Copies of other games are nothing new on the eShop - in more ways than one. If there is classic retro style or a suddenly popular gamefad, you can expect someone to throw their own version of it into the ring as well. Whether it comes off as a respected homage or a cheap cash-in is left to the developer, but Super Destronaut from Petit Games should not be immediately dismissed as the latter.
Super Destronaut is obviously inspired by Space Invaders, and no attempt is made to hide or sugar-coat this fact. From the familiar-looking baddie on its selection tile to the vertical ship-versus-lines-of-aliens-setup, most players will go in with a very good idea of what they're getting into.
That's not to say there aren't a few tweaks to the formula, though. The invaders in this space aren't descending, nor are there any barriers to hide behind. It's a full-on firefight between the two factions, and each kind of alien has its own type of ammo. While one kind will drop fire straight down, another type will swirl or arc, while another will release homing missiles that need to be shot down. Becoming familiar with each target's arsenal becomes an important part of planning which to hit first.
Your ship's own weapons can vary a bit, too. You start out with the standard rapid-fire peashooter, but destroying the largest type of alien that sometimes appears near the top of the screen will grant temporary use of something better, such as spread fire or shots that can pierce through more than one enemy. These power-ups are fun and feel hard-earned, although there seems to be no way to control what you get to play with.
There are three modes of play that all include the same stylings as above. Classic Mode gives you three lives to see how high a score you can rack up, with no pauses or regroupings whatsoever between lives. You take a hit, you flash, and you just keep going. Time Attack starts you out with 1 minute to kill as many aliens as possible, with each wave cleared adding 15 seconds and each hit taking the same amount of time away. Finally, there's Multiplayer Mode, where another ship piloted by a Wii U Pro Controller can join in and compete for a high score in the course of 3 minutes. Hits aren't fatal in this mode, but will knock your bonus multiplier down.
Controls work well, as would be hoped for a style of game nearly 40 years old. Left and right movement is assigned to the left stick and A is to fire. That's it. There are no single-player options to use the Pro Controller instead or substitute the d-pad for the control stick. These omissions aren't terrible, but it would have been nice to have these options.
The look of Super Destronaut goes for that minimalist retro charm but does so in a crisp, clean, and vibrant fashion. Sure, it's mainly nothing more than a bunch of pixelated shapes, but darn if they don't look good. The background, which is nothing more than a moving field of black squares, might be seen as odd or dull, but can also feel at home in an arcade title. Sound is also quite nicely done, with hits making a satisfying noise somewhat like a far-off firework. The music is limited to only one track, but it's well composed and complements the action well.
There is very little wrong at the core with Super Destronaut, which leaves the main concern of whether it will keep the player engaged. Although two modes are short by design, odds are likely that Classic Mode sessions won't be very long, either. It's clear that arcade simplicity was emphasized with this title, and there's nothing really wrong with that, but more in-depth modes or a real sense of progression could have added some spice here. Even just having a meaningless ranking system that rewards you with fanfare for achieving cumulative points would feel more substantial. All one really has is their one high score or an opponent to beat; there are no online leaderboards or even a local Top 10 ranking.
Super Destronaut shines more than many clone-style games on the Wii U eShop. Its presentation is commendably polished and it makes enough little changes to the original formula to nearly feel like its own game. Big Space Invader fans or those looking for quick shots of pick-up-and-play may very well enjoy this, and at its initial budget price tag it wouldn't hurt too much to try. It's worth asking, though, whether these quick shots are enough to keep the game invading your screen in the longer run.