Spectra: 8bit Racing Review

Richard Walker

Spectra is billed as an '8-bit racer', but it's not really either of these things. 8-bit implies pixels and sprites, but instead, you'll tear along 3D neon tracks that wouldn't look out of place in a Tron movie. Though it does look sort of 8-bit. In a way. Racer, meanwhile, gives the impression that you're competing against rival drivers, when in reality, you're really only competing against yourself. Although you are racing along a track. So, I guess it is kind of a racer. Kind of. Spectra is (sort of) an 8-bit racer then, but one that's all about racking up the highest score possible, and doing so in one of the most pure and stripped down arcade experiences around.

Sharing its name with composer Chipzel's chiptune album, part of Spectra's charm is its retro soundtrack, which perfectly complements the game's arcade-style twitch gameplay. The concept might be simple, but fighting your way to a respectable score certainly isn't. Repetition is the key to racking up points, practicing the art of weaving between Spectra's pink bumpers, while collecting chains of little yellow pickups.

And that, in a nutshell is the entire game. You whizz along Rainbow Road-style tracks without boundaries in your little spaceship while striving not to hit the pink barriers, flying over speed pads for a boost and score multiplier, grabbing as many pickup cubes as you can along the way without falling off the edge. There are ten tracks to tackle, each with its own Chipzel tune, the duration of which dictates the length of the race.

The aim is to survive to the end of the tune without flying off course; something that can easily occur due to even the slightest lapse in concentration or a particularly nasty collision with a pink barrier. As you hit said barriers, they shatter and take a chunk out of your score, ruining your chain of unbanked yellow collectibles, making your primary objective to compose yourself and stay on course. If you're brave enough, you can also net score bonuses catching air, or scraping past bumpers for a 'Nice!' points booster. Chain these together with pickups, and you'll soon be rolling in the points.

Like any raw and simplistic arcade game worth its salt, Spectra is all about the 'just one-more-go' factor, and thanks to instant retries and the lure of unlocking all ten tracks as you progress, the game does manage to reel you in for a fair few hours. But there comes a point at which it all starts to wear a little thin, and the lack of visual variety and absence of online leaderboards in Spectra is a bit of a letdown.

Granted, the procedurally-generated levels mean that potentially there's limitless gameplay here, and you'll never be able to learn the layout of a track and predict what's coming next. But you'll soon gauge how certain sections unfold, and become incredibly familiar with how Spectra works after a short while. Add to this the fact that the game retains the same colour palette and style across its ten tracks, and you'll grow weary of Spectra once you've been through it all a few times.

That said, Spectra is a neat little arcade game to dip in and out of now and again, providing challenging twitch gameplay that'll put your thumbs (and perseverance) to the test. Should you stick with it through its standard and hardcore difficulties, the latter of which ups the speed and throws in loads more pink bumpers to dodge, there are some nice achievements to bag, each of which reinforce a good sense of accomplishment. Like, for instance, successfully completing a track without hitting a thing, or conversely finishing a track having smashed into 100 bumpers.

Maintaining and finishing with a high score is also rewarded, as is managing to attain a chain of 100 pickups, and should you be good enough to complete every level at the both the standard and taxing hardcore difficulties, you'll undoubtedly be proud to see that achievement pop. In all, it's a list that provides a strong incentive to keep playing, while covering all of the requisite bases. It's pretty much spot-on.

Spectra is a strange beast. A retro-styled arcade game with a great soundtrack and a single, mostly purple colour palette, it's something that sadly becomes a little one-note rather quickly. Treat it as something to casually dip your toe into now and again, however, and Spectra will soon prove to be a short-term addiction that evokes a nice little hit of arcade nostalgia, just when you need it.

Spectra: 8bit Racing

Spectra is good clean fun, providing just the right amount of challenge without ever feeling unfair. Its chiptune soundtrack is excellent and the undiluted arcade experience it provides will keep you hooked for a time, until a sense of repetition will have you throwing in the towel. Still, for a very reasonable asking price, Spectra is a solid little arcade title that's well worth a look.

Form widget
60%
Audio
80%

Chipzel's chiptune soundtrack is great and in keeping with Spectra's retro arcade stylings, but the rest of the audio isn't particularly memorable.

Visuals
60%

Distinctive and eye-catching neon graphics are all well and good, but given that it all looks exactly the same, with nary a palette swap or visual mix-up of any kind throughout Spectra's ten levels, it gets old, fast.

Playability
70%

Entertaining twitch gameplay that will have you hooked for a few hours, the pursuit of high scores will grow tiresome once you realise there's no-one to compare them with.

Delivery
50%

Ten procedurally generated courses in total with normal and hardcore difficulties to tackle will ensure decent bang for your buck, but repetition soon creeps in.

Achievements
80%

A solid achievement list that prods you in all of the right directions, injecting some much-need longevity into Spectra's ten levels. Thumbs up.

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