Titan Attacks! is a “what you see is what you get” alien combat game that draws a lot of inspiration from a number of arcade classics. Anyone who remembers pumping quarters into arcade cabinets or has spent any time with an Atari 2600 will immediately recognize the many references that are found throughout the game. Space Invaders, Asteroids, Galaga, and plenty of others have strongly influenced the look and design of Titan Attacks!. But does a mash-up of a number of great games make for something that is even better? Or is this a case where more is in fact not better? What does Titan Attacks! do to improve on an already tried and true formula?
In Titan Attacks! you play as the last remaining tank commander in charge of defending the Earth against an alien invasion originating from the Saturn moon of Titan. Once the home world has been protected, you take the fight to your enemy and shoot your way through the Moon, Mars, Saturn, and eventually back to Titan. You will need to dodge falling bombs, capture parachuting aliens, and avoid nuclear explosions all while obliterating everything else on the screen. And (straight out of Space Invaders) if you’re able to destroy the flying saucer that zooms by at the top of the screen, you can win bonus prizes.
Each world contains a number of waves, some short and some not as short, that will end with a classic boss battle. The goal is to destroy the alien ships to earn cash which is then spent on upgrades to your tank to allow you to destroy even more alien ships. Then do it again. Destroy aliens. Get cash. Upgrade tank. Wash, rinse, and repeat. After you complete a world, your game and score get saved so you can always start the next level with the same upgrades and score you had after your first play through. You won’t have to start from zero if you decide to jump ahead and try to tackle a later world. This helps in building up your high score, which can then be compared to your friends or others around the world in the leaderboards.
As the game begins, the one frustrating thing you’ll first notice is how slow everything is. You can only fire once every few seconds. But since the aliens you’re fighting also move at a snail’s pace, you’re not at too much of a disadvantage. Fortunately things begin to speed up dramatically as the game progresses and your tank gets outfitted with much better equipment. This rapidly increases not only your ability to shoot down your enemy, but their ability to shoot back at you. This is when things can get a little chaotic. Unlike Space Invaders, the aliens in Titan Attacks! Don’t always move in a pre-determined pattern. Some move back and forth while others fly any which way around the screen. Some of the attackers will dive-bomb you while others just toss bombs.
This changes the game from one that’s about skillfully shooting down invading aliens to one that’s about just dodging what is being lobbed your way. I found myself rarely watching the action on the screen, but instead just focusing on not getting hit while I mashed the “fire” button. It seemed to be the only way to succeed. It also sucked a lot of the joy out of the game because even if you get hit, it doesn’t mean game over.
What Titan Attacks! does that is different than those classic arcade shooters is that it allows you to not only purchase better offensive weapons, but you can buy shields as well. Each shield you purchase allows your tank to absorb a hit. You lose the shield, but you survive to keep the fight going. This provides an extra layer of security, but it also takes away some of the tension. And then there’s the smart bomb upgrade, which will obliterate anything on the screen (except for that end level boss… and believe me, I tried). This little weapon can end a wave with the press of a button.
Speaking of buttons, let’s talk about the dead simple controls. You move left and right with the Left Stick or D-Pad. The shoulder buttons are dedicated to firing and launching your smart bombs, or you can use the face buttons instead. Just like the graphics, there isn’t anything too complex going on here.
Ah yes, those graphics. While Titan Attacks! gets a lot of its game design from 80’s arcade games, its 16-bit style graphics are a bit more modern. With bright and bold colors, the pixelated invaders look rather good on the Vita’s 5” screen. Since it is also a cross-buy game with the PS3 and PS4, you might wonder how well it looks on the big screen. As with most pixel art games, I find them to look best on the Vita. The smaller screen makes the each sprite appear more vivid and detailed. Blown up on a 50” TV, it looks really blocky.
The audio is also a retro inspired blast from the past. If you play the game with your eyes closed and just listen you will feel as though you’ve been transported to an arcade in the early 80’s. For me, the sounds alone evoke a sense of nostalgia for the golden age of arcades, even though I was just a small kid at the time. Along with the music, it’s probably my favorite thing about the game. It’s really well done.
My main gripe with Titan Attacks! is that once you get past the nostalgia (ooh, look! It’s a vector drawn asteroid straight out of Asteroids) there really isn’t a lot going on in this game. I’ve been pounding away at this game trying to find something deeper about the game, but I can’t. It is in fact “what you see is what you get.” There’s just not a lot there. Once you play through each of the worlds, you will head back to Earth and repeat everything again, this time with the enemies moving slightly faster. Once you get to the point where your ship is fully upgraded, everything dropped off a cliff for me. I could easily get through a level, and even if I did get hit a few times, I would have a war chest of cash to easily replace them. This made the game really tedious. It gets so monotonous that even the idea of chasing a high score isn’t appealing. I hate to admit it, but there were times when I was just trying to die in order for my game to be over. That’s not really the sign of a great game.
Curve Studios has done an admirable job of porting Puppygames’ Titan Attacks! to the PS Vita (as well as PS3 and PS4) but the lack of depth makes the game a short lived thrill ride. It has its moments when it is a very fun throwback to the games of yesteryear, but for the most part it comes up short. Should it show up as a deeply discounted bargain in a weekly sale, it’s worth a look, but other than that I can’t recommend it.