I Accidentally …In Space!

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Lethal Martini Games for Xbox 360, originally released in 2011.
I Accidentally …In Space! Episode 1: “Hostile Hustle” is an oddly- and lengthily-named game that references an expired internet meme (the working title was simply Hostile Hustle). The game has been released on the Xbox Live Indie Games channel, and is under development for mobile platforms as well, including the iPhone and Android.

The game is a mashup of two genres: the platformer and the starfield shmup. This is not the case of the game being a platformer with some shmup elements (like the vertical sections of Kid Icarus), or a shmup with some platforming elements. No, this is a head-on collision of two distinct genres, and very little is sacrificed in one to make allowances for the other.

The basic gameplay centers around a metallic-looking fellow with a gun that only shoots straight up. Along the top of the screen appear waves upon waves of enemies, bent on inflicting pain on our hero by dropping bombs and dive bombing. Rather than being restricted to the bottom of the screen, our hero can move vertically. He is not a free-flying ship, however, and must ascend the vertical shaft using a series of platforms.

But it’s actually quite a bit more complicated than that.

The two different styles of gameplay are tied together at their core. The only way to climb upward is to destroy enemies, and the only way to earn big points for destroying them is by climbing higher.

Climbing upward often places you in danger, whereas remaining at the bottom (or relying on the “safety net”) allows you to pick off your enemies from afar, but you won’t earn as many points. By charging forward, you increase your multiplier, as indicated by a series of markers along the left side of the screen. When you first start the level, your multiplier will be at 1x, and it will increase in half-point increments as you ascend, moving to 1.5x, 2x, 2.5x and so on. The higher you climb, the more points you get for each destroyed enemy.

On the other side of this is the platforms. New platforms only appear once you have destroyed enough enemies, which prevents you from simply speeding your way to the top of the level and avoiding the fight altogether. But in manifesting new platforms as you go, the landscape is undergoing continuous change while you fight, even within enemy waves. Destroying half the enemies in a wave may reveal a platform that lets you get just a little bit higher and destroy more of them at a higher point value. But it also means that you’ll have to dodge enemy bombs and environmental obstacles to make your way over there.

Enemy waves behave similarly to what you might expect from starfield shmups like Space Invaders or Galaga, but their movement patterns are not an outright copy of those games. The game is doing its own thing here, but the escalation is something you will recognize if you are a fan of those kinds of games. It’s also important to note that enemies, enemy bullets, and your own bullets all freely pass through the platforms; only the player’s movement is impacted by them.

First, you will start with some basic bomb dropping enemies that move slowly back and forth across the top of the screen, but eventually you’ll encounter enemies that dive bomb quickly, ones that drop down slowly at an angle, etc. However, the movement patterns never become so complex as something like Galaga. You will need to be familiar with the basics of enemy movement, but rarely will you be struggling to comprehend all of the possible moves available to them. And that’s because there’s another level of complexity involved, which comes with the environmental obstacles surrounding the platforms.

There’s plenty to watch out for on the ground, and here again, the game has a smooth escalation of dangerous obstacles for you to avoid. When you begin the game, you’ll be focused on simply climbing and shooting your enemies, but little by little, new challenges make themselves known. New environmental hazards are introduced was new platforms are created. At first, you’ll just be dealing with special tiles that jut spikes up periodically, platforms that disappear and reappear, and paralyzers that hold your character in place temporarily, leaving him open to attack.

But after a while, you’ll encounter some more directly harmful obstacles, such as fireballs that shoot across the screen horizontally. The fireballs move slowly, which is both a blessing and a curse. It’s nice that they’re easy to avoid, but it also means that you could be attacked by a dive bombing enemy while you’re waiting for one to pass so that you can jump to the next platform.

The most dastardly of the environmental obstacles is the spiked ball, which is emitted from a floating ring. These little beauties roll across the floor, drop down to lower levels, and bounce when they hit the ground. No only are they difficult to avoid, but they spawn infinitely. If there is one above you, you will need to take careful care to dodge it, or to find a safe haven to let it pass. Of course, remaining stationary as you hide beneath a platform is a poor way to defeat your foes. And so you must balance the avoidance of these obstacles with the offensive maneuvers you must take in order to complete the level.

Even if you’re playing it safe and staying near the bottom of the area, destroying enemies causes new platforms to be created and new environmental hazards. It’s distinctly possible for spiked ball emitters to manifest above you while you’re firing up from below. And unlike other hazards, these will come to get you. Just don’t forget that the screen wraps horizontally, so you have more avenues of escape/attack available than are first apparent.

Things really start to become frenzied when multiple environmental obstacles appear at once. Paralyzers are fairly harmless on their own – particularly since you can still shoot while under their influence – but being paralyzed while a spiked ball is rolling toward you is no sort of way to live, and you’ll be mashing the JUMP button in hopes that the paralyzer disengages before you are hit.

Contending with multiple spiked balls at once is a real challenge, and even more so when you consider the disappearing-reappearing platforms that could send one safely over your head or bouncing down onto it. Also, some areas are equipped with blowers whose only function is to shove you off the side of the platform, potentially into the path of a spiked ball or plodding fireball. All of this is usually going on while you’re being assaulted from above by waves of enemies.

But fortunately you have some powerups at your disposal that turn the tides slightly in your favor. The most basic upgrade at your disposal is a shield. While you are equipped with a life bar (rather than those pesky 1-hit kills that most shmups and platformers are known for), having a shield protects you from 3 additional hits of damage. This is an all-purpose tension reducer that allows you to relax a bit when things are coming to kill you from every corner of the screen. But if you do manage to make it to the end of the level with your shield intact, you will be allowed to carry it over.

The only other powerup that you can bring from one level to the next is the drones. Drones work similarly to options from Gradius, and they hover near your character, firing when he does. You can have up to two drones at a time, thereby tripling the firepower of your standard weapon. However, they will be destroyed immediately if they are hit by an enemy or a falling bomb. Fortunately, they are immune to damage from spiked balls and fireballs. Wiping out your enemies quickly is key to surviving in later levels, so you’ll want to try extra hard to keep your drones alive. If you are killed within the level, you’ll restart at the beginning with whatever drones and shield you came into the level with. This also works if you save and quit.

All of the other powerups appear in the form of secondary weapons. While your primary weapon has infinite ammo, these do not. However, each is uniquely qualified to unleash some large-scale hurt on enemies, particularly when you’ve first encountered a fresh new wave. The first of these powerups is the Multishot, which dispenses 3 projectiles at once in rapid-fire, dispersing at a wide angle for maximum destruction. If you manage to grab another Multishot pickup while you still have ammo in the first, it will be upgraded to a 5-shot with an even wider range. Oh, and the ammo will be fully replenished, so you’ll always want to leave a few rounds in your old weapon for maximum effect.

The next weapon is the Laser which is a single-use weapon. When you fire, it will shoot straight upward, instantly destroying any enemies it touches. The duration is very short, however, so it’s best to engage it while you’re running horizontally for maximum killage.

Finally, there’s the Big Boomer. You won’t find many of these lying about. They’re very powerful, but their effectiveness is limited to tight enemy formations. When you fire this weapon, a rocket will move slowly upward, exploding when it hits an enemy. The splash damage will take down all nearby enemies, so it’s best fired into a crowd. This is also a one-time-use weapon.

Secondary weapon selection is assigned to the D-pad, and there’s no controller configuration, so you arcade stick fans unfortunately aren’t going to be able to use your controllers on this very-much-arcade-style game.

Another tool that you have at your disposal is the shockwave, which can help you when making a rapid ascent. You see, whenever you move upward or downward, the swarm of enemies will follow you, which prevents you from escaping them altogether. However, they don’t move as quickly as you can, which means that you could potentially jump up into danger if you’re making a dash for the highest available platform. The shockwave is your tool for dealing with this. If you press JUMP while in midair, all of your enemies will be pressed up to the top of the screen (environmental hazards are unaffected by this).

The game features 6 difficulty modes, which are all selectable from the outset, but really there are just 3 difficulty modes separated by 2 different fire types. Easy, Normal, and Hard refer to Rapid Fire Mode where your primary weapon fires like a machine gun, but each of the basic enemies requires 4 hits to destroy. Precision, Expert, and Insane difficulties refer to Precision Mode where you have a slower fire rate, but basic enemies are destroyed in a single hit, and you can get much higher efficiency bonuses. Fans of starfield shmups will likely want to go for Precision Mode, since 1- or 2-hit kills are common practice in those kinds of games. Rapid Fire Mode lets you unleash a continuous stream of bullets, but multi-hit kills slow the overall pace a bit.

Your difficulty level also impacts other things in the game, such as how much damage your ship can take, how much of your health is regenerated between levels (100% on Easy, but only 33% on Hard), and how quickly enemy ships move. You’ll also have to deal with disappearing-reappearing platforms on all but the easiest difficulty levels, although these are integrated slowly into the game, becoming more frequent as you progress. These platforms alternate between semitransparent and nonexistent.

And finally, there is the “safety net”. On the easier difficulty settings, you will find a yellow line appearing beneath your feet to mark milestones as you ascend. This line keeps you from falling too far back down the vertical shaft, and it gives you a safe place to stand where you can keep your multiplier high while you destroy enemies. You can press DOWN to drop down through it if you wish, so you can to backtrack for powerups, etc., and you can jump back up through it as well. On the medium difficulty settings, the safety net still appears, but not as frequently. On the hardest settings, there is no safety net at all, and you are forced to use the platforms that are in play, meaning that you’ll need to be aggressive if you’re looking to score big points.

There are 6 stages in the main game culminating in a boss fight. Each time you encounter a new level, it becomes available in a Practice mode as well, so you can go in and play any level in any order to hone your skills. It’s also interesting to note that the 3 levels that are in the Trial Mode were unique to that mode and do not appear in the final game. These levels can also be played in Practice mode, but your score will not be saved. Also, you will not be able to unlock any of the “accomplishments” in this mode. Accomplishments are an in-game achievement system, offering awards for such things as gem collection, avoiding damage, enemy destruction, and accuracy.

The game’s one boss fight is worth noting because it turns the entire gameplay structure upside down. Rather than starting at the bottom of a shaft and working your way up, you start at the top and the boss destroys platforms that cause you to fall down (thereby reducing your multiplier). Various powerups are spread around the area to help you deal more damage, but the boss can destroy them as well if you don’t get to them quickly enough.

The level-to-level gameplay throughout the game remains consistent with a gradual escalation in difficulty, so the boss encounter is the only part where gameplay undergoes a rapid and drastic change, creating a somewhat more frantic action-based section. The boss itself is essentially just a skeletal shell filled with destructible blobs, and you have to contend with a number of different standard enemies as well. However, the constant descent and destruction of the level have a great impact on the pacing and tension of the final encounter. Given that this game is labeled as being “Episode 1”, it’s safe to imagine that additional episodes might each culminate in their own boss fights.

Lethal Martini Games was founded in 2009 by Paul Klimek, who adopted the XNA framework after struggling to develop MechFish (see below) for PC using Game Maker. He found XNA to be much more suitalbe platform for an individual developer, although he has since brought on a level designer, Scott Karr, for work on I Accidentally... and future projects.

LMG has one previous title to its credit, a horizontal shmup (of sorts) called MechFish released on the Xbox Live Indie Games channel in 2010. In this game, the player controls a metal fish as it swims through the water dodging sea mines and engaging enemies.

The lower 2/3 of the screen is filled with water, with the upper portion being the sky, and movement under the water is expectedly slow. Occasionally, the fish will encounter a jutting rock that blocks its path, sometimes sticking all the way up out of the water. In these cases, the fish will need to jump out of the water to clear the obstacle. The JUMP function is interestingly initiated by pressing UP on the right analogue stick. There’s also a corresponding DIVE function that is initiated by pressing DOWN on that stick.

The metal fish has an unlimited supply of missiles and bombs at its disposal. These are used for engaging enemy “Death Fish” (designed from the stolen plans of the MechFish). Your missiles fire rapidly, so you can make quick work of most of them, or you can use the slower-firing bombs to destroy them from above. Bombs can also be dropped on sea mines to destroy them, and to cause a chain reactions that destroy several at once.

The game features 14 levels of jumping, dodging, and exploding action, with crates to be picked up along the way for points. There’s also a time bonus, and unlike most forced-scrolling shmups, the player can actually influence the speed of the game’s scrolling. While it’s not possible to stop altogether, the scrolling does speed up markedly when the player holds to the RIGHT when positioned near the center of the screen. The faster you make it to the end of the level, the bigger your bonus will be, but it’s hard to dodge rocks and sea mines when traveling at full speed.