Some games take inspiration from those of yesteryear, weaving in classic elements or perhaps adorning a retro aesthetic to show its love for what came before. Then there are games that want to be part of a bygone era, and do such a convincing job you half expect to see them glowing, blinking and blooping from within a dusty old cabinet. That’s just the feeling you get playing Space Dave!, although that’s not always a good thing.
Much like predecessor, Woah Dave! (which appeared on 3DS and Wii U in 2014 and 2015, respectively), the latest adventure of David Lonuts is a simple premise with quick play, high-score chasing, coin-up gameplay in mind. It’s aiming to capture that acute arcade magic and it does an admirable job, for better and for worse. At its heart it’s a Space Invaders clone, where the titular Dave (or various other pixel pals) need to shoot down ever increasing waves of descending or whirling enemies on a fixed-screen.
Every enemy you kill drops gold coins, which you’ll need to grab to up your score while dodging colourful blocks that will zap your life if one so much as touches you. If a descending foe touches the ground, that section will crumble to reveal lava. It’s a cute little twist, but you’ve got a handy means of countering it - your trusty jetpack. Being able to boost jump over gaps adds an extra sense of agency when it comes to managing the waves of enemies, while those that pull away from the pack can also be shot down, and their skulls used as grisly stepping stones.
Dave’s pals will occasionally drop power-ups to help his battle with the extraterrestrial horde, including everything from rapid fire and the power to freeze any exposed lava to a special block that turns enemies into allies for a brief time. It’s all fun for a while as you clear each phase, collecting coins as baddies fill the screen in more aggressive patterns, but its simple concept begins to wear thin, and quickly too.
There’s just not enough depth to elevate the simplicity of its basic conceit. If you’re the kind of player who loves chasing high scores by repeating the same few actions over, and over, and over again, Space Dave! will scratch an itch on Switch. As we mentioned earlier, it nails the repetitive yet addictive nature of old school arcade games, and there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with a game dialling back the clock and taking this mantra to heart, but when you’re asking $10 for the privilege, it’s a hard sell.
There are some saving graces. The game supports both single player and local co-op and Space Dave!’s basic recipe is a far more rewarding experience when played with a friend since dealing with those descending foes is infinitely more fun when you’re spewing death into the depths of space in company. There’s also a leaderboard system, so that high-score chasing element has a tangible outcome as you attempt to clamber further up the rankings, but unless you’re really into that repetitive retro template it’s a premise that rapidly outstays its welcome.
Much like Woah Dave!, Space Dave!’s ironic use of exclamation mark might fool you into thinking you’re getting a particularly riveting or exciting experience for your buck. Its simple, Space Invaders tribute concept can be addictive - especially when played in local co-op - but its desire to embrace the basic building blocks of the ’80s is a poisoned chalice, one that leaves you hoping it would offer more depth where there’s just the same old shallow, pixelated waters.