We’ve all heard the saying, “everyone’s a critic.” It’s true, just about anyone can tell you when something’s bad; some can even tell you why it’s bad, but for some strange reason, very few ever take the time to determine how to take something bad, terrible, or simply unpolished and make it shine. Welcome to Spit Shine, a new blog series where I attempt to do just that: find the flaws in games that are good, bad, or anywhere in between and spitball ways to fix those issues while building upon what already works. In short, I’ll be refining games, not redesigning them from the ground up.
Just under a year ago, I published my first game review here at Two Button Crew (assuming you don’t count my That Was a Thing series). Despite ultimately liking the experience Astro Duel Deluxe offered, I couldn’t help but take issue with its lack of content and some staggeringly bad U.I. design.
Let’s start with the first thing you’ll probably notice upon starting the game: the menus. Thankfully, most of the menus are perfectly functional. Selecting the character has a two-way list scroll menu and stages can be selected from a 2D grid menu. The problem comes when one tries to customize the rules of the next match. Each option is cycled through via a one-directional list, meaning one would have to cycle through the entire list to access an option that is merely one space prior. Considering that the game already has better menu schemes coded into the game, I’m surprised they even went to the trouble of screwing up the options menu. This fix is fairly self evident: make each menu item accept bidirectional input like the character select screen.
Now, let’s get to the interesting stuff. While it’s possible to play the standard vs. mode against bots, Astro Duel Deluxe doesn’t feature a proper single player mode. As with the previous issue, all of the necessary components to add a single player mode are already in the game. Simply have the player face off against the aforementioned A.I. players in a sequence of increasingly difficult matches. It could start with the player facing one A.I. set to “easy” then slowly increase the number of opponents and eventually switch the opponents to “hard” mode. Giving enemy ships a starting power-up or shields could further ramp up the difficulty.
The real question is, “what would the objective be?” I could see this going a few different ways: a time attack, a survival mode, or an arcade mode. Time attack would task the player with destroying a set number of enemy ships as quickly as possible. Survival mode would test how many rounds the player could play before their ship gets shot down. Lastly, the arcade mode would be similar to time attack in that the player has to clear a set number of stages. The difference is they’d be scored on a variety of factors other than time, such as enemies defeated, special abilities used, distance the shot traveled before hitting its target (to encourage fancy, long shots), time bonuses (okay, it does still matter), and so on. Admittedly, this would require the most work out of all of the modes for the team over at Wild Rooster, as they’d have to devise a scoring system, so—in staying in the spirit of keeping things simple—I’d recommend sticking with either of the first two…or both!
Of course, if we just want to go for broke, we could implement a leader board for players’ scores, but that’d require writing net code which would add another layer of complexity to the game engine. Then we’d need a server, which needs it’s own programming, not to mention the cost of running/renting the server. Probably more trouble than it’s worth for a small team.
While one or two single player modes would be an excellent addition, having an incentive to play it would increase the game’s replay value exponentially…or maybe just polynomially. Either way, unlockable content would give players a more tangible reason to get good at the single player mode than just a (most likely temporary) spot on a leader board. I would hazard to guess that extra characters would be the easiest to implement, due to the game’s very simplistic art style. In fact, the folks over at Wild Rooster have added characters via updates, so it clearly isn’t too difficult a task. Continuing from there, I’d reckon stages would be the next easiest to implement. That said, the stage select menu isn’t really designed to be extensible. I’d avoid unlockable power-ups, as they’d require the most coding to implement.
Unlock methods wouldn’t have to be anything special: beat X enemies in survival, clear time attack in under Y minutes and Z seconds, etc. Of course, locking multi-player content behind single-player game modes is somewhat frowned upon nowadays; if you’re the sort to find that sort of unlocking scheme abhorrent, then we could add the option of unlocking the same content by playing X number of matches in multiplayer. Heck, we could even have a mechanic where if one unlockable is obtained in single player, it bumps the multiplayer requirements for each future unlockable down to the previous multiplayer tier, though I hardly think that kind of effort is necessary.
I’m not sure these improvements ultimately would increase the game’s overall value up to its fifteen-dollar asking price, but I’d definitely feel comfortable recommending it for $12.00, as opposed to the 8-10 I thought it was worth when I reviewed it. A few simple refinements and additions is all it would take to make Astro Duel Deluxe not only a good party game, but also an engaging single player experience.