Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Spica Adventure (Arcade)

I have to admit, when I first saw screenshots of Spica Adventure on System-16, I didn't expect much of it. It looked, to my eyes, like a cheap filler Bubble Bobble knock-off. Luckily, I turned out to be wrong, and this is a great game, unfortunately ignored by most, probably because it's a 2005 arcade game with no home release.

Spica Adventure is a fast paced action-platformer about a little pink-haired girl with an umbrella. The girl must come from some place where umbrella use is taught from a young age in special umbrella dojos, since it's used for all manner of things in-game: as a weapon with numerous different attacks, as a climbing aid, a parachute, a boat and as a shield. The use of an umbrella as this multi-purpose tool is a small act of genius on behalf of the designers, since anyone with any familiarity with an umbrella could probably read that last sentence and easily picture in their heads, how an umbrella would look doing all those things.

Structurally, the game is pretty standard: beat up enemies and score points until you find the stage's exit, then do that on the next stage and so on, with a boss every few stages, and a Darius-esque map of branching paths after each boss giving an extra incentive to come back a few more times after completing the game. But what happens in the stages, and how it happens is the game's main draw. Stages are designed so that something is pretty much always happening, whether it's enemies being fought, items being collected, flowers growing from the platforms the player stands on, or stuff in the background exploding in reaction to enemies being killed, or any comibination of these (including all of them at once), and obviously, there are sound effects and visual cues accompanying evertything, along with an ever-increasing score.

All these stimuli come together to not only make the game feel fast-paced, but also to subtly encourage the player to keep moving, making more things happen, and doing it all as fast as they can. It makes the game a lot of fun to play, like a significantly less intense version of the feeling you might get while playing a shooting game like Crimzon Clover or Mushihimesama Futari.

It's a shame that Spica Adventure never got a home port, but not a surprise: there just wasn't much room for this kind of game on home consoles in 2005. It would have fit in great on the Dreamcast, not just because it's a high-quality action game from the arcades, but because its brightly coloured, simple-but-sharp aesthetic evokes the visual styles of games like Chu Chu Rocket and Space Channel 5, among others. It would also have been the Dreamcast's only 2D platform game (as far as I know) until Gunlord came along in 2012, but as we all know, the big companies had all long since abandoned the DC by then.

Since it runs on the Taito Type X hardware, which is essentially just a PC in an arcade cabinet, you'd think that Spica Adventure (and pretty much every other Type X game that doesn't require some kind of specialist controller) would be a prime candidate for an official PC release, but obviously, Taito's masters at Square-Enix disagree.

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