Review: Curved Space
By: Roberto Nieves
Publisher: Maximum Games
Developer: Only by Midnight
Available on: PC, Xbox One, Xbox X|S, Playstation 4|5, Nintendo Switch
Twin-stick shooters are a dime aplenty these days. Harking back to the 80s with Eugene Jarvis darling arcade game Robotron 2084, twin-stick shooters continue to be an incredibly potent genre in video games, from Nex Machina to Danger Scavenger. Earlier this year, an intriguing new twin-stick shooter arrived on consoles in the form of Curved Space, an ambitious space-themed twin-stick shooter that puts players onto the fringes of outer space and the unknown. Developer Only By Midnight and publisher Maximum Games have clearly put a lot of work into Curved Space. Having spent quite some time blasting away alien spiders across dimensional rifts to a pulsating synthwave soundtrack, Curved Space is the twin-stick shooter of 2021, at least for me.
Curved Space is a twin-stick shooter, putting players into the cockpit of an advanced combat and exploration starship. Players embark on an interstellar quest, fighting off alien spiders that threaten the humans of an energy harvesting company, working to sustain the human race. The first few levels introduce players to the overall gameplay of Curved Space, from the various weapons at the disposal of players to the use of the energy lance and dash maneuvers. Following these levels, players encounter that the protagonist, a spunky female engineer, started to see different versions of themselves, seemingly lost in alternate universes. From here, players choose their paths to various installations, changing the course of the game as well as the ending to the campaign.
Each level takes place in the depths of space, aboard a floating installation in zero-gravity. Asteroids, orbiting rail guns, space stations, and other installations are present throughout the campaign. Similar to games such as Super Stardust HD and Nano Assault, players can hover around the entire celestial body. Players never leave the surface of the level and fly out onto space but can maneuver throughout the entire orbiting body, giving players a variety of opportunities to attack and recover.
The primary enemy of Curved Space are alien spiders, synthetic yet sentient, seemingly attracted to the humans and their energy-harvesting operations, and coming through strange space-time rifts. The spiders come in a variety of types, from the standard grunts to heavy-based spiders and self-destructing spiders. The end of most levels ends in a gargantuan boss fight, with each boss being significantly different than the next. At the defeat of each boss, players receive an upgrade and choose the next enhancement for their starship. The expected selection of upgrades, such as more ammo and To combat these spiders, players have access to an exciting arsenal of weapons and maneuvers.
Curved Space features plenty of weapons to choose from. The expected range of weapons, such as chain guns and shotguns, are in the game, but Curved Space features a few standout weapons. The Jack Hammer fires hard-hitting beams of energy that fire in a manner, not unlike a jackhammer, sans the name. The weed whacker deploys a circular disc of energy that cuts away at enemies, just like the weed whacker you use for the lawn. Curved Space also features a sniper cannon for long-range targeting and destruction. Using these weapons in their base form is a delight, but Curved Space has more to offer. Upon defeating a number of enemies, players gather energy to use for their special ability, Overdrive. Overdrive builds as a blue gauge beneath the health bar. When charged and activated, Overdrive supercharges the ship, making the already deadly weapons even more deadly than before. A plasma cannon in overdrive will spit out globs of unending energy, and swarm missiles will hit like small nukes. Using Overdrive at the right moments is the key to survival. In Curved Space, players are automatically equipped with an energy lance. This lance acts as a tether and is not only useful for combat but also useful for ensnaring enemies. Using the lance on a spider wrangles them in front of the player, sapping energy from the enemy and damaging them as well. Skilled players can lance multiple enemies at once to receive damage and make short work of the many spiders players encounter. Most importantly, the lance is essentially for harvesting energy as an objective. Curved Space rotates objective during a level, and one such objective is to lance spiders to harvest their energy and attach them to large capacitors that siphon the energy.
Finally, there is the dodge mechanic, which is self-explanatory. Dodge makes players invulnerable momentarily, making this skill essential for surviving larger, more difficult battles. Players can dash through an enemy, hurting it in the process. If the enemy is lanced and trapped in front of the ship, dodging through the enemy can be an effective means of defeating them in a pinch.
In a twin-stick shooter, gameplay has to be refined to a tee, with controls that work on a dime and combat that is insatiable and immensely satisfying. My favorites, such as Neurovoider, Nex Machina, and Neon Chrome, are well done in these aspects, infusing a sharp control scheme with a bevy of mechanics for the player to use, a sharp challenge, and a pulsating soundtrack to wrap the entire experience together. I'm pleased to say Curved Space achieves these aspects as well.
The gameplay of Curved Space takes centerstage and feels strong, familiar, but at times refined to offer a few new perspectives. Its gameplay orientation, such as flying around a celestial body in space, is an aspect I haven't seen since Nano Assault. In the case of Nano Assault, players fly around a microorganism, defeating viruses in high-speed twin-stick combat. Like Nano Assault, allowing the player to fly around surfaces in Curved Space makes for an interesting orientation in regards to twin-stick and space combat. There is a strong sensation of the unknown and fighting a mysterious force, with no backup to speak of. At times, the level shifts to the alterations of dimensions and space-time, enhancing the cosmic elements of Curved Space.
Shooting, blasting never gets old in Curved Space, which is essential for any twin-stick shooter to get right. Utilizing the different weapons and cutting through the ranks of spiders is frantic, chaotic, but immensely satisfying, as spiders are felled left and right. Experimenting with different weapons also heightens the combat sensations, and contending with the levels' different layouts makes for a thrilling combat experience. Curved Space also switches up objectives during gameplay. Each level contains multiple waves of enemies. Some waves require harvesting enemies from spiders. Others require destroying a very particular type of enemy. Most of the time, the primary goal is to destroy enemies and stay alive.
There is immense satisfaction to the gameplay, especially in motion. Blasting an unending army of spiders with chain guns and laser cannons feels like a moment straight out of an anime, complete with potent sound and visual effects. Moving and shooting feels classic and sublime as if the player is in the starring role of their favorite sci-fi action experience. Controlling the ship never feels off or marred. Between shooting and moving, everything feels just right. Then, there are the boss battles. Once again, harking back to comparisons and anime, I couldn't help but feel strangely reminded of The Mimics from All You Need Is Kill from Hiroshi Sakurasuka. After fighting spiders, these strange dimensional monstrosities are quite a difference, and fighting them feels like a true battle of David and Goliath, only this time, David doesn't have a slingshot but instead, a highly charged particle cannon. The bosses aren't easy and will test the skill of the player with their mammoth size and sheer firepower. Defeating one, however, is a certainly rewarding experience. Overall, the gameplay is exceptional in Curved Space. It's easy to see, feel, and experience how much heartfelt design and enthusiasm went into the overall gameplay experience.
The same can be said with the presentation. On the PlayStation 4, Curved Space moves at a buttery smooth 60fps, making for lightning-fast gameplay and visuals that pop out to the player in a cool cosmic space design. The Nintendo Switch port does scale back to 30 fps, and a little luster is lost on the visuals but is an otherwise excellent port of the game. Of note, the HD rumble of the game kicks in much stronger on Switch than PS4. The soundtrack is exceptional, featuring synthwave artists such as Dance with the Dead and Scandroid to power the laser-blasting experience of Curved Space.
Curved Space is an excellent game, but not without a few rough spots in the overall package. The gameplay can become rather repetitive, including the enemy types. Fighting spiders is fine, though some variation in enemy design would've gone a longer way. There are self-destruct spiders and heavy spiders, as mentioned before, but perhaps using the designs of tarantulas and other spiders would have gone a bit further in varying the enemy types. Perhaps adding crabs would've worked as well, being that they are scientifically related to spiders, but that's getting ahead of myself. Additionally, shooting the spiders is fun and satisfying, though, for the smaller ones, I would have made the impact and explosion more impactful. If it makes sense, sometimes it feels like I am shooting through paper, but that's a small complaint with the overall combat. The campaign is rather short, but the additional modes, such as the wave-based mode, are fun and enjoyable, especially as players chase down others on the online Leaderboards. As for the campaign itself, the story takes a back seat to the gameplay, but the narrative is solid and carries along the desire to keep playing, piecing together what is happening to our hero at the edge of space through voice-acting and illustrations.
Curved Space is a remarkably good time and demonstrates the power and strength of the twin-stick shooter even in 2021. It's a little jarring, seeing how Curved Space is essentially the only big twin-stick shooter released this year, only accompanied by the latest release with Dysmantle by 10tons Studios. Nevertheless, Curved Space is a tremendously fun twin-stick shooter, packed to the brim with exciting gameplay and presentation. The team should feel immensely proud of what they accomplished with Curved Space. It is unmistakably the twin-stick shooter of 2021. Get out there and get to blasting those spiders. Curved Space is recommended for anyone and everyone.
Curved Space was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch thanks to a key generously supplied to Stack Up Dot Org by the developer.