Title: Space Pirate Trainer
Genre: Action, Arcade, Shooter
Platform: Oculus Quest
Age Rating: PEGI 7
Release Date: 21/05/19
Price: £10.99 – Rapid Reviews were very kindly provided with a review code for this title.
Space Pirate in training
When I first got the Oculus Quest, Space Pirate Trainer was one of the handfuls of demos available straight away. Having been one of the first VR games to garner critical and consumer acclaim, I tried it first. It was fun for what it was but in my excitement to experience all things VR I quickly moved onto the other demos and then to the Oculus Store to find more substantial titles. Had I not been tasked with reviewing this game, I probably would’ve never played it in its full state. That would have been a mistake on my part.
Playing as a Space Pirate of some sort, you find yourself on a platform high above a futuristic skyline. With your spaceship parked behind you, you await the oncoming onslaught, pistols in hand. Arriving in waves, the enemies are robotic drones of varying design that swarm above and around you, pausing now and again to fire. They never fly beyond the 180 degrees directly in front of your starting position, but that’s small comfort when there are a dozen or more all trying to flank you. Manage to dispatch all the enemies on screen, and a new wave of baddies will emerge to supplant them. Every fifth wave includes a mini-boss that is usually bigger, more dangerous and behaves differently than the common enemies. I found that the bosses not only broke-up the monotony but also built anticipation to what crazy thing the developers were going to send next.
The gameplay is incredibly simple in concept but surprisingly deep
There are four modes of play from the outset. Arcade mode gives you three lives to complete the game. Explorer mode refreshes your lives the longer you play but at the expense of your score. Hardcore mode removes bullet-time from the gameplay. Classic mode rounds out the list by supplying fifty waves of enemies with no bosses. Each of these modes has its own place in the leader-boards and are divided further by weapon type.
The gameplay is incredibly simple in concept but surprisingly deep in practice. No facet of Space Pirate Trainer exemplifies this more than the weapons selection. With eight different ammo types to choose from spread across two pistols, the myriad of ways to send the drones back to their maker is varied and fulfilling. Load-outs are not set and can be changed at any time during gameplay. For example, you can lob grenades from one pistol while shooting buckshot with the other. Then with a flick of the analogue stick instantly swap to pulse-lasers and/or bullets. I preferred using the beam-laser on both guns because it’s easier to hit the targets with. Also, crossing the beams results in a more powerful shot. In this way, the ammo system is not only the meat of the game but also functions as a difficulty modifier.
Bullet time reloaded
For the majority of us, having the perfect weapon still wouldn’t be enough to overcome the robot menace. With so many droids firing from so many angles, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and end up dead. Fortunately, we’re playing as a space pirate, and this one, in particular, has a super-power: bullet time. Time slows down considerably when an enemy projectile gets within a certain distance from you, giving you a slight window to avoid it. This can become tricky and rather amusing when dodging multiple enemies at once. I have to assume I looked like a fool to anyone watching me from the real world, but inside the headset, I felt like I was in the Matrix. Besides, the thumping techno-inspired soundtrack will block out any snickers from the crowd.
However, the time mechanic is for more than just avoiding enemy fire while making an on-point Keanu Reeves impression. The slowed action allows you an opportunity to take careful aim and fire at several enemies before normal game speed resumes, usually resulting in a combo. A combo happens when you destroy a string of enemies without missing and is the best way to score a lot of points. An excellent strategy to employ is to allow the drones to fire on you specifically to engage in bullet time.
Space Pirate Power-Ups…In Space
Adding another layer to the Space Pirate onion are the power-ups. They appear randomly after destroying an enemy and possibly more frequently if by combo. There are about ten different kinds, mostly offensive with a few shields thrown in. Power-ups hover at the point of space they were created and activate only when fired upon, either by you or the enemy. This allows you to ration them to some degree and put them to use when needed. Some of them seem designed explicitly for maximizing combos. Leaving those untouched until the screen fills with enemies makes sense and creates an interesting gameplay dynamic where you’re trying to protect the power-up from being hit while doing the same for your yourself.
Surprisingly, the most impressive weapon of the bunch is the shield! To switch from a gun to a shield you pull from over your shoulder like He-Man unsheathing his sword. Once in hand, you have several options for its use. The obvious use is as a shield, blocking incoming enemy fire. It’s small, and you’ll want to move it around for full protection. It’s also transparent and won’t obscure your view of the enemies, making it possible to stare down a drone while being showered with enemy fire. A press of the trigger button delivers a pulse wave that pushes drones back and disrupts their shot. Using the shield in this way will get you far into the game but wait, there’s more.
Flicking the analogue stick left or right converts your shield into a baton weapon. The energy field that makes up the protective part collapses into the handle and creates a laser-like edge. With this, you can bash enemies that get too close and cut them clear in half. Enemies don’t generally come close enough for this, but the developers provided a solution, the laser tentacle. With a button push, a tendril of energy shoots from the top of the baton and latches onto whichever enemy you point it at. From there you can pull it in close and either bash it or shoot it point-blank. Another option would be to pull it in with enough force to smash it into the ground or other enemies. You can forego guns altogether and employ a baton in each hand for some crazy fun as well but wait; there’s more.
A Little Help From Your Friends
The tendrils do more than just rope in enemies. Three additional means of attack are positioned around you that are activated when charged with the tentacle. A ballista/Gatling type gun fires from behind you and can take out a lot of enemies in one go. To your right and above you is a death ray that incinerates anything in its path. Both of these can be aimed by moving the baton. You’ll need to be cautious with their use though as they only last a bit before needing time to cool down. On your left side is an electric field generator that acts like a giant bug zapper when charged. This gives you another avenue for taking outflanking enemies. This game could’ve released with just the shield/baton weapons and would still be super fun.
Leader of the Board
I’m not very good at Space Pirate Trainer. I can make it to the twentieth or so wave but haven’t gone much beyond that. I’m not even sure how many waves there are or if the game goes on forever. Without any narrative, there’s little incentive to keep going. Of course, I’m curious to see what bosses show up next, but this game is a workout. I’m covered in sweat after thirty minutes of play, and my fingers are numb from pulling the triggers so often. Again, the developers provide a solution. There’s a leader-board that tallies your score positioned next to every menu. Before starting a session, you can see where you rank in the various categories, and when you die, it’s there to show any progress you’ve made. There were many times I continued playing only to try and overtake the person ranked above me.
The tetherless nature of the Oculus Quest enhances the gameplay with worry-free mobility and space. Dodging and ducking enemies is an instinctual element in a game like this, not having a cord to trip over while dancing between laser beams keeps your attention where it should be, on the action.
All told, Space Pirate Trainer is a modern take on arcade classics like Space Invaders and Galaga. It’s a fun game with plenty of action and options that plays to the competitiveness inherent to video games and is suitable for both quick sessions and marathon playthroughs.
Rapid Reviews Rating
You can purchase Space Pirate Trainer from the Oculus Store on the following link, https://www.oculus.com/experiences/rift/1195983747083203/
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.