I’ve played a few shoot em’ ups, though I wouldn’t say that I’m an expert. From what I’ve seen, there are two archetypes of shmups: one where you fight spaceships and one where you fight anime girls. Today, I’m looking at a member of the secret third archetype, one that Mushihimesama crosses into: the one where you fight giant bugs.
Today’s game is Space Moth DX, released January 22, 2016 by 1CC Games, published by Black Shell Media. You are the almighty Space Moth and you want to go to space, but alas, a whole bunch of other bullet shooting bugs want to stop you. Also, according to the game’s dev log, our hero is a bitter moth that’s jealous of how pretty the other bugs are, so they can also “soul-drain” the color out of them, which is pretty sick.
The game has the bells and whistles of a Cave-inspired shooter. You got a kinda weak spread shot that’s good at taking out the trash, a stronger and focused laser beam attack and bombs to get rid of enemy bullets. You have a small hitbox and you get points for getting grazed (aka, bullets touch your character but not the hitbox).
Another score mechanic and the game’s most distinct mechanic is that soul-draining stuff I mentioned. The bigger enemies that spew patterns of bullets at you can be soul-drained by peppering them with spread shots until they turn neon-colored and you can then finish them off with a laser beam for bonus points. Doesn’t sound like much, but soul-draining these enemies is slower than simply killing them with your beam, so if you’re playing for score, you’ll have to force yourself to dodge their shots longer, on top of the enemies becoming more aggressive after having their souls drained. I certainly think it’s an interesting score mechanic, at least.
It’s just a shame, however, that Space Moth DX lacks any leaderboards. Without a readily accessible way to compare scores with other people, going for score in Space Moth DX is just a goal of self-interest, so it’s a bit of a negative for competitive people.
When it comes to the game’s difficulty, I find it kinda cruel, even on normal mode. There’s the standard, claustrophobic bullet patterns that are always spit at you, which is to be expected. But, what makes the game go from difficult to punishing is that instead of using a standard “Continue” system, it uses a “Player State” system. When you run out of lives, you load a player state from the beginning of a level or boss fight, where you’ll have everything you had when you started the stage/boss, minus score. As a result, every retry is likely to start you off with less resources than you had at the beginning of the game and its downright frustrating if you, say, enter a boss fight with no extra lives or bombs. Like, you might as well just go for a 1CC run, because it feels like the game’s punishing you for just trying to casually play the game through.
That said, high difficulty isn’t necessarily a bad thing for games like this, but, if you just want to casually cruise through the game and see what it has to offer, prepare to suffer. I’m not speaking as a shmup expert (so please don’t “get good,” me), so as an average shmup player, I can definitely say that the game would feel unwelcoming to newcomers or rookie players. If you’re a veteran, however, you might be right at home.
The stages are tough, but what’s a shmup without bosses? So, I like the designs of the bosses, but its the patterns, or lack thereof, that I don’t really like. As you whittle down a boss, instead of switching to different shooting patterns, it simply just adds more bullets on the existing one. There’s something engaging about a boss switching out its patterns, having you scramble to face their fresh new threat, but Space Moth DX lacks this intensity. The bosses aren’t necessarily easy, but to me, they aren’t very interesting to fight.
When it comes to the game’s presentation, I like the general art style, but it’s weak when it comes to the finer things. The game uses a vibrant and colorful palette for the enemies that’s nice to look at and they contrast nicely against the more desaturated backgrounds. A lot of the enemies, however, have limited animation that looks kinda clunky. Killing an enemy is also accompanied by a kinda bad blood splatter graphic instead of a flash or an explosion, with some squishing noise accompanying it, which feels really weak. I guess what I’m arguing is that Space Moth DX looks nice, but doesn’t really capture “feel.”
On a positive note, to bring Mushihimesama back up, Space Moth DX is also similar to that game in that the shots of these bug enemies are all purple. It immediately draws the eye and nothing else in the game has that same shade of purple, so it’s impossible to confuse enemy fire with anything else. It’s something that I really like and I wish more shooters did stuff like this. And yo, I really dig the default border art.
The music is sort of in an odd spot for me. Instead of some fast-paced tunes, you’re treated to slow, calm music, which is a bizarre contrast with the game’s action. At first I was kinda “ehhhh” on it, but I came to appreciate it as I got more and more mad at the game, the music keeping things down. It’s not catchy, I still think it’s a weird choice, but it’s just sorta okay.
So, what’s my verdict on Space Moth DX? I don’t think it’s a game for casual players or people that’s just getting into the genre. I feel that people more experienced with shmups will have a greater appreciation for it, though I don’t think it’s a must-have for this crowd, especially with the lack of scoreboards.
The game’s normally $4.99 on Steam, so it’s cheap as far as Steam shmups go. Don’t trust my judgement on the game? 1CC Games put out a demo of the first two stages on itch.io, so you can go judge it for yourself.