One game at a time, we’re gradually getting our heads around franchises that use a well-placed off-shoot to mess with the mechanics and change the main series’ temperament. Square Enix and AlphaDream have spent much of the last decade proving that Super Mario works surprisingly well as an RPG hero, for example, while more recently Rebellion has helped Evil Genius bring a touch of style and humour to social games on Facebook – even if a little of the empty grind remains intact.
Last December, indie favourite and IGF winner Farbs got in on the act, shifting the focus of his Captain Forever games from dreamy exploration and creation – albeit punctuated by moments of intense violent panic – towards all-out arcade frenzy, with the vertical shooter Captain Foraxian. He apparently made it while waiting for his more elaborate Captain Jameson RPG project to come together.
It’s charmingly slight, but as a change of pace, Foraxian is breathtaking stuff. The game retains the sharp lines, radar greens and reds, and even the ghostly reflected pilot of the Forever titles, but it ditches the stately plod and the playful physics in favour of wave after wave of buzzing enemy death machines. You won’t be salvaging the shards of your enemies, either, and steadily building up your craft as you go. Instead, the emphasis here lies firmly on destruction, as handfuls of Galaga-styled enemies swoop, dart, and cartwheel around you in strict formations, and your laser cannons fry them in little bursts of light and static.
The flickering visual feedback is wonderful, and later levels fling their waves at you with real ferocity. Coupled with jarring, brilliantly garish sound effects and a mechanic that sees you repairing your hull little by little between rounds, it all makes for a brutal arcade challenge.
Farbs’ main series may still revel in the freeform creativity that offers itself at the furthest edges of the indie galaxy – while Jameson promises to take that idea and turn it into something truly dazzling – but his pared-down space opera has certainly lost none of its poise or elegance in this daring and typically precise shift between genres. There’s a lot to be said for games made quickly while the developer’s hard at work on other projects. There’s also a lot to be said for taking an established idea and seeing what happens if you spin it on its head.