Space Giraffe

a review of Space Giraffe
a videogame developed by llamasoft
and published by llamasoft
for personal computers and the xbox live arcade
text by Adam Burch

3.5 stars

Bottom line: Space Giraffe is “basically the bees' knees.”

So here we are again, to experience the bitter scalding brilliance of yet another unknown treasure. Space Giraffe. Merely thinking of it, seeing those two sultry words placed in green text on a solid black background*, sends my heart aflutter. Even now, I can feel its siren call. I can taste the music as it caress’s my soul. I can see the sounds of the levels. I can SMELL the colors that it will throw at me, with seeming abandon, but with what is, in truth, cunning insanity. I need to go play it. Oh: that was good.


One of the many, many lessons of Mario is the value of “visual language.” One of the key aspects of our Citizen Kane was the vibrancy and consistency of its worlds. Even when traveling to new areas, from a sewer, to a forest, to a sea, to castle, we never asked ourselves “Is that dangerous?”, or “Is that a power up?” The visual language of Mario was so self-evident, so self-sustaining, so brilliantly obvious that it managed to retain these properties across multiple radically different levels, and, indeed, even across games. And heck, that fat plumber has even managed to keep it going across hecking genres. For all its visual faults, the character and world design in Mario has inarguably brilliant qualities.

And these qualities were only reinforced in Super Mario Bros. 2. This game tried to mess with the visual language of Mario, and boy, did it get BURNED. Warp Zones that move you backwards? POISON ‘shrooms? Gu-heckING-faw. There’s a reason only people like us play The Lost Levels**. Call it enlightenment. Call it masochism.

Call it Space Giraffe.

Space Giraffe is a game that is so far ahead of its time it’s not even sure how to explain itself. To be frank, the tutorial in Space Giraffe is garbage. Worthless. It sets the player up to expect something of a remixed Tempest. It makes us believe that every new element will get an announcement, and an explanation. After playing that tutorial, you would expect every new enemy to get its own two-minute cut-scene, revealing **SPOILER** that it is the Space Giraffe’s TRUE nemesis, and that it KILLED SPACE GIRAFFE’S FATHER/MOTHER/BROTHER/PUPPY**** **END SPOILER**. This tutorial, this crime, is the only thing keeping Space Giraffe from 4 stars.

So what of the game, the meat? I have dwelled for too long on the sides my friends; here is the main course.

Basically, bees knees*****. It seems, on the surface, to be Tempest: remiXed. Okay, so now you have a “Power Zone” that you can use to “Bull” “Grunts” off the “Rim” to increase your multiplier. You still have to shoot enemies to keep said “Power Zone” extended. You still can’t move off the “Rim.” Not to say that this element is nothing. When you got “Power Zone,” it’s a whole new world. But it’s still a world you’re familiar with.

And so you start to get farther into the game. You start meeting new enemies, learning the value of Jump Pods (little buggers will fill your “Power Zone” to Max, AND let you hop over ‘Flowers’ that have grown past the “Rim.”), and, if you’re observant enough, you start to notice something. The sounds are always distinct, always clear, but the visuals . . . they hide things. It is hard to tell the EXACT number of “Grunts” in a wave, or the EXACT number of enemy bullets onscreen, or the EXACT height of that “Flower.” You know that they are there; the soundtrack doesn’t lie (yet). But your eyes do.

You might grow frustrated. You might say, “God Hand ALWAYS told me how many enemies I was facing!” You might throw around the controller. You might even give up on the game, and declare it worthless; you might write a “review” calling it a “Bad Game.” I tell you this now, my comrade: DO NOT DO SO. For if you continue, you will start to observe something more. You will start to see the brilliance.

Street Fighter 2 is an inarguably brilliant game, balanced around the fact that the input frame for a Dragon Punch on wakeup is completely random.

Space Giraffe is an inarguably brilliant game, balanced around the fact that the player never has the exact information he or she needs.

*Darkroom, FTW
**”Know your audience” – Every English Teacher, Ever.
***I Write This, You Read This, We Are Friends
****Never Sister.
*****Hi Grandma!


As the player of Space Giraffe, you will be lied to. Your view will be muddled, and your sound will be distorted. New enemies will be introduced with no fanfare or mention, and old enemies will gain new properties without as much as a peep from the game. Each level will radically change what enemies spawn, when they spawn, where they spawn, and what they do when they spawn. Some levels will REQUIRE a 9x multiplier, and hand that damn thing to you on a silver platter. Some levels will require a 9x multiplier, and make you work your pasty ass off. Some will require a MASTERY of the bullet bouncing mechanic. Some have no bullets at all. Some will require that NO enemy reach the rim. Some will require that EVERY enemy reach the rim.

Every level tests a completely new skill that you never had to use up until that point.

Every level assumes that you mastered the preceding level.

Every level is Space Giraffe.

–Adam Burch


49 Responses to Space Giraffe

  1. Now that was weird.

    I recall Rogers mentioned this game in his Braid review. Now I’m seriously considering to pick it up.

  2. seriously consider an english lesson.

    nice review p1! hope you stay around for more.

  3. It’s five bucks. I never got far enough with it to appreciate it as the author does but, basically, anyone who doesn’t at least /try/ it (given the seeming polarity of the Internet at large) for five dollars* is basically one of two things: 1) ignorant (eg. “Oh, I think I heard aobut that but haven’t gotten around to it”) 2) a douchetruck.

    *Or in countries not fortunate enough to be American in nature, 3984 rupees or whatever the heck MS is charging international customers for the RIGHT 2 PLAY

    By the way what does the *** in that article refer to? did it get edited out somewhere? I’m very relieved to ehar we’re friends but I want to know why.

  4. I’m buying this game when I get home from work, today, entirely because of you. Do not disappoint me.

    Also, the *** is hidden very cleverly in the article, Druaga-style.

    You have to refresh the page when the sum of the digits in the time (in EST) is a multiple of 6, and at 29 seconds of that minute. Then you type “IDDQD” (without quotes) into the comments and hit ‘Submit Comment’. Good luck, my friends. See you on the other side.

  5. Heh… so it IS a great game after all!

    This was probably my most-played XBLA Demo when I first bought my Xbox 2 years ago, but I was tight on cash and never got around to buying it (to this day my only XBLA purchases have been Ikaruga and Braid, even though there are tons of awesome games)… I really liked the demo levels, but most of the reviews kinda hated the game. I felt deep down in my gut that it was awesome, but I always put off buying it… and now I’ve got to save three thousand dollars so SEE YOU NEXT YEAR SPACE GIRAFFE OKAY SORRY.

    But yeah, this is a pretty great review!

  6. I don’t follow. By “[calling] it Space Giraffe,” you suggest we should play Space Giraffe for exactly the reason we (hypothetically) spurn SMB2 in favor of Lost Levels: the former “messes with the visual language” of the latter, which is “so self-evident, so self-sustaining, so brilliantly OBVIOUS” because of the “vibrancy and consistency of its worlds”. Yet,

    As the player of Space Giraffe, you will be lied to. Your view will be muddled, and your sound will be distorted. New enemies will be introduced with no fanfare or mention, and old enemies will gain new properties without as much as a peep from the game.

    Those are completely opposite things! If anything, you should be lauding SMB2 for requiring the close attention & surrendering of assumption that you praise in Space Giraffe.

    These contradictions render your review utterly opaque. All I can understand is that you are, in general, a man who likes videogames, and that Space Giraffe is, specifically, a novel videogame (even though it looks like Tempest).

  7. @plvhx
    But college says I got out of all those classes! Please! Don’t send me back! D:

    Oh oops! I could have swore I had a *** in there! I will try to count my footnotes better! 🙁

    My attitude is to simply assume everything everyone thinks they know about any videogame is wrong.

    If I gave the impression that ‘we’ spurn SMB2 in favor of the Lost Levels I am sorry. My intentions was, if anything, the opposite! You see, when I wrote Mario 2, I meant the Mario 2 that was released in Japan (PROTIP: Here at ABDN, Japan is canon). This was the one that was released in the states as The Lost Levels. When I wrote that Mario 2 messed with the visual language, I meant that the Lost Levels messed with the visual language, and, for people like us, this was a good thing. I realize now, that reading my work, it is hard to pick up on this unless you know this completely random bit of trivia. I can see right now how you got confused (The lead-in to the third paragraph could be more clear) I will strive in the future to make my reviews more readable!

    And concerning your last paragraph; Welcome to Action Button!

  8. Okay, makes sense. I suppose “Gu-heckING-faw” just didn’t read as an endorsement.

    (action button lol)

  9. Am I the only one that thinks that the picture kind of sticks out? 🙁

    Oh, good review, P1!

  10. It does – I did the formatting/editing on this guy, and I couldn’t get it to 1bit such that it wasn’t hideous, so what you see is what you get until one of us never gets around to changing it. I did the same thing with my Burnour Paradise piece, you’ll notice.

  11. Behold the genius of Space Giraffe: Not even Action Button can contain it’s brilliance! 🙂

    And felix, once again, thanks for all your work man. And thanks for the feedback guys!

    I’m just so happy right now…I’m not gonna cry, I’m not gonna cry…GOTTA BE A MAN!


  12. BTW, the three asterisk footnote was meant to go after the comrade in the ninth paragraph.

    For future reference.

  13. We all liked fake SMB2 more than the real sequel. The whole “We liked the Lost Levels better than fake SMB2” is just a lie pretentious douchebags tell themselves. Jump in your time machine and put both games in front of your kid self and watch kid you kick the lost levels to the curb.

  14. i meant donald duck, pie. your english is nice! i wouldn’t wish college on you.

    what the hell are you on about anthony? we are grown men who can put both games in front of ourselves RIGHT NOW and see the truth. nobody said anything about ‘fake smb2’. it’s pretty clear which is the better game. =(

  15. Anthony W: You are terribly wrong! Wrong and on the internet! What a combination!

    Kid me would like “Lost Levels” more by a long shot.

    That said, are you seriously insinuating that what human beings under the age of nine think is more important than what a home-owning adult thinks?

  16. “Every level is Space Giraffe”
    How 100% god damn true that statement is, it is built with the same excellence with which SMB2 is (lost levels obviously, the US SMB2 sucks) that must be hidden so much from the virgin eyes of a million COD playing children or else they would suddenly orgasm from the beauty and their brains would be rendered unclean for typical focus grouped consumerism.
    Each level is space giraffe, a hand made “heck you” from Jeff Minter which only the most battle hardened of gamers can progress past to reach the nirvana behind these initial gates of confusion.
    It is our only real ‘God Hand’ so far in this generation, a game made so awesome as to deny the unrighteous at ign, and various other mainstream idiot gamers. But the problem is one which lies solely in our current generation of consoles, and its sea of over hyped and over produced games. Looking through my current gaming collection makes me feel sick, few games leave me feeling pure enjoyment, each game seems to made with an agenda everytime forced down our throats. So when I am asked ‘what games have I enjoyed?’, ‘what would I recommend?’ by my friends I answer Space Giraffe, a simple “heck you” (from our Minty euphoria inducing friend) directed towards the EAs and Activisions which are roaming our hobby with intent to squeeze us of our money, time, and to control our needs.

  17. Okay, just read the rest of the thread and apparently P1d4On3 was talking about the Mario 2 released in Japan. I forgive you.

  18. But…but…the Mario 2 released in Japan WAS the Lost Levels.

    I’m confused.

  19. Lol, I now get the IDDQD joke because I finally played DOOM all the way through for the first time yesterday.

    Man, as soon as I finish paying off these here bills of mine, I’m gonna have to get some MS Points and grab this, Castle Crashers, Braid and uh… I dunno, Contra.

  20. If – and this may be a bigger “if” than I know – good times with videogames are about player/product partnership, this one felt
    unfortunately one-sided. It’s great that a game can directed with such care that I notice it has a specific Personality, but then I have to deal with that Personality and… yeah.

    I really did get sense there were things worthwhile to be had from SG,
    and thanks to this piece I’ve a better idea of what those might actually be, but on playing it, I quickly came to a point where I felt I was having a pretty broad tantrum thrown at me* and couldn’t figure out why when my only real ask was “please could you be tidier, I’m kinda trying to drive here.”
    If a more sober iteration ever happens, I would kinda try again, for sure.
    (Hoped the ‘tamed’ PC release would work out, but all that seemed to have been muted were the background animations, unless there’s another switch I missed.)

    *Minter’s response to the game’s reception didn’t much clear this impression. Rather, it made the entire ‘event’, game included, feel disappointingly petty and childish.

  21. Wait…Contra is on XBLA? Holy stuff, how did I miss that?

    Oh, and pick up that Lode Runner game too. It’s delicious.

  22. I think they got Contra AND Super Contra. They got Smash TV, too, if you want to finally play it on a home console with two sticks instead of an awkward button scheme.

  23. My respect for the service, already notable, has increased greatly.

  24. @Kinto

    Because it’s not the Japanese one 😉

    No really, I don’t hate it or anything; Doki Doki Panic: Mario Edition is a very fine game. But it is no Lost Levels.

    @Energy Eye

    It is good to see that you gave it an honest chance, and came away honestly not liking it! This puts you heads and shoulders above all other SG-haters.

    SG’s personality was, to me, alot like Godhand, but in a different context. Godhand was that personality after watching old Westerns and Kung Fu movies; SG was after listening to some Good Trance/Techno/Whatever-They-Call-It-These-Days. It’s a personality I happen to enjoy.

  25. @simplyPARTICLE

    For there to be blue skies in videogames, there must first be blue skies…in your heart!

    And CoD4 was great! Sure, World at War was meh as a motherhecker, but 4 is terribly brilliant.

    Mainstream gamers aren’t idiots; they are merely lost, amid a culture of meaninglessness. Our medium has the potential to guide these poor souls toward a truly worthy cause; beating that other motherheckers high score. We must love and care for our lost brothers (and sisters!). If not us, then who?

  26. I just got around to reading this review and the comments, and I am saddened by the fact that the *** was not a secret message of friendship (given to those who would read footnotes without a reference point to them), but a typo.

    In any case, if it’s only $5, I might go ahead buy it on my friend’s 360. It sounds like a good game. I always like the ones that don’t seem to like me much.

  27. guys, I found another female Tim Rogers (circa SomeYearsAgo) lookalike! Laughed pretty hard at this. Because, well, David Bowie.

    (In her profile she’s asking people to duet with her… c’mon, tim!)

    This also answers the age old question of how big the tits on tim’s female twin sister would be.

    As to the question (which was never posed) of what the chances would be that a female Tim Rogers will birth twins: A recent study found that vegan mothers are five times less likely to have twins than vegetarian or omnivore mothers, and concluded that “Genotypes favoring elevated IGF and diets including dairy products, especially in areas where growth hormone is given to cattle, appear to enhance the chances of multiple pregnancies due to ovarian stimulation.”[28]

    From 1980–97, the number of twin births in the United States rose 52%.[29] This rise can at least partly be attributed to the increasing popularity of fertility drugs like Clomid and procedures such as in vitro fertilization, which result in multiple births more frequently than unassisted fertilizations do. It may also be linked to the increase of growth hormones in food.[28]

    Gots to stimulate those ovaries.[108]

  28. yo pi, (this is bbp, by the way)

    what the hell is wrong with this review?

    it has no programming language in it, which is like your TRADEMARK dawg. couldn’t think about a more appropriate game for it either. and you even got more as well as less complicated logic in there! would have been perfect, you know. because, as you once said, programming isn’t mathematics, it’s logic.

    requesting a post-mortem (/post-natal) port of your review into C# code (or whatever other language)

  29. […] you even got more, as well as less, complicated logic […]

    hmm, that’s somewhat more readable.

  30. @sn

    I fear you have answered one of those questions that was only asked to emphasize how it can never be answered. If I had an award to give for such a feat, I would give it. Alas, I have only mediocre prose to offer.

    Concerning my trademark…kinda tempted to copyright it, just so none of you bastards can get rich off of my teat. Srsly tho, I like the idea of my reviews being what my English teacher called ‘hecking readable’…although I do have another piece in the pipe that could do with some coding.

    Also, taking theoretical computer science topics ITA, and loving it.

  31. And who made the new banner images? They’re cool, but I miss the babe in a bikini! 🙁

  32. Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.

    I was wanting to play an on-rails shooter the other day for some damn reason, and then I was like “Hey, ABDN said Space Giraffe was pretty great.” so I downloaded it.

    I’ll keep trying, but heck is this game incomprehensible. Not enough to completely turn me off, I mean, I got through killer7, I can get through this. More like just enough that I rarely want to sit down and actually learn how to play it.

    I got to level 15 on my first try, realized I wasn’t logged into my Gamertag, so I logged in and tried it again, and couldn’t get past level 9. What the hell?

  33. I think I got it now. I was in the right frame of mind or something and got up to level 28, only dying a dozen times, as opposed to dying a dozen times per stage. I even attained the rank “You are getting respectable”.

    I imagine this is roughly what Polybius would’ve played like.

  34. @Smith

    Oh man, the ranks in this game are nuts. Actually, another reason SG won’t get 4 stars from me is because one of the rankings calls you a furry.

  35. The PC version doesn’t work too well with keyboard controls. I wish those 360 controllers weren’t so expensive. My first Minter game was the PS1 port of Tempest 2000, but what few skills I might have gained there did not help me succeed here.

  36. True fact: I bought the PC version, just to give Minter more of my money. He deserves it!

  37. Thank you so much for this article. Previously, this game was little more than a passing thought. I unlocked the game not long after reading and just might be the best $5 (or $6.25, since MS gave me no choice but to purchase 100 more points than necessary) I’ve ever spent. 4 stars all the way, if it was up to me.

    *chalks Space Giraffe up along with Wii Sports Resort, Gears of War 2, and Braid as excellent buys I otherwise wouldn’t have made thanks to this site*

  38. Is this the best British game ever made? Or the only British game ever made?*

    *Does not include Spartan: Total Warrior or that one my brother’s making.

  39. The best british game, mos def.

    But the only one? Bloody wankers have a whole hecking history of bedroom coders cranking out fly-ass games. Has anyone written on darwinia? Or defcon?

    We have defcon on here I’m pretty sure of this.

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