Review: Ace Armstrong vs. the Alien Scumbags
There are quite a few shmups on the PlayStation Network nowadays. From the stellar Gundemonium Collection to the recently released Space Shooter For Two Bucks, fans of the genre have a handful of titles to choose from, each with its own twist on the conventions many of us have come to love. What Ace Armstrong vs. the Alien Scumbags does differently is not really worth checking out. It’s not the worst game I’ve ever played, but some of its negative aspects stick out like sore thumbs. Fortunately, I was able to put it down before either of my thumbs suffered the same fate.
When you begin Ace Armstrong, a comic book panel shows a frightened kid. Next, you’re in your ship playing the game. It’s a side-scrolling shmup, which means you’re traveling from left to right as enemies enter from right to left. Getting hit once results in death, which is the case for many shmups. The game’s twist on weapon powerups is the Recycl-o-Ray. When you defeat one of several different enemies, a cluster of colored particles floats in its wake. By pressing the R button, your ship sucks up the particles, and you are given access to a new weapon. There are five different weapons you can pick up, ranging from a constant laser beam to a splitter or a close-quarters shotgun burst. Recycled weapons can be fired by pressing the square button (your default weapon is fired by pressing X; both weapons may be fired simultaneously). Recycled weapons have an energy meter that depletes when the weapon is shot. It’s the alternative to making contact with floating powerups, but I didn’t like using it at all. It adds an extra button press and is slow to suck the particles from across the screen, making me lose focus on what really matters in a shmup: dodging enemies.
A major problem I had with the game is the speed at which it plays and the size of your ship. Relative to the enemies, shots, and environmental obstructions, your ship is big. It moves at a steady, sluggish pace, and there’s no powerup to increase your speed. Before the patch, this problem was compounded by the fact that you couldn’t continue if you lost all of your lives. This made passing the first stage very difficult, even for someone with extensive experience playing much harder shmups. The patch gave you the ability to continue, which basically gives the incentive to see what lies after the first stage. After defeating the first boss, a rolling pin-chucking maid of sorts, I found that the second stage was set in a rather different environment. The graphics are pretty cool, actually. The fore- and backgrounds are well detailed, with elements such as a big rock that you fly behind or a sign in the background that reads “YOURANUS.” As old as that joke is, it still makes me crack a smile. The whole aesthetic is a cartoony comic book. A couple of panels are shown between each level, but Comix Zone this ain’t. No clear storyline develops, so the panels just serve as short breaks in between levels. This is not to say that a shmup requires a plot, but rather that Ace Armstrong missed the opportunity of including a story in a (graphic)novel way.
I got through 4 or so levels before feeling like restarting the game wasn’t really worth it to see the next level. There are three different difficulty levels, but I wasn’t interested in checking out anything above Rookie. I encountered a weird bug, too. If I pause the game (not the PSP pause, but the start button pause) and my PSP goes into sleep mode, when I come back, all of my lives are lost and I have to enter my name for the scoreboards. I’m not sure what that’s all about, but if made me lose my progress on a few different occasions. At $5.99, you’re better off picking up Who’s That Flying?! or the Japanese import Sonic Wings Special. If portability isn’t of importance, I highly recommend one of the Gundemonium games. Ace Armstrong vs. the Alien Scumbags doesn’t bring anything fun to the genre. I can’t recommend it.
For more info on our review policy click here. This review is for the PlayStation Portable version of the game.
What I Like:
- Pretty cool graphical style
What I Dislike:
- Big ship
- Sluggish controls
- In practice, the Recycl-o-Ray falls flat on its face