without continuing. When you get to this level of skill it really feels as if you are playing on some other dimension to most other games. Very few expand your mind and stretch your abilities as much as this, not even the hardest of bullet hell shooters. This tests everything: Visual, aural and spatial awareness. And that’s just to survive. Throw in the herding techniques, the bullet bouncing and bonus collecting and it’s a game that can either make you throw the controller in anger after one of the many deaths, or make you feel like a god of gaming when you get it right.


    Aesthetically the game is quite the curiosity. It is made using the same engine as the music visualizer built in to the 360, and you will notice the similarities right away. The swirling patterns are all part of the ploy to mask your vision. The music is a brand of techno typical of the Tempest games Minter has been involved with, it’s a 90s style trance that fits nicely with the tempo of the play. The game is also full of pop references which seem to have no collective theme and were thrown in at the whim of the creator. Some of the levels are named after old songs from the 90s or reference old TV shows (Ace Rimmer, for example), at the end of levels you see old internet catchphrases like ‘our giraffe is in another castle’. It’s a weird mix seeing all these personal touches in such an abstract game, like when the kid in Terminator 2 tries to teach Arnie how to be cool.


    Overall I think this is one of the deepest and most complete arcade style experiences you can play on a modern console. I can see why it alienates players as it has an old school severity which the average American Xbox playing trog isn’t used to these days, yet it is also more complex than the pick up and play arcade classics from the past which veteran gamers are comfortable with. This game really does take an open mind and a willingness to adapt to what the makers want you to do. I have to laugh when I see bland ‘indie’ offerings like Flower and Limbo hailed as masterpieces by supposedly intelligent reviewers, yet this game is ignored and cast aside as a flop by the mainstream. Unlike them, Space Giraffe doesn’t simply take an old concept and tart it up with nicer aesthetics and a wanky storyline; it takes a genre of gaming to the next level. Few companies do more than simply change one shell for a shiner one. This game does. Turns out not many people are willing to listen carefully though.

    5/5

    Tic Tac, sir?
    Tic Tac, sir?

  3. #3
    Prof. KC KC's Avatar
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    Pretty interesting review there. And I totally agree with your first words. If you approach a game (or anything else for that matter) with a pre-conceived concept you'll most likely never fully enjoy it. I'd give this a try seeing as I love the genre, but sadly no Xbox 360 for me. :/

  4. #4
    Real name,no gimmiks richarddavies's Avatar
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    Nice review there French bread. I've never bothered with this on teh 360 but I might get the trial now and take it from there.

  5. #5
    o_o Wrath Oskvro's Avatar
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    Looked into this one after reading this review myself and wow. It really is purty. I love anything that'll give an epileptic person a seizure xD Looks really cool
    Have you heard my remake of Spring Yard Zone? No? Check it out here: http://soundcloud.com/wrathoskvro/spring-yard-remake

  6. #6
    NOT CONFUSING AT ALL Killer French Bread's Avatar
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    You can get it on steam if you don't have a 360. It's more expensive but you get a new mode where they toned down the graphics so you can see things more.

    I ain't saying everyone will love this game because it does have a narrow audience: players who like hard old school games but want more complexity. I'm not going to mark a game down because it isn't to everyone's tastes like most reviewers do though. That's a shit way to review a game. I try to explain what a game does and judge it on how well it does that. You can decide for yourself if you like the idea of what it's about.
    Tic Tac, sir?

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