Developed by Lillymo Games and published by EastAsiaSoft, Habroxia is an old-school shmup that sees you face off against waves of alien invaders across fifteen short levels, hoovering up various pickups in time-honoured shoot-em-up fashion and grabbing credits which can then be used to purchase a variety of upgrades for your ship. Levels see you move horizontally across the screen but will, on occasion, wrestle control away from you momentarily as the game switches to scroll vertically, not making any real difference to the moment-to-moment combat but at least attempting to make things a little more interesting than they are for most of the duration of what's on offer here.
The Habroxia ship which you pilot has three different modes of fire: one that shoots forward, one that sees bullets eject from the sides of your craft and one that has a wider spread of bullets. However, we found ourselves pretty much sticking to the straightforward fire mode as neither of the alternates were really required at any point; levels here are not in any way designed to take advantage of them, which is a shame.
In order to add some replayability, most stages request that you kill every enemy as a side challenge, but it’s a task that you can’t realistically achieve until you spend enough time purchasing upgrades to your ship that give you the required firepower and shot speed to be able to hit all incoming ships before they disappear off the screen. With your vanilla guns and firing speed, you'll find yourself blasting an enemy as many times as you could have without actually managing to destroy it in time. It’s a pretty bad setup, especially since the combat in Habroxia just isn’t really interesting enough to warrant the multiple playthroughs necessary to max all ship upgrades out, and, as the leaderboards aren’t online, bothering to kill every enemy on screen just doesn’t seem worth the hassle.
Really, the central problem with Habroxia is that, beyond its three modes of fire and the switching up of your direction of traversal, there isn’t much else going on. The game boasts of having over 50 different enemy types but, having played right through to the end, it’s hard to actually remember any of them. There are a multitude of different shaped and coloured craft heading in your direction, and some of them will occasionally fire little homing bullets which require you to circle around a little bit until they disintegrate, but, beyond this, they are all much of a muchness and the whole thing is a strangely easy and barren affair.
The levels themselves are all set against an almost completely empty space backdrop with just the very borders of your screen ever changing colour, and we can’t think of a single mission that tried to introduce anything over the course of the game that really made it stand out in any way from any of the others. There are a couple of missions that require you to rescue six astronauts – little men floating in oxygen bubbles dotted around the place – but these targets are never hidden or placed anywhere that’s hard to get to. It’s all oddly lacking in any sort of effort to make you think or sweat even just a little, and is happy enough to let you monotonously make your way to the end of each mission with very little resistance.
There are three unlockable modes that you’ll gain access to as you make your way through Habroxia and unfortunately these don’t improve matters. Unlocking when you beat level 5 is Invasion Mode, a straightforward endless wave/score attack affair which lacks any sort of bite because so much of your time is spent flying across a screen with very little enemy activity on it. Beating level 10 sees you gain access to Rescue Mode, which is another endless jaunt – but this time you need to pick up astronauts. Miss one or accidentally shoot one and it’s game over. This is possibly the standout mode of what’s on offer because it manages to add at least a sliver of strategy to proceedings. Rounding out the unlockable modes is Shield Maiden – basically the hard difficulty setting in Habroxia – that gives you weak weapons and only allows you to pick up shields for your ship – no boosts or bullet upgrades are allowed. It makes what was a pretty boring affair to begin with even worse and fails, once again, to mix things up in any way that encourages you to continue.
The upgrades you can make to your craft can all be levelled up three times and include things such as firepower, overall health, rockets, shot spread and fire rate. Once you’re packing a bit more heat, things do improve a little as you can blast your way through enemy packs a little more satisfyingly, but really, it’s all just padding around a game that isn’t very interesting to play. It's not that it's shockingly bad; it's perfectly well made, controls fine and everything works as it should do. It's just bland and doesn't have anything particularly unique or inventive to sell it to the player as being worth their time or effort.
Finally, we need to give a mention to the ten bosses you encounter in this game, as they are the most straightforward, simple and boring shmup boss encounters we’ve encountered in a very long time. They are almost curiously easy to beat, and some of the earlier ones are tougher than the later ones you encounter. As far as difficulty progression goes, there just isn't any sense of any here. Even the very final boss – a rock who eventually transforms into some sort of space starfish – goes down without so much of a hint of presenting a challenge. There are no surprises or tricky situations on offer here, and the whole thing is over in well under 45 minutes.
The graphics are fine in an old-school sort of way, and some of those bosses do look pretty nice. The music is the sort of plinky-plonk affair you’d expect and it all performs perfectly well in both handheld and docked mode – but in the end, it’s hard to see why, even at this budget price, anyone would choose to spend time with Habroxia when there are so many much more worthwhile retro shmups on Switch.
Habroxia is a pretty bland and curiously straightforward little shmup with nothing about it that stands out as being worth recommending. The handful of little flourishes it introduces – such as switching between horizontal and vertical traversal or its three different fire modes – just don’t add any kind of fun to proceedings because the game hasn’t been designed in a way that makes them neither interesting or necessary. The Switch is absolutely drowned with fantastic old-school shmups with lots of unique little quirks and clever design decisions that make them deliciously moreish to play and really, and at the end of the day, you’d be much better off choosing almost any of them than spending time with a game that seems perfectly content to let you glide through it without providing any incentive, narrative or challenge whatsoever.