It’s quite the trend these days to combine gameplay elements from several genres into one game in order to keep things interesting and to avoid players complaining that you are merely copying another game. ProtoGalaxy is no different – it’s essentially a scrolling arcade shooter, but Indie developer Source Studios have integrated puzzling and exploration into this mix.
Please note that we played the entire game in co-op mode with 2 players, and that the views of Marc have also been added to this review.
The main game comes in the form of a campaign which can be played both as single player but also in multi-player, with up to 4 people in the same game. Throughout the campaign you will purchase new ship parts, purchase entirely new hulls or even configure your ship exactly to your preferences to keep things interesting.
In order to do this, you need to collect money by shooting enemies during the various levels and collecting their drops. Unfortunately, whatever you pick up is yours so in a multi-player game there can be somewhat of a scramble to acquire the drops as money doesn’t drop in vast quantities. Especially early in the campaign when you need every bit you can get to obtain more powerful weapons and equipment – shields in particular.
Most weapons and ships are unavailable at the start of the campaign and need to be unlocked by finding the appropriate blueprint. This is where the puzzling element comes in as many levels contain levers, buttons and hidden sections where these items can be found. You will frequently find yourself replaying a level to unlock these rewards as the level states in advance what can be found there, and what items you’ve already unlocked.
The gameplay video below features the last level and the ‘bonus’ level of the game – if you want to discover the entire game on your own please be warned. There isn’t much in the way of story or things that could be spoiled, but there might still be people who’d rather not see it.
In terms of weapons, ProtoGalaxy offers quite a bit of variety, ranging from the standard bullets to weapons which require energy with each shot, ensuring you can’t just spam the most powerful weapon continuously. Weapons include rockets, bullets with single and multiple turret variants all the way up to meteors which bounce around until they hit something or burn out. One of the most interesting weapons is a gravity beam, which uses physics. This beam can be used to move levers or items and even to sling enemies into each other, with the amount of damage being directly related to the velocity at which they hit each other.
Marc: What I liked about some of the modules were the Repair Bots. It creates a bubble around your ship and repairs damage to your shields. Anything inside the bubble would be repaired as well, allowing you to heal your fellow players, but can also accidentally heal enemies.
The missions in ProtoGalaxy offer a fair bit of variety, ranging from all-out frantic shooting to pure puzzle levels. The boss fights are fairly well-designed and interesting to fight – although at least one of them could easily be defeated by ‘hiding in a corner’. (The one with the giant cannon/beam – if you’ve played this game you will know what we mean!)
Marc: Besides the different types of levels there were also different scrolling modes. There were levels, or parts of levels, where you could not freely move about. The camera would slowly pan across the map and you were forced to enter certain areas on time. In other levels, you gained control of the camera, allowing you to backtrack through a level (often necessary to complete a puzzle).
Quite early on in the campaign you can go in three different directions on the campaign map, meaning that if you get stuck on a certain level that you have a few other choices at your disposal. This enables you to work on another level for a while, gain some money, upgrade your ship(s) and come back to the level you were struggling with at a later stage.
ProtoGalaxy can be played in multi-player as well as alone. We do have to state it takes a while to get into the swing of things, as ProtoGalaxy is quite frustrating in the first half hour that you try to play it. For our review, we’ve actually finished the whole campaign in two-player co-op. The original plan was to play it in 3-player co-op but unfortunately a member of our team was unavailable due to injury. Looking back at things, we’re kind of glad we played this with 2 people instead as there are a few frustrations you should be aware of when playing this in multiplayer.
First – if you die, you do not respawn. Let me repeat that: you do not respawn. You have to sit and watch the other players finish the level, or die. Once that happens you can start the level from the beginning again. If you’re playing with 3 or 4 people and you die fairly early on, that can be a long wait as some levels take quite a bit of time to complete.
Marc: I personally think adding something like ‘lives’ would improve this: at least being able to respawn 2 or 3 times before being forced to sit it out and watch the other have fun. Not being able to respawn full stop just proved to be irritating, often resulting in the other player suiciding so we could at least work together.
Another frustration we found is that you can bump into each other and knock each other off course or even off the screen entirely. The same applies to the gravity beam – I was flying a ship with an extra powerful gravity beam to act as a ‘enemy sweeper’ and accidentally grabbed and threw Marc off-screen. And then into enemies. And then into mines. And, well you get the point – he didn’t like the gravity beam as much as I did, I think.
Marc: The fact you don’t share the loot (except for blueprints), can bump into each other (whether intentional or not) and can even sling each other around with the gravity beam kind of destroys the co-op meaning and quickly turns the game into a competition. You can very easily grief on other players simply by knocking them off-course, collecting loot of enemies they kill or simply throwing them out of the screen.
Sometimes the levels are quite small and claustrophobic which doesn’t work well in multi-player. Since you can’t fly through each other, you actually get in each other’s way and usually at least one player ends up dead. This is particularly annoying when you get to a point where the door closes in your face as soon as you fly through it – anyone who isn’t through yet will die without any chance for survival. Frustrating as you don’t see that coming until it happened at least once.
It’s not all bad news though. Multi-player does make the game a lot more fun, and sharing in this sort of gameplay can be very enjoyable indeed. The frustrations remain, but after you get a few upgrades and get the hang of the controls, the game is relatively easy to finish. We finished the whole campaign in one afternoon together and we can hardly be considered experts of the genre. It is worth noting that you cannot unlock any of the achievements in multi-player, with the exception of the ones related to finishing the campaign.
Marc: I’d like to add that there is a certain point in the game where you become much more powerful all of a sudden simply through buying a few upgrades. The game starts off fairly frustrating, as you need to get used to the controls (more on those later) and get the hang of destroying enemies. The game suddenly changes into you being extremely powerful, which is fun at first – as you can finally tackle that hard level – but slowly takes the fun out of it as you can *literally* sit in the center of the screen, firing in all directions while someone else collects all the loot.
Saving grace here is the editor, which allows players to design their own missions, or even entire campaigns. These can be shared with others and can be played both in single player as well as multi-player again. This offers people who really love the game endless replayability in terms of at least puzzles and levels.
The video below features the entire first level – which slowly scrolls the ‘story’ of the game past. If you’re both interested in the setting and to see an unedited video of the first level, this video is for you. It’ll obviously have limited action as you usually start this with a crappy ship/weapons. We’ve gone back to it with our upgraded ships for the purpose of this video.
The graphics in ProtoGalaxy are fairly standard for this type of game. They certainly do the job but they are not amazing. The visual effects are more than adequate and most items are easy to recognize. In terms of colours, it can sometimes be a little confusing when a lot is happening on the screen at once (which is most of the time) but everything considered we were positively surprised. One point of criticism would be the background graphics of the ships in the ship configuration screen between missions. Those are plain ugly, which is a shame as it’s the first thing you see of your new ship. It’s hard to feel proud of a ship which could have come straight from MS Paint. Luckily the ships look a lot better when they are in action, though they really are the weakest part of the game.
The audio is very functional but after a few missions the music will get a little on your nerves. This is easily solved by turning it down or turning it off altogether and the game is better enjoyed with some of your favorite tunes anyway. In terms of sound effects, they certainly felt appropriate but there was nothing ground breaking.
UI & Controls
This is the one aspect of the game where we felt a little let down. It’s obvious that the game has been developed with a controller in mind, and you can see this in all menus and controls. When you are playing alone or with 2 players the game still takes account of the fact it can be played with 4 people, so it only uses half the screen to display your equipment, statistics, etc.
The controls during missions take some getting used to but they work surprisingly well once you do. You can change the way these controls behave in the configuration screen but unfortunately it is not possible to do this during a mission. This means that when you first start the game you will have to play the first mission a few times and die to change your controls, until you find a configuration you like.
Marc: The fact your crosshair moves WITH your ship rather than being positioned statically on the screen makes it apparent that it was originally designed for a controller. Luckily you’re able to turn this off, so the crosshair stays where you point it, and moving the ship doesn’t reposition the crosshair.
The UI is functional but leaves a few things to be desired. For example, we found it very difficult to browse the shop for upgrades and to actually have a good idea of how the various equipment options compared to equipment our ship was already using. There is no “compare” option and the only good way we found of comparing gear is for both players to open the statistics of the different items.
A few tweaks in the way things are presented in the menus, especially when shopping could go a long way to make the game appeal to more players. On a similar note, the game would massively benefit from having some tooltips in the configuration screen explaining what some of the options actually do. Especially when choosing your control configuration, it is a bit unclear what each individual option actually does.
ProtoGalaxy enters a genre which has been done over and over and over again, yet still managed to bring something a little different to the scene. It’s quite a refreshing take on arcade shooters and once you get over the initial frustration of the controls, it’s reasonably enjoyable as well. You will find yourself strangely compelled to finish all levels and unlock better ships, it’s just a shame that the game is incredibly short. The editor is of quite some help there and we hope the developer will find the best fan-made campaigns and include them in a free update as the game would really benefit from more content.
If you can pick ProtoGalaxy up for a good price, and you like arcade shooters, don’t hesitate and purchase it. ProtoGalaxy is even better if you have someone to play it with. £6.99 is slightly too expensive for the game in our opinion. We feel the game is much more in the direction of £3.99 at the moment. Not because it’s a bad game, but because there isn’t all that much content included right now. If you compare that to the amount of time you get out of other games, the value just doesn’t stack up. Again, we hope that the developers take note and correct that situation to give players some real value for money. On that note, they should really start selling 4-packs already – that’s the beauty of Steam after all.