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
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 fuck, that fat plumber has even managed to keep it going across fucking 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-FUCKING-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.
**”Know your audience” – Every English Teacher, Ever.
***I Write This, You Read This, We Are Friends
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.