For anyone that may have downloaded this side-scrolling shooter when it was first released, you have my sympathies. It wasn't just you, it was ridiculously and miserably tough.
Thankfully Laughing Jackal listened to the fan feedback and have since re-released a new version on PSN. If you've already downloaded the game just delete it and download it from your PSN account again to get the new version at no extra cost. I'll explain the improvements throughout the rest of this review.
For new players, Ace Armstrong is a bright and sharply drawn shooter that wears its old school badge with pride. So expect to be on the receiving end of plenty of one-hit-kills and swarming enemies. Your ship is a bit too big for navigating the cluttered levels and avoiding buildings, lasers and enemy vessels. However, the hit detection around your ship is 25% more forgiving since the update, meaning you can get away with shots that just 'graze' the edge of the ship. It's still nails though.
The easier difficulty settings now actually feel easier. Enemy ships take less shots to kill and there are continues for when you run out of lives. Some enemies leave a cloud of coloured plasma for you to vacuum up to get a secondary fire function such as concentrated fire, tri-directional, shotgun or mortars. It doesn't take as long to collect them as before the update, but it's still usually more trouble than it's worth. Traditional floating pick-ups will always be better.
An auto-fire option has been included now to allow you to hold down the fire button. However, if you hammer the button you will be able to fire a lot quicker, which is essential for the spiked-wheel enemies (also known as “you utter wankers”) and bosses.
The bosses look awesome and are often amusing, but generally take way too long to kill as you can only damage them for brief periods after a lengthy attack pattern. Once you know the pattern and how to dodge the variation of attacks it's relatively simple, if not excruciatingly time consuming. If you manage to get a secondary weapon to the boss fight it can do huge damage though. For example you can take out three-quarters of the first bosses health with one barrage of concentrated pulse fire. Seeing as secondary weapons are removed whenever you die though, it's hard work keeping hold of one until a boss.
You're not going to plough through Ace Armstrong Vs The Alien Scumbags on your first attempt, even on the Rookie setting. It's a case of memorizing enemy wave timings, dodging speeding objects like the robot parts in the space level and trying to keep hold of special weapons for the bosses. Once you're familiar with the levels you can approach them with better chances of keeping those lives in stock to reach the end of the game. Or at least level 4 maybe?
- Sharp graphical design
- Now playable thanks to the update
- You'll want to beat it despite getting your ass kicked
- It's still mega tough
- Weapon pick-ups are awkward to collect
- Bosses take too long
The Short Version: Still a harsh game to play, but it is at least playable thanks to the much needed update. The graphical style is endearing and looks even better when played through a PS3. It's only worth a look if you're a big fan of the genre though. Newcomers to side-scrolling shooters should probably start elsewhere.