Idle Space Review
Imagine a dystopian space future brimming with light and colour amidst a flurry of explosions. Enter, Idle Space. An Endless Action Clicker offshoot of the endless runner from ColdFire Games. Idle Space places you in the gunner seat of a spaceship tasked with clearing the galaxy of waves of enemies, with every couple of waves (known and categorised in game as sectors) ending with a boss battle. Idle Space like any endless runner goes for as long as you want to keep playing. So, does it manage to provide a meaningful and entertaining experience to fulfil that aspiration?
Idle Space begins with text style prompt messages from Captain Kira who provides the opening tutorial. In Idle Space, players are removed from having to worry about navigation, meaning the entirety of your focus will be on resource management and combat. Upon completing the tutorial, you’re immediately ushered into combat. Within the early battle sequences (which technically act as both sector levels to be completed, and tutorial), you’re brought up to speed on using your primary weapons, which are a machine gun and missile launcher. By clicking the screen in the corresponding locations, your ship automatically fires these weapons simultaneously. Within that tutorial segment, you’re also introduced to your tech abilities and upgrades. Tech abilities in Idle Space serve either combat or defensive functions, with more abilities unlocked upon completion of later sectors. These include Deflect which absorbs and repels incoming damage from enemy ships, Burst, which fires a series of bombs that damage areas of the screen and Absorb which provides you a temporary defensive shell that acts as a shield. Within the upgrades menu, you’re given the opportunity to upgrade (damage per second for primary weapons, base power of equipped tech abilities, maximum health of your ship) your ship with temporary buffs using credits earned as you destroy enemy ships.
As a free to play game, Idle Space has quite a few currency methods that directly parallel and overlap the gameplay and user experience. Credits are the primary currency you’ll interact with, but there’s also Dark Matter and crystals. Dark matter is used in order to provide your ship permanent bonuses. Whereas ship upgrades are only temporary while you’re in a particular dimension, bonuses purchased with dark matter last forever. Then there’s crystals which can be used to buy repair kits, ship parts and packs containing power ups and bonuses. Each of these currencies and the amount you’re able to earn just by playing are precious. Items earned through these currencies are intentionally expensive in order to provide the incentive for you to spend money. In the realm of free to play and mobile games, this will be nothing new for most I would imagine.
Idle Space is a game about iteration and evolution at its core. Constantly, you’re swapping between tech abilities, managing power ups and upgrading weapons for bonus perks. The contextual significance of this general design style and gameplay loop is the aforementioned boss battles. Boss battles in Idle Space vary in difficulty but certainly ratchet up the tension on a largely passive experience. The common enemy ships provide little to no challenge or threat and mostly serve as a means for feeding you credits. Inversely, boss ships can inflict a lot of damage to your ship very quickly. Though in my experience, bosses didn’t feel very pernicious until I got up to Sector 30 and beyond. That being said, even without heightened difficulty out of the gate, even (some) earlier bosses required heightened tactics on my part. For example, maybe I put the Absorb tech ability shield up too early or too late. Perhaps I should’ve led with bombs and followed up with a laser beam. The combat suite in Idle Space provides some flexibility, leading to some room for tactical engagement for the people interested in it.
Idle Space is very generous in its lack of steep punishment for death. When your ship is destroyed by a boss enemy (on the higher sectors, this will happen a lot), you don’t lose your upgrades or credits. Instead, you’re teleported back to the hub sector from which you just came where you’re free to fight endless enemies until you’re ready to try to fight that sector boss again. You won’t have the ability to continue to progress upward in sector however, until you eventually take out that boss. This approach is a very effective way to ensure players have ample time to earn credits for upgrades. How long that grind takes (some of my experiences with this loop lasted minutes, while others required hours of grinding) will vary person to person based on how much you’ve been upgrading prior and what numerical sector you’ve reached. The game and it’s ancillary systems scale effectively to accommodate many different types of players.
From a presentation perspective, Idle Space is a 3D isometric (top down) game from the rear view angle of a space ship. Through (basic/advanced/elite) ship parts and a Hangar that you’ll unlock, the appearance of your ship can go through some fairly radical changes, some of which also provide bonuses for weapons and tech abilities. Enemy ships also vary in appearance and strength based on sector level (35 different styles), and you’ll notice some interesting art changes for enemies in later sectors. Overall, Idle Space is an aesthetically pleasing game. The bright colors, bevy of ship explosions, and 3D environments look gorgeous on any smartphone or tablet screen. Though there aren’t many variations in terms of environments, overall Idle Space gets the job done, and it’s action oriented approach by and large masks minor dings like a lack of environment variety. However, I did feel confined by the large amount of buttons and prompts omnipresently on my screen and feel the sheer volume of those things muddied the user interface to the point where it was more difficult to immerse in the game and take in the art direction. One significant ding to Idle Space, you will be regularly nudged to spend money, as well as nudged to watch ads in order to earn power ups and bonuses. Those factors undercut aspects of the gameplay experience as well as UI.
In regards to sound, Idle Space is a tale of alternate paths. The soundtrack in Idle Space features five somewhat radically different track options you’re free to choose from at will in the settings menu. Each providing a different flavor to the Idle Space experience. Although only one or two had great impact and resonance on me, this is a nice touch and a further example of the variety and depth of the game and it’s ability to provide an experience that holds up over many hours. On the other end of the spectrum is audio design. In my opinion, Idle Space comes up a little short here. Sound effects for the most part lack a sense of great recognition and punch. Another minor ding in this department, I didn’t like the way the totality of the audio experience was mixed. Sound effects and the background soundtrack never worked together seamlessly in my opinion. Although the game provides the nice touch of being able to manually tweak both SFX and music, I never was able to find a harmony between the two that meshed with the gameplay experience, independent of however high or low each was set to. For a very ambitious and deep endless clicker, this element of the design was the only glaring weakness.
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