In game development, executing a simple idea can sometimes be more difficult than a complex one. When a title has a straightforward premise and basic controls, nowhere remains to hide any rough spots the game might have; no shiny distractions or excuses. Comet Crasher is one such simple game that has been executed beautifully. Created initially for the 40th Ludlum Dare game jam by solo developer Mika Molenkamp, this falling arcade platformer has been polished to a fine addictive sheen that will have players reaching for ‘just one more go’ over and over.
Taking cues from the 2015 hit Downwell, Comet Crasher has the player controlling a comet falling down an endless tunnel. For those unfamiliar, the style of game is kind of like a reverse Galaga, with the player falling down towards danger rather than approaching an overhead threat. The longer the comet survives, the higher the score obtained, with climbing the score leaderboard the true goal of the game.
Increasing the score is a game of risk versus reward, with a faster moving comet netting more points. However, a speedy comet is hard to control, making avoiding the deadly mines dotting the tunnel a difficult task. Shooting gem tiles is more valuable than breaking a blank block, but taking a safer route might be a better decision in the end. The layout of bricks and bombs is randomly generated, providing a fresh experience every time. While the random generation is great for variety, the difficulty curve stays rather static, with the deepest depths not much trickier than the opening screen. A combination of the random generation with some predefined challenges further down, like new enemies or powerups, could help ramp up the difficulty as the game progresses.
The powerups utilised in Comet Crasher are the standard fare that one would find in an arcade shooter—shields, rapid firing bullets, lasers, split shots, and the like—but the abilities can also be combined to amusing effect. Rapid fire boulders, giant multi-lasers, and explosive shields all fill the screen with damage and colour. The weapons are powerful, but only last for a short time, ensuring that the player does not become overpowered. Once the player has reached a depth of two thousand metres, they can set a bunch of custom modifiers to change the settings for a run, such as infinite ammo, extra bouncing tiles or a wider tunnel. I enjoyed playing around with these little extras, but they might have been better utilised by unlocking a modifier every one thousand metres or so, rather than the complete set at two thousand, giving some additional motivation to make progress apart from score chasing.
Such a straightforward concept lives or dies by the tightness of the controls, and thankfully Comet Crasher has the balance just right. Providing full controller support along with standard keyboard controls, flying the comet back and forth down the tunnel simply feels good. I would have liked the option to use the D-pad on the controller as well as the analogue stick, though, since some areas would benefit from a more delicate touch.
The visuals of Comet Crasher are simple, with tiles colour-coded for their purpose. The run-ending mines would benefit from a brighter colour, as the current grey with occasional flicker of red is not the easiest to spot when the comet is falling at high velocity. Little arrow indicators at the bottom of the screen do help with avoiding the mines, but a visual change would still be beneficial. The graphics in general are a bit bland, feeling like a placeholder for the final images. The game’s performance, on the other hand, is extremely impressive, running silky smooth at all times regardless of the speed of the comet or the number of explosions on screen. Camera work is also handled well, with the view zooming in and out depending on the player’s speed. The background music is the perfect accompaniment to a playthrough, a lively industrial beat that ebbs and flows in intensity with the speed of the comet.
At the time of writing, I am quite happy to be the 270th best player in the world at Comet Crasher. The game is simple, but has an innate understanding of game balance and satisfying controls. Some prettier visuals and greater variety would help make the game even better, but, left exactly as it is, I still feel drawn to play again.
Next week, we’ll be taking a look at Drowning Cross, a point-and-click adventure about a man delving into the past of his missing boyfriend. The game can be downloaded from Steam here. You can get in touch with your thoughts via Facebook, Twitter, or through our community Discord server, or you can email me here.