Rewind back to last week’s review of Contra: Rogue Corps and we discussed how not getting the basic building blocks of a twin-stick shooter right ensured that your game – no matter how much bloat, padding and on-trend features you bulked it up with – would ultimately fail to keep players engaged or hooked. This is a genre that demands precise, reliable controls and a pick-up-and-play addictiveness in order to succeed. aQuadian’s Galaxy Champions TV knows this, and nails it.
If you’ve ever played Robotron: 2084, Total Carnage or, most especially, Smash TV, you’ll instantly recognise the set-up here. It’s 2049 and all the planets in our galaxy have been populated and are now ruled over by an evil dictatorship which has banned all forms of entertainment, except for a hyper-violent TV show called Galaxy Champions, where contestants run a brutal gauntlet of enemies in order to escape with their lives and win a ton of cash.
Galaxy Champions TV plays, for the most part, exactly like its inspirations and sees your little pixel contestant blast their way through four planets worth of bad guys, each split over ten levels and rounded off by a boss battle that switches things up from regular twin-stick shooting action to a bullet-hell style encounter, filling the screen with swirling patterns of neon orbs for you to sweatily dance your way around.
The action feels tight and refined, enemies are let loose on the screen in massive quantities from the very first arena and this is an old-school level of tough game that requires you to keep digging in, learning patterns and constantly moving if you’re to stand any chance of survival. Grabbing just the right weapon or energy boost at the right time makes the difference between a successful run and instant death here.
On top of the classic Smash TV-style gameplay, Galaxy Champions TV adds a neat and unfussy XP-based upgrade system which sees you grab little orbs dropped by dead enemies in order to fill up your meter on the top left of the screen and unlock a bunch of new skills, items and weapon upgrades. Your guns include a fantastically effective grenade launcher which absolutely devastates bunches of foes and leaves scorch marks everywhere, a screen-clearing laser, loud and satisfying machinegun and a flamethrower which heats up bad guys so they burst open like meaty little kernels of popcorn. Delightful. There are drones, shields and force fields to unlock as drops, and a nifty little dash move which can be upgraded to provide a temporary shield and even an attack that takes out enemies as you rush through them.
Everything that you upgrade or unlock here is permanent; you don’t lose anything upon dying or turning the console off in disgust at yourself, and so too is your progress through the four planets on offer, which is just as well because this is a pretty brutal game right from the get-go. It’s got a belting soundtrack that your avatar bounces along to as he deals out death and some lovely little pixel arenas, enemies and bosses; the whole thing is just really satisfying, addictive and absolutely perfect for grabbing a blast on when you've got a bit of downtime.
There's also an excellent two-player local co-op mode on offer that sees upgrades shared between pals as they blast their way through screenfuls of wrong'uns. Not only that, you can revive each other during battles to keep the TV stardom dream alive when things go slightly awry either of you. Rounding out the selection of game types is Champions Mode, which is a high score/survival affair that drops bosses randomly into arenas as you contend with hordes of grunts and ramps up the difficulty every thirty seconds until you're overwhelmed. The action here takes place in just one never-ending arena, so there's absolutely no respite for those bold enough to regard themselves as true champions.
The only place that Galaxy Champions TV does drop the ball is that it totally excises all of the humour and attitude that made the likes of Smash TV stand out from the crowd. It sets itself up with a backstory then never develops on it or infuses its gameplay with any fun little commentaries or in-jokes pertaining to the fact it’s a futuristic, bloodthirsty TV show. We're not expecting Hideo Kojima-level cutscenes here, but even just a little bit of flavour text here and there would have really helped in this regard. Gone are the Robocop quotes, random prizes and final boss fight against the presenter, replaced here by, well, nothing. As fun, precise and addictive as the gameplay is, it’s just a shame there wasn’t a little more time spent giving the game an attitude or a bit more personality.
However, having said that, for the price, this is a great little tribute to the old-school style of twin-stick shooter that performs beautifully on Switch, looks and sounds great and will provide you plenty of challenge as you fight your way through the forty arenas of pain laid before you as you strive to become a super-rich, super-famous Galaxy Champion.
Galaxy Champions TV is a delightful little tribute to Smash TV that perfectly recreates the hectic feel and relentless challenge of that classic while adding a nice little XP and unlock system that freshens things up and gives you something to work towards as you make your way through the forty levels on offer. It's just a shame it lacks any real personality and fails to deliver on its dystopian TV show premise in any fun or clever ways; it's also missing any sort of leaderboard system to give it a bit more longevity. As it stands, for a budget price, this is a still a slick little twin-stick shooter that nails the basics and is well worth your time if you're a fan of the genre.