Developer Zayne Black describes Hyperspace Laserball as follows: ‘If Arkanoid (Breakout) and Space Invaders were to have an iffy one-night stand, nine months later, you’d end up with Hyperspace Laserball.’ You see, while I can’t fault Zayne on his description — far from it, it is excellent — he has made my job very difficult. How am I supposed to justify a full review when the developer himself has summarised his game so elegantly and succinctly in a single sentence? Well, having played a fair amount of the game I’m hoping I’ll be able to add some worthwhile opinion and insight. However, if Zayne’s snappy summary doesn’t excite you, it’s probably for the best that you just stop reading now, as nothing I can say will win you round. You know what you’re getting straight away with this one, so you should already have worked out whether or not this is your thing.
Still reading? Great! From that I can assume that you’re a retro gaming fan, and that you believe there’s plenty of life left in classic mechanics. You are not put off by familiarity and simplicity, as long as it is augmented with a dose of innovation, and you’re not a junkie for shiny incredi-visuals. If this is you, Hyperspace Laserball will be right up your street. You play as a plucky little triangle which is simultaneously a rapidly firing ship (a la Space Invaders) and a ball-deflecting paddle (as in Arkanoid), and are tasked with breaking down brick structures while destroying alien ships and keeping the ever-bouncing ball airborne. Just a by-the-numbers hybrid, so far.
However, as part of the Jeff Goldblum-esque gene splice, some things were mixed up along the way; thankfully, the results are a lot more palatable the brundlefly. A true hybrid form of its parentage, in Hyperspace Laserball it is the ball which becomes the deadly, martian-smiting weapon, and the fierce-looking missile barrage becomes merely the pacifistic block destroyer, with no power to repel the descending forces. This brings some much needed violence into the world of Breakout-alikes, which can often feel a tad too pedestrian and sedate, and some nuance to the world of Space Invaders, in which the relentless gunning can feel basic and unsatisfying. Pulling off a perfect shot to explode an alien ship with the ball here requires genuine skill, and feels wonderfully satisfying. If you were asked how to shake up an age-old gameplay formula for a modern audience, combining it with another, almost-as-old concept from the annals of gaming history may not immediately seem like the most logical idea. But guess what? It works.
Hyperspace Laserball offers two modes — normal and hardcore — the former being more suited to today’s typical mobile gaming audience, and the latter offering more of an authentic, unforgiving challenge to fit with the old-school theme. Normal mode gives the player the chance to see all levels, regardless of how bad they are at the game — the only forfeit for dying is your points multiplier being reset to zero. On the completely opposite end of the scale we have hardcore, a genuinely testing mode which offers the player only a single life. One death, game over. However, in order to balance this out, hardcore mode offers twice the multiplier incentives than normal, enabling much higher scores for those willing to give it a go. As the scores from both modes are fed into a single leaderboard, it’s a case of weighing up what will yield the best results — a complete run though all the levels in normal mode, with a lower multiplier, or a heroic and high scoring quick death in hardcore mode?
Visually it shines too, with a minimal style which is true to its underlying nature. The arrangement of the bricks into different shapes for each level, ranging from animals to fruit, is a really simple way of differentiating and mixing up the aesthetics of each stage of gameplay. My personal favourite is the apple, which really glows brightly and stands out against the stark background of space — especially on the larger display of an Android tablet, from which the game greatly benefits.
Hyperspace Laserball is far from an original game, but what I love about it is that the developer has been so straight-up and honest about that. It’s a merge of two classic game types, and if you’ve ever enjoyed either of them then you’ll probably enjoy this too. Not rocket science, is it? The risk/reward dynamic between normal and hardcore mode is also a great idea that gives this low-priced and modest title a fresh appeal.
[review pros=’Minimal visuals are vibrant and appealing, risk vs. reward system is cool, faithful hybrid, touchscreen controls smooth and responsive’ cons=’By its very nature, significantly less ambitious and involved than other Android games out there’ score=85]