June 8, 2015 10:30 AM | John Bridgman
What can be done with a limited colour palette? This is a question that's been addressed many times before, and some visually striking work has been accomplished with such limitations. In this age of extreme graphical fidelity and vast selections of tones and shades, it can be refreshing and even impressive to see something aim for a more simple look, while keeping things sharp and clear. Squishy Games' "one-bit HD" sidescrolling shooter, Rogue Invader, is trying to capitalize on the limitation of having only black and white colours in its palette to create a unique experience. But does it work?
The game is very nicely animated, and despite the limitation, it manages to be sharp and well-defined visually. The menu screens have a retro feel about that that some players may find appealing, yet when you get into gameplay, there's definitely some precision spritework here. The player character rolls and moves smoothly around the environment, and as you blast your way through the level, there's some well-done environmental damage as cover wears down and eventually breaks. The aliens you encounter are big and while they don't move as well as the player character yet, they are still well-made. The visual style struggles a little when the enemies group together and picking out how many are in an area gets very difficult.
The alpha demo I played has no music and minimal sound effects, which is unfortunate, though I assume the stock sound effects will be replaced as development continues, but that's not a guarantee. It would be disappointing if the sound doesn't meet up to the standard of the visuals, because the current state of the game's audio is lacking.
It features a fairly deep customization system, allowing you to install different mods on your equipment and replacing parts for different effects. This crafting is done by collecting materials as you fight on the planet, picking up what's dropped by the aliens you shoot along the way. Building new mods and parts looks to be very important, as is managing the new effects of your weapons. Weight and failure rate are both included, which should make for some interesting and potentially tense gameplay decisions.
In a thematic twist, while you control a lone soldier against an army of aliens, you are not the only hope to defend the world. Instead, you play as the invader, attempting to assault the homeworld of the aliens you encounter. Narratively, it's a change of pace that works alright, though primarily the game as it is now is mostly just a shooting gallery and that story doesn't really convey itself well.
The planet you're invading has a different layout every time you launch onto it, so there's somewhat of a new experience every time your newest invader spawns in. It doesn't vary the gameplay too much, since you're still rolling and blasting around, sometimes hiding in cover before ducking out for a shot, sometimes just running and gunning, but at least you can't get by on simply learning enemy placements.
Your invader is randomly generated each time one is killed off on the planet. Right now the different background information appears to only be fluff, but it does leave open the potential for different character types to play out. If the backgrounds do become relevant, it will do a lot to keep the gameplay from becoming repetitive.
Rogue Invader is banking a lot right now on its visual style, and for the most part it works at this point. The colour limitations keep things feeling retro, yet they are still nicely conceived and drawn despite the limits. Still needing audio work is a concern, but as the game comes into completion, I expect that concern will be allayed. The folks at Squishy Games seem to really have a passion for this project, and for creating something unique and interesting. I think it's a game worth keeping an eye on, and retro action fans may want to follow developments with this game closely as it comes closer to its planned fall release.