SPAERA is a puzzle fighting game from Blazing Orb.
Tetris-like, you eliminate falling blocks by matching at least three of the same color in a row. Your goal is to last longer than your opponent, who is also frantically trying to clear blocks on the other side of the screen. As you'd expect, when blocks reach the top, you lose.
This is not my first time at the block puzzle rodeo, but SPAERA brings new and interesting mechanics to the genre. The first is the head-to-head battling. Not only is there extra pressure from seeing how your opponent is doing, but you and they also share the block supply. You'll both see what's incoming, and you can make sure to get the blocks you want by slamming pieces down as fast as you can, or you can wait and let the other player (hopefully) take blocks you can’t fit on your board. This adds a whole new layer of strategy because it gives the incentive to vary the tempo of your play, including playing quickly (for reasons other than impatience). And quick play often leads to mistakes, making the game more challenging.
The other unique mechanic involves the characters you choose to play and their special abilities. Each character has their set of moves that affect the state of the board. To activate special abilities, you include special orbs in matched lines of blocks. Some moves are offensive and do things like adding rows of blocks to your opponent’s board. Other moves are defensive and help your board state by, for instance, removing some of your blocks.
There are also moves that just annoy your opponents, such as a move that reverses their controls.
Some of the moves are tactical in nature, and can either help or hurt, depending on the situation. For example, if you’re doing poorly, copying your opponent’s board over to your board might be great. If you’re doing well and they’re in trouble, though, you don’t want to unleash that move.
That’s SPAERA in a nutshell. So how does it play?
SPAERA is a lot of fun! It's also full of subtleties, and you'll have to spend some time with each character to get an understanding of their fighting style and how to most effectively battle other characters. It takes some time to learn the strategies.
It’s also hard. Like, really hard. The CPU is waaaaaaay better at this game than I am. SPAERA is still in Early Access, so I’m sure the difficulty will get tweaked eventually, but playing against the computer can feel a little unfair. The CPU is your opponent in Story Mode. As far as I can tell, there’s no storyline yet, but the mode provides a way to practice with different characters (as long as you don’t mind getting spanked now and then).
Online mode is a little better because you’re playing against other actual humans who make mistakes sometimes, too. A nice feature is that you can play against the computer while you wait to be matched with an opponent, so you aren’t stuck waiting in a tiny virtual room, twiddling your thumbs.
I’ve only played a few rounds online, but the connection has seemed fine, and it’s never taken a super-long time to get matched with someone.
As far as aesthetics go, SPAERA has a lot working for it. The game is gorgeous; the art is hand drawn and charming as heck. The soundtrack consists of exactly the type of upbeat, catchy combat music that goes so well with the genre. The graphics aren’t 16-bit, but SPAERA as a whole has a kind of retro feel to it that I was into.
Like I could be sitting cross-legged on the floor in my parents’ living room playing it on my SNES.
Because SPAERA is an Early Access game, it’s not free of issues. As I mentioned, the gameplay against the CPU can feel a bit unbalanced, and while it’s never crashed on me, I’ve had some instances of the game briefly freezing up, which is pretty disconcerting during a fast-paced puzzler. I’m encouraged by the developer's notes on Steam, though. A lot of the features that I wished the game had--difficulty settings, a tutorial, a more robust Story mode--they mentioned as features Blazing Orb is planning to add for the full version.
When judging an Early Access game, you have to judge it on its potential as much as on what’s already there, and SPAERA is already off to a great start, with all signs pointing toward an even better game in the future. Depending on your tolerance for Early Access, it may or may not be worth getting now, but definitely check this one out when it releases.