Eastasiasoft have been long established as a fan favourite amongst the Vita community. Over the last few years they’ve brought us a diverse range of games from developers around the world. Whether it’s RPGs, visual novels, platform or puzzle games, they’ve provided us with a steady release of both digital and physical releases proving that there’s still life in the old console yet. And Habroxia is no exception, adding another arcade shooter to their ever-growing catalogue…
Developed by Canadian studio Lillymo Games, Habroxia is an old-school side-scrolling arcade shooter at its heart. With retro styled aesthetics the intention was simple – to offer that instant pick-up-and play appeal from the get go. 15 levels of arcade action, bosses, weapon power-ups and additional game modes to unlock. On paper at least, it seems like the perfect shoot-em-up to keep arcade addicts more than entertained until the next big release comes along. But is it really all that it promises to be…?
Habroxia – The Game Modes
Unlike most shooters, Habroxia doesn’t follow a traditional linear format with its gameplay. Rather than just having a straightforward arcade style shoot-em-up split over stages with end-of-level bosses with the player facing off against one final boss at the end of the game, Habroxia is different. The game is split into four distinctive game modes, three of which are unlocked as you progress through the main story mode.
The main focus of the game is the Story Mode although this is somewhat misleading. Here you tackle the main 15 levels in the game. Each is a side scrolling affair and it’s simply a case of destroy as many alien craft as you can until you reach the end of the stage and defeat that level’s boss. Some will drop random weapons for you to collect, others money that you can use to upgrade your weapon systems in the shop found on the menu screens at the start of the game. On some levels you will encounter sections that will switch between horizontal and vertical scrolling sections.
Unusually, once you complete a level you’re returned back to the level select screen where you can upgrade your weapons, choose another game mode (if you have unlocked them), replay another stage you have completed before or continue with the next stage. This approach makes the game feel somewhat disjointed and you never really feel as if you’re playing a “full” shoot-em-up in the same way you would with classics like R-Type, Gradius or Raiden.
The Other Modes
There are three other modes on offer and sadly none of these offer the player a sense of accomplishment either as they offer “endless” gameplay mechanics. First up is the Invasion Mode which is a vertically based shooter. Instead of a continually scrolling game, this is a wave based attack mode and you simply have to defeat as many waves of aliens as possible. The game ends when you either run out of lives or if any of the attacking aliens reach the bottom of the play area.
Rescue Mode takes an element from some of the levels in the Story Mode and turns it into a mode all of its own. Here you’ll find astronauts stranded in space that need rescuing so as well as defending yourself from the alien onslaught you have to get your craft to each of the astronauts that float by. Miss one and it’s game over. You still have a fixed number of lives but with no bosses to contend with this is an incredibly easy game mode and frankly a laborious one. By the time you will have unlocked it, you will have already upgraded your ship significantly so the aliens won’t prove to be much of a problem making this mode more a case of attrition than any real challenge. I found myself playing one game of this mode for about 30 minutes, racking up quite a high score until I eventually just sacrificed my ship out of sheer boredom.
Shield Maiden Mode is the last one offer and one that you think may offer the most interesting and toughest challenge… Your ship is stripped back to basics with no upgraded capabilities. You start off with minimal health and a single life and have to survive as long as possible. Shield pickups appear sporadically that give you temporary protection from attack and all the regular powerups appear as they do in a standard game. The only difference is that the level design is never ending.
Despite it’s old school appearance, Habroxia doesn’t feel like a retro arcade shooter. In part, it’s let down by the pace of the gameplay. It’s relatively sluggish compared to its peers and never really felt like the fast action arcade game that it could have been. It’s mildly entertaining to play but you always get the sense that something is missing. What hurts the most is the level system. Just when you are starting to get a feel for the game and the adrenaline does start to flow as you encounter the first boss, it’s game over as you defeat it. That alone makes it hard for you to want to press on with the game. Being able to start each level with a fully loaded ship with maximum lives removes any sense of panic as you challenge each boss. You don’t worry about sacrificing that final life to defeat him and it spoils Habroxia more than it needed to.
Looking VERY Retro
Anyone who grew up with retro gaming as I did will remember that games were often limited with what could be achieved technically. One of the first casualties were the graphics and sound, which were often simplified to save storage space so games would actually run. That was back in the 80s though. And I wasn’t expecting that type of retro experience in this day and age. While the developers boast of the game featuring 50 different types of aliens in the game, it makes no difference when every stage looks the same. It feels as if all of the design work went into the aliens, and a limited amount of time went into background visuals and only enough was created for a single stage, which was then repeated throughout.
Habroxia may be a budget priced title, but to stop player fatigue, variety in level design is essential and not just in terms of map layout. If every level looks the same then they will feel the same. As a player, I simply grew tired of the way Habroxia looked and when there’s little to tell Level 1 and Level 15 apart it gives no incentive to the player to keep pushing on to see what’s coming next.
A Short Lived Experience
Habroxia’s biggest downfall is its longevity. Despite offering several game modes, you won’t feel challenged by any of them. Even “average” gamers will have no trouble completing all the stages and despite not being a PlayStation trophy hunter, getting the highly desirable Platinum Trophy is something that is easily achieved in a couple of hours of casual play. After that there’s very little left to entice you back to Habroxia other than challenging your own high scores.
I’ve said this about other games with endless modes, but to offer players incentives to return to games like this they really do need to offer randomised missions and challenges in the way that Jetpack Joyride does. There are enough game modes here for gamers to have been provided with almost limitless opportunities to extend the lifespan of the game but it was just wasted.
Ultimately I felt underwhelmed by Habroxia. What had the potential to be a great arcade shoot-em-up felt somewhat below average. I was left with the sense that it was an exercise in grinding rather than an adrenaline filled action game. With high expectations of an old-school arcade shooter, I was left sorely disappointed and it’s not a game I’ll be returning to again any time soon. Hopefully the sequel will be an improvement.
At A Glance
- Title: Habroxia
- Publisher: Eastasiasoft
- System: PS Vita
- Format: PSN Download / PS Vita card (limited edition)
- Memory Card Spare Required: Mb
- Cross Buy: Y (PS4)
- Cross Play: N/A
- Online Multiplayer: N/A
- Local Multiplayer: N/A
- PlayStation TV Compatible: TBC