Platform: PC (reviewed) | Mac | Linux
Developer: Charlie's Games
Scoregasm originally caught our attention at Eurogamer Expo 2010, where its name alone (on top of arousing robotic moans of pleasure emanating from the headphones) warranted our undivided attention. Then it released last August. Then it was included in a Humble Bundle towards the end of the year. And now, finally, Scoregasm has made its way to Steam.
So it's probably high time we reviewed it.
Charlie Knight, the one-man indie SHMUP machine behind Irurkandji and Bullet Candy Perfect, has crafted a seriously hairy bullet hell shooter set inside a selection of small arenas. As enemies pour into the fray, you'll need to leverage the tried-and-tested twin stick control setup and your own faltering reflexes to weave through their insane onslaught, beat them back and accrue massive high scores in the process. It's business as usual as first sight: a hectic, pulse-pounding retro romp that might seem overly reminiscent of Geometry Wars and similar downloadable games to some players.
However, Scoregasm's brilliance lies in it's reckless innovation... on top of a few incredibly innovative touches that elevate Charlie's latest shooter into serious contention.
Many 'Bullet Hell' SHMUPS turn their players into helpless victims whose aggressive triumphant moments are crushed under the weight of an unbelievable amount of incoming firepower. While it's true that you'll have to contend with an inordinate hail of neon death in increasingly-cramped 2D arenas, Scoregasm provides players with an exceedingly generous radial attack that converts all nearby enemies and projectiles into delightful hearts, score, multipliers and combos. After a few minutes of learning the ropes, you'll realise that the highest scores can be gleaned from actively seeking out the most ridiculous situtuations possible; surrounding yourself with oncoming hazards before unleashing your aggression for maximum effect. A staggeringly fast recharge rate and energy tank means that you can regularly fall back on the technique - and means that genre newcomers are empowered with a means of fighting back.
As mentioned, high scores are the key to leaderboard success, but raw score weighs in second to combos. As you kill enemies and destroy projectiles, you'll rack up a combo meter that occasionally increases your firepower and adds missiles to your arsenal. Reach a certain threshold at the end of the level and you'll be treated to a Frenzy: several seconds of outrageous odds, massive enemy waves and orgasmic screams to bring it all home. In fact, it's sometimes difficult to work out whether the screams of ecstasy are coming out of the speakers or out of your own mouth. Since the combo meter depletes when you're not actively engaged in genocide - and resets completely when you die - maintaining a close eye on your hitbox (and spamming that radial attack for as long as your middle finger holds up) becomes the aim of the game.
But the best is yet to come. Fulfilling certain combo thresholds unlocks different level exits upon completion, which allows Scoregasm to show off its inventive non-linear structure. Over 43 levels are on offer, and you can plot your own course throughout the campaign in order to reach the end. The higher your combos, the harder the levels you'll unlock - for both immediate play and future revisits.
And it's this variety that manages to make Scoregasm such a worthwhile purchase; regardless of whether you're a diehard arcade fiend or a relative SHMUP greenhorn. Each level may be short, but they're absolutely packed with different enemies, hazards and even mechanics. One level features an enormous crusher that keeps you moving forward. Another boxes you into a constantly-changing laser grid. Another casts you as a block of cheese on the run from neon space mice. Though the score-loving, combo-grinding gameplay remains intact, there's an obscene amount to see and do - and enough relentless invention to keep you ploughing through in order to see each and every level it has to offer.
Graphically, Scoregasm does the business thanks to a bespoke engine and Charlie's eye for vibrant art design. It's raucously, violently colourful and packed with a pleasing degree of retina-melting titillation. Unfortunately, though, the soundtrack is singularly uninspiring, and it's also worth noting that some of the background animations can make it difficult to see incoming projectiles. Pro players will probably opt to disable them for high score runs.
However, this eye candy does come at a price: namely incredibly inconsistent performance depending on the hardware you run it on. I encountered major slowdown on several levels despite packing well above the recommended specifications, but testing it out on other machines revealed either no problems or entirely different... sometimes seemingly dependent on whether you're playing with a gamepad. Either way, you can use the in-game FPS counter and range of graphics options to tailor the resolution and background detail to your computer of choice.
- Tight, responsive and empowering SHMUP action
- Massive variety and value
- Gorgeous visuals
- Forgettable soundtrack
- Inconsistent performance
The Short Version: Scoregasm is a thing of madcap beauty: combining the best parts of traditional SHMUPS with Bullet Hell intensity and reckless innovation. Varied, gorgeous and punishing in equal measure.