Tuesday 2 February 2016

Space Squash (Virtual Boy review)

Developer: Tomcat System
Publisher: Coconuts Japan
Released: 1995

Space Squash is a Japan-only action game that shares many similarities with Pong (1972, Arcades).

The premise is to repeatedly deflect the ball back to your opponent's side and hit it behind them to score points; get three and you win the match. Hitting the ball is intuitive as you choose your shot with the right d-pad while moving with the left d-pad. Before each match you can select which power-up you'd like; these include Speed and Homing and after charging them they can be unleashed with the triggers. Similar to Outrun (1986, Arcades) the game adopts a grid system where you can choose between five paths towards the final boss; this means there's a massive 75 stages to try so replayability is sky high. There's also plenty of variety to spice things up such as different sized playfields (including some that are extremely narrow) and obstacles like floating heads and pillars that rebound the ball back in your direction. The controls are fantastic and have a great degree of accuracy meaning you can easily place your shots; some opponents struggle to deflect low shots and it's satisfying to whack the ball below them when they're out of position! The 3D and depth perception is remarkable and the stereoscopic effect feels vital to the whole experience. The bosses (which include snakes, giants bats and a monkey with extendable arms) are fun as you need to repeatedly hit them with the ball while they throw projectiles at you; selecting the Homing power-up beforehand saves a lot of time so it's recommended! Even the Bonus Stages are enjoyable as you have ten available balls and must hit every part of a board to win a gift which can either be a Power, Speed or Life increase. This area really shows off how accurate the controls are as you'll feel in total command rather than relying on luck. The music is unmemorable though and adds nothing to the experience.
Space Squash is highly entertaining with some fantastic gameplay and it feels like it was made for the system (unlike, for example, Panic Bomber). There's so much to see and do and while playing all the available routes will take a while you'll have a blast the whole way through.
Random trivia: Several people on the Planet VB forums have done an excellent English translation of the game; find out more here.

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