Spectra (2015) is a Racing game, developed by Gateway Interactive and published by Mastertronic, which was released in 2015.
Spectra is a twitch racing game. Blast your nimble ship down intricate ribbons of light in time to the dynamic beats and original soundtrack by chiptune artist legend Chipzel.
Last year, indie developer Gateway Interactive launched a chiptune-driven “racing” game calledSpectra on Windows 8 and Windows Phone. The phone version got pulled from the Store for some reason, but the Windows 8 game remains fairly popular. Back when those games were released, the developer promised an Xbox One version would come as well. This month, Spectra finally arrived on Microsoft’s premiere console.
Spectra: 8bit Racing (ahem, that should be spelled 8-bit) is a single-player racing game that plays a bit like an endless runner; players don’t control their speed or compete against other racers. Racers will zoom across space on procedurally generated tracks while chiptune songs from British artist Chipzel blast away. And at $7.50, it won’t break Xbox One gamers’ wallets.
Are attractive neon visuals, a catchy soundtrack, and low price reason enough to grab Spectra? Read our detailed review with video to find out!
Race in space
Spectra started its life as a mobile game, and (as far as I can tell) very little has changed in the transition to Xbox One. The game has no story or cinematics to speak of. You just choose Continue (even before you’ve played the game once the menu reads “Continue”) and start on your journey through Spectra’s 10 tracks. You play as a red and orange rocket-powered GameBoy, in fitting with the game’s chiptune (a retro style of music) theme.
The “Rocket Boy” automatically zooms forward at all times. You just steer it left and right using the stick, d-pad, or triggers. These controls make sense for a game played on phones and tablets, but they come up short against console standards. I really, really want accelerate and brake buttons!
As you race across the track, you’ll collect yellow cubes for points. Other ways to score points include catching air and “Nice” bonuses. The game awards Nice bonuses for grazing barriers without actually crashing into them. The bonus can often be frustratingly tough to get intentionally, but you’re bound to collect them by accident throughout the course of a race.
The single best way to rack up points is by passing over boost arrows. These temporarily increase your speed while also initiating a score multiplier. Boost arrow multipliers stack, so passing over several in a row will really pile on the points. Spectra even offers an Achievement for reaching a 15x multiplier from boost arrows (I’ve only scored 14x).
The catch with score bonuses of any type is the game doesn’t immediately add points to your score. Any points you get from cubes and other bonuses will reside in a holding area for several seconds. If you don’t hit any obstacles or pick anything up for a little while, they get “banked” and added to your score. Strike anything (as happens very often due to the lack of speed control) and your non-banked points get lost forever.
The score banking mechanic creates a risk-reward scenario to grabbing cubes and especially boost arrows. You’re never very far from bumping into something, so it often makes sense to avoid collecting more cubes in order to keep your points. Boost arrows make it even harder to avoid collisions, but you need them to get a high score.
About those collisions… Spectra only has one kind of object to bump into (other than the very scarce walls): barriers. These barriers appear all over the place, often requiring players to weave back and forth to avoid them. Hitting a barrier bounces your Rocket Boy away. It might even bounce it right off the track, in which case you fail the race and have to start over from the beginning.
See, Spectra’s tracks have virtually no walls. Make a wrong turn or hit an unlucky barrier and you’ll fall off into space. Other racing games typically have walls or grassy areas that slow the player down when he or she goes off course. Futuristic racers might have areas in which players can fall entirely off-track, but this usually results in a time penalty rather than complete failure. Here, you never have any control of your speed and you’re always one wrong tap or bump away from dying.
Spectra’s not impossibly hard on the default difficulty, but you’re still bound to wipe out and lose more often than in other racers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve failed with 90+ percent of the track completed. That gets really frustrating. You can also unlock Hardcore versions of each track, just in case you really like falling off the track.