Space Giraffe Review

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Publisher: Llamasoft
Developer: Llamasoft

Platform: Xbox 360
Reviewed on Xbox 360

Pilot a space giraffe, complete with steerable hoof shots and an exploding tail, through 100 levels of Tempest-inspired space combat. Replete with wild visuals and retro-arcade humor, Space Giraffe is as off-the-wall as its title.

Kyle Ackerman

Space Giraffe is the sort of thing you'd expect to see in a "New Media" exhibit at a modern art museum. It's fascinating, filled with wild colors and incongruous sounds, and packed to the gills with gaming references. But does that make it fun? Not necessarily.

The first thing the developers at Llamasoft tell you on the "How to play" screen is that "Space Giraffe is not Tempest!" It's true that you need new techniques to succeed at Space Giraffe, but Space Giraffe is, indeed, the classic coin-op game Tempest. The player pilots a craft along the edge of a plane or tube, blasting the nasty things that come up the pipe. There are some updates: the craft fires automatically (since there's never a time you'd want to stop shooting); that same craft can "jump," briefly leaving the rim of the play area to either blast foes that have crested the tube or to power up and bull enemies off the edge; enemy shots can be juggled for extra points by shooting them back down the tube; and the 3D engine makes the levels more engaging than old-school vector graphics and memory allowed.

The real question is whether players can get past the psychedelic visuals and sounds to enjoy the fundamentally strong play that underpins Space Giraffe. The screen is constantly flashing with waves of shimmering bright colors that gush around the play field, often with a ghosted image or message somewhere in the background. Enemies glow and shimmer, making the entire screen a wave of bright, shifting images. All of this is overlain by the words and scores that flash across the screen like "Pod get!" or "Ouch! My polygons!" or "Bad dog, no biscuit!" This is all brilliant and overwhelming, but violates the general rule that visuals should enhance, and not obscure, play.

The sound is equally bizarre, and meant to supplement the visuals when they become too much to process in time for this fast-paced arcade-style shooter. There's a constant drone of human sounds, baby-gurgling and animal bleats on top of a driving electronica soundtrack. Some sounds are jarring, like when the shots that you juggle become sneezes, or like when you die there's the sound of an old telephone ringing.

Other sounds are clearly references to old games like Defender, and the developers at Llamasoft love incorporating references to classic games. At the end of every level you learn "A winner is you! ... But our giraffe is in another castle."

If arcades were still a big deal, Space Giraffe is the kind of game I'd have dropped a quarter on just to show my friends the visuals. But I'd never drop a whole week's allowance. Now that I'm older, the game simply provokes a blistering headache. Definitely download the trial – if you can endure the scintillating colors without becoming nauseous, you'll enjoy the game. As far as I'm concerned, Space Giraffe is the rare game I'd much rather watch than play.

Space Giraffe is extremely clever, in touch with its gaming origins and visually extreme, but it really does belong on display in a museum rather than on my Xbox 360. Some games can alienate or horrify, but Space Giraffe is synesthesia in a bottle.






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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on August 29, 2007 10:56 PM.

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