Astro Cluster #XBLIG Review
By: Underwood Lynch
Ever since humanity first looked up at the stars, humans dreamed of blasting off from Earth and exploring space. We landed on the moon and a decade later the game Asteroids was released into the arcades. The popularity of games set in space, flying spaceships around and engaging enemy vessels in massive intergalactic laser fights, has caused the genre to explode. There have been many space shooters since, some offering unique features that allowed them to soar, while others crashed into a black hole and disappeared. What does newcomer Astro Cluster bring to the dogfight?
* Developer – Scott Lowther (Twitter Account Skoddle)
* Website – ScottL Games/Facebook
* Genre – Shooter
* XBL Marketplace URL – Astro Cluster
* Release Date – 5/29/2011
* Try or Buy? – Buy
* Price – 80 MSP ($1)
* Rating – 4/5
“Dominate the galaxy in this unusual multiplayer twin-stick shooter. Destroy your enemies, take their clusters and navigate cosmic dangers across a wide variety of levels and game modes. Improve your skills in the co-op campaign then take the fight online to prove who is the Cluster Master!”
– Xbox Live Marketplace Description
I. Story Line
Not present or required.
II. Game Mechanics
Astro Cluster is a space shooter with a unique twist. You control an Astro Cluster, a space elemental that grows in both size and power the more clusters it is comprised of. You are capable of shooting in any direction at opposing Astro Clusters, engaging them in close proximity to better your opponent, destroy them and absorb their clusters for yourself.
The battlefield is often dangerous and you will need to avoid asteroids, planets, suns and black holes – the latter of which will either teleport you to another hole in the universe, or crush you and your clusters into nothing. The controls are simple yet effective: you push the left analogue stick to soar through space and the right analogue stick to fire a shot in that direction.
As you gain size your health bar increases and the number of shots you fire off in short succession increases, making you more and more deadly the more Astro Clusters you decimate. There are also three power-ups to be used; a shield, a speed boost and becoming thinner in density.
III. Game Modes
The game boasts an variety of different game modes, each with both a free-for-all and team option. There’s Deathmatch (everyone kills everyone), Survival (everyone has a certain amount of lives, last one standing wins), Cluster Master (person with the most clusters at the end wins) and Muster Cluster (hold on to the multicoloured cluster for the longest to win).
All options appear in the campaign mode, a pre-prepared set of twenty games. Solving one unlocks the next, and considering the difficulty of some of the game modes this can take some time. Unlocking a level allows access to it in offline mode, allowing for solo practice in an environment where almost everything is customisable. Astro Cluster features both linked and online multiplayer for up to sixteen people, which has so much potential for entertainment.
Fluid Controls. The first level you play will try to teach you how to play, but besides the LB and RB buttons for the map and toggling of player names, you’ll only use the two control sticks. Movement is fluid and aiming is precise.
Visuals. The backdrops are pretty and the ability to change both your shape and colour before every match is a nice touch. There’s no advantage of a certain shape over the other but the distinction between different players is often noticeable and allows you to track down anyone you have a vendetta against using the LB map.
Co-operative Gameplay. If the campaign gets too tough you can ask a friend for assistance and play together until one of you achieves the objective. This makes things both easier and more entertaining as you compete and make pacts not to kill each other, avoiding each other for about a minute and then completely forget about said pact before backstabbing your partner. There’s a lot of multiplayer fun to be had here.
Soundtrack. The music is catchy and suits the game environment well, even over the gunfire.
Difficulty Curve. The campaign levels jump up and down in difficulty unnecessarily, making victory feel shallow sometimes. All the team levels are grouped together as well which makes it feel a bit of a slog to get through.
Respawning. With the exception of survival mode, death is only temporary and you respawn at a random position after a few seconds. However, losing all your clusters puts you at minimum health and fire speed, making it almost impossible to kill someone on a rampage and catch up. This can often lead to victory becoming impossible and forcing you to restart halfway through a match.
Wasted Multiplayer Potential. Not a fault of the game itself but more of the indie market’s unappreciation. There is potential for some fantastic online sixteen player dogfights but it’s currently nigh-on-impossible to find a game over the internet without hours of planning.
Astro Cluster is a gem of a game with high aspirations of rising high above the rest of the class. While it contains promising multiplayer action for up to sixteen people, finding a match is easier said than done. However, the campaign is solid and the co-operative mode is a fun way to spend an evening with a friend. Fans of classic space shooters and arcade games will find warm and comforting familiarity here, and those new to the genre will be gently eased in before being destroyed by the difficulty curve but they’ll love every second of it. At 80 MSP ($1) you could do much worse.