Version tested: PlayStation 3
You wait 23 years for a rehash of the BBC Micro classic Thrust, and two come along at once - both exclusive to PS3 on the PlayStation Network. PixelJunk Shooter, not yet released but the recipient of an 8/10 review last week, is the very model of a modern old-fashioned videogame, splicing the retro concept - pilot tiny spaceship through caves, pick up stranded men - with Metroid-style exploration and puzzling, cutting-edge fluid dynamics, a brace of fresh ideas, a more forgiving structure and a stylised cartoon look.
Gravity Crash, available now for £6.29, has a lot more in common with the original Thrust. It has gravity, for one thing, a constant downward tug on your craft that you'll need to combat with thrusters, minding out for your heavy inertia and the walls, which may not destroy you outright but will damage you. It's a test of perseverance and skill rather than ingenuity. Its phosphor-etched vector graphics are less noughties album art, more eighties arcade cab. If Shooter is a hipster with a sense of history, then Gravity Crash is just a bloody-minded throwback.
Gravity Crash makes a strong appeal to nostalgia, then, but in the end that's just about all it has going for it. Developer Just Add Water leans heavily on its by-the-numbers retro style and appropriately stiff difficulty, but fails to invest the game with enough imagination, variation, attention to detail or reward to make it work in a modern context. There isn't even anything as exciting or game-changing as the original Thrust's pendulous pod that you had to drag out of each level on the end of a tractor beam.
Instead you're given a shopping list of enemy units - usually ground structures - to destroy and/or coloured gems to collect from each level, and a simple blast and scavenger-hunt ensues. Some levels are linear, but most require you to wander around hunting your targets or performing circuitous unlocks, to take down a shield or open a door, before you can get to them. Most caves are flooded with water at the bottom - in which your ship floats, but your already rather lethargic bullets are slowed to a short-range crawl - and the more interesting level designs feature changing water levels, although the triggers for these seem rather arbitrary.
There's a radar map - small enough not to be much use, large enough to obscure an irritating portion of the screen - but your initial run through a level will involve a lot of toing and froing around the maze seeking out the randomly-scattered objectives. In stark contrast to Shooter's spectacular and stimulating navigation, this is usually a befuddling chore, the maps being sorely lacking in distinguishing features or structured design. They all look the same, too, so it will probably take a few runs before you've memorised a level well enough to bring it in under the "recommended" time and set a decent score.
They're scattered with secondary objectives - crystals, crewmen to pick up by tenderly landing your ship next to them, "nodes" to "activate" - but these lack much in the way of incentive to hunt them out beyond a certain dogged completism. In general, Gravity Crash is a game that's more comfortable with the stick than with the carrot. It's certainly not unfairly punishing, but it's hardly ever gratifying. The shooting is insipid, slow and lacking in impact, a situation not helped by the weak power-ups; you can either earn a short time shooting in multiple directions or an extremely rare and limited use of a "special weapon" (selected from a range of four at the start of the game, and neither effective nor exciting).