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Ok, I said I wanted to say a bit more on Gridrunner Revolution a few weeks back and with the release due in about 10 days I guess now seems like as good a time as any.

Part of the difficulty with writing about Gridrunner Revolution is that you have to try and explain it. When Jeff first posted a couple of videos up, having been lucky enough to have got to play the game from an early incarnation I found myself attempting to explain what was going on to someone. I wrote it all down in a nice forum post then read it back. It made absolutely no sense whatsoever and I’m pretty sure it didn’t help too much. Yet, playing the game and it all makes perfect sense. Sort of. Kind of. Yeah. It does to me, alright?

Bear with me and I’ll try and explain the game a bit.

It begins with a spaceship, as many a shooter does. Not just any spaceship in this case, it’s the spaceship from an earlier incarnation of Gridrunner on the Atari ST. Now in slightly big-o-vision and with more lasers. You hang there in space the way that spaceships do, autofiring your way to making Mr Floating Nasty meet Mr Exploding Death in a rather colourful style. So far, so Minter and so far, so reasonably sensible. Like in the previous iteration, the Centipede-esque roots only remain in a vague sense, instead you’re looking at waves of nasties jutting in from all angles with the obligatory intent to wipe you off the face of the planet. We’re good so far? Ok, this is where it all starts going a bit bonkers.

After the initial few levels, each level has a sun. Now, you know when you sit there and think “yay, the sun is out” on a lovely bright blue sky day? Oh, not here m’laddo. In Gridrunner Revolution the suns spit deadly laser beams in rhythmic pulsing formations. In short, the sun will motherfucking well kill you. Fear ye not though, your craft is perfectly equipped to deal with such a terrible situation. Remember we mentioned the lasers earlier? The ones that your ship fires? Yeah, you can use them to shoot the sun and turn it into a black hole. Obviously. On the first couple of difficulty levels (there’s 4 in total), destroying the sun stops the pulsing lasers of destruction from heading in your direction and gives you chance to sit back, grab a brew and rack up some scores. On the higher difficulty levels though, you’ll still be fending off the sun trying to burn your face off whilst you try and score. Harsh.

Right. Let’s recap:

1. You’re a spaceship that autofires lasers.
2. There’s a sun that you have to shoot to turn into a black hole, on earlier levels it’ll stop shooting, on higher difficulty levels it won’t.

Still here? Good. Let’s move on.

When you turn a sun into a black hole, it’ll drop you a nice new space craft. It may well be the Atari “Busy Bee” from the ST, it may well be the familiar claw from Tempest 2000, it may well be the giraffe from Zookeeper, it may well be a throbbing cock with a massive vein. You’ll be wanting to collect these as they’re your lives. You can switch between them at any time using the middle mouse button and each one has different strengths, speeds and bullet formations for creating pretty patterns with.

Yeah, that’s right, you create pretty patterns with bullets to score higher points. Each of the levels has one or more gravity sources that guide your bullets around in prettyspace, depending on the ship you choose the gravity effects the bullets in different ways. Some might just fly in a straight line without some exceptional skill in finding the perfect position, some dip and curve around beautifully. It’s all about finding the best way to create the prettiest stream of bullets on the screen, take out the enemies and stay alive into the bargain. You can spin your ships around using the left and right mouse button to help use/abuse the gravity sources in your quest for the pretty. You’ll know when you’ve got a good scoring stream as the dull washed out colours come alive with primary colour vibrancy.

Right then, let’s recap.

1. You’re a spaceship that autofires lasers.
2. There’s a sun that you have to shoot to turn into a black hole, on earlier levels it’ll stop shooting, on higher difficulty levels it won’t.
3. You get extra lives from the black hole in the form of different ships, each with different strengths.
4. You score good by making pretty patterns on the screen with laser beams.

It’s at this point we’re going to take a pause for thought. You might recall some time ago post Space Giraffe-not-selling-nearly-enough that Jeff said he was going to play it safe for the next release. Thing is, this is Jeff’s idea of playing it safe. Sure, most indies would probably class playing it safe as banging out yet another 8-bit platform adventure that bears a passing resemblance to a SNES game but with less emphasis on the game or shitting out a Match 3. Jeff plays it safe by serving up something that sorta kinda looks familiar, definitely bears all the hallmarks of a Gridrunner game yet is totally and completely different at the same time. Yeah, safe, man.

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Anyway, we’ll come back to that sort of stuff in a mo, we still haven’t dealt with the sheepie save. Veterans from Gridrunner++ will recall that when you died in the game, you could save your sorry arse merely by keeping a sheep underneath you at all times and collecting it when your ship started to asplode into little pieces. It’s a great mechanic. It’s not cheating death (it’s part of the game after all), it’s handing the power over to the player to be their own salvation.

The sheep are back once more in Gridrunner Revolution and this time they make you go ding. Ding.

If you’re unfortunate enough to run into some spitting death beams, a passing nasty or whatever, your current spaceship switches itself into some sort of super galactic pinball and careers around the place going ding. Whilst dinging around, you can bounce off enemies and lasers and things and stuff until you get yourself a sheepie. Grab the sheepie and it’s rez back in time with no life lost, don’t grab one in time or run out of things to bounce off and you’ll plummet off the bottom of the screen deadorised. You don’t want to do that last part though, it’s not nice. So we’re taking an already powerful mechanic that throws salvation in the players hands and making it a near essential part of the game. Mastering the sheepie save is just as worthwhile as mastering blowing shit up. It’s also worth noting that you need to collect sheep in order to supercharge your guns for maximum blastage.

Right! Final recap.

1. You’re a spaceship that autofires lasers.
2. There’s a sun that you have to shoot to turn into a black hole, on earlier levels it’ll stop shooting, on higher difficulty levels it won’t.
3. You get extra lives from the black hole in the form of different ships, each with different strengths.
4. You score good by making pretty patterns on the screen with laser beams.
5. You collect sheep to get more laser blastage.
6. When you die, you turn into a pinball and bounce around trying to catch a sheep and not drop off the bottom of the screen so as to get a second chance at life.

Phew. As I said earlier, it all sounds hideously complex, bloody long winded when you write it all down or try and explain it but crucially, in the game itself it all makes some sort of natural and logical sense. Well, internal logical sensey thing anyway.

What I’m trying to say is it sounds like harder work than it is.

Whereas Space Giraffe hid most of its mechanics within a poor tutorial, Gridrunner Revolution guides you in gently, nicely and lets you find your feet in a pretty comfortable way. You won’t be overwhelmed in seconds by aliens trying to bite your face off here. The focus is, always, on empowering you. Which from a ludological point of view, is fascinating. From a playing the bloody game point of view, it’s refreshing to find a game that is both stupidly intense and possible to play with a cup of tea/kitten/cigarette/baby/hod full of bricks in your non mouse hand and have all the mechanics explained from the off.

It’s the easiest difficult game I’ve ever played and all the better for it.

And there’s more! Not content with chucking in the 4 main difficulty levels with each individual stage playing out differently from the last and each difficulty level providing a different set of challenges, tucked away in there is the Gridrunner-Revolution-Shooter-Lover’s-Ace-In-The-Bloody-Hole.

It’s called Thrusty Mode and it’s amaze. That’s the technical term there, folks.

Replacing the normal shuffle the mouse to move control method with a sort of rubber chicken on a pully type control and throw in Asteroids style screen wrapping for stupid grinny fun. It’s daringly different. It could never be the main game*, but man, it’s ridiculously tense and crazy. Sure, it starts out easy enough but by the time you hit Level 39 (or THE CUNT as I like to call it) you’ll be clinging on to your ships for dear life as barriers tear down the screen blocking your shots, the sun spits out brutal death and enemies come flying into the screen. Proper shit yourself gaming fun and makes GR:Rev worth the entrance fee for Thrusty mode alone.

Not enough for you? Ok, how about recreations of both the C64 and Vic versions of Gridrunner and a one life endurance mode. Choose your ship on the first stage and see how long you can survive on the second highest difficulty setting. Pretty brutal stuff. You’ll have to unlock the extra modes as you go along, which is a bit of a pisser/an incentive to continue depending on which side of the line you fall. Me? I detest unlocks with a passion so you can well gather where I stand but heck, it’s not too difficult to get the extra stuff unlocked so I can’t moan too much.

Unlocks aside, the only other downside is the wildly inconsistent graphics. There’s a mix of almost clinical hi-res stuff, Neon generated nasties, pixel art ships, low res sheepies. To me, it never really gels together visually in that perfect manner that Space Giraffe before it did. It doesn’t look bad, just not as polished as we’ve come to expect over the past couple of years (and I’ll officially go on record as saying I preferred the out and out craziness of Space Giraffe in its original incarnation than the PC Nuxx mode so your mileage and preference may vary). Ultimately though, that’s not really that important. Sure, we’d all like visuals that blow our minds but there’s enough chaos and exploding particle boomage to distract from the slightly shonky (in, rather obviously, my humble opinion) look and y’know, the game is strong enough to get away with being a bit ropey in that particular department. You’ll be far too busy thinking “oh fucking hurry up with that sheep” or “shit, shit, shit” to care about the mixed up look of the thing.

It’s not often you can say “there’s nothing else like it out there” but with the pinball spaceship, interstellar sheep, inverse bullet hell and overarching creativity on display, there really is nothing else like Gridrunner Revolution out there. This is a good thing, obv.

It’s a game that lets you blow up the sun with a red throbbing cock. Ferchrissakes, that’s awesome.

Gridrunner Revolution is out on the 25th. You should play it.

*Obviously, I’d buy it if it were but it’s perhaps a tad too obtuse for the general public to pick up and run with.