Holy Ship is a cheap game if you couldn’t tell from its name. It plays like a mouse and keyboard version of the old arcade classic Asteroids, but in Holy Ship its you against other space vessels big and small. There are a few obvious things holding it back like lack luster graphics, game play diversity and a bit of monotony, but if you can get past all of those glaring issues, you’ll find a well programmed, engaging game with a lot of customization and a lot of diverse enemies. Its fun to play in small bursts and I always find myself wondering what’s next when the game constantly throws intriguing new enemies and unlockables at you.
Holy Ship remains true to Asteroids with missions that take place in a single screen and easy game play. There’s no thrust or throttle, you’ve got free range with your WSAD keys to move your ship while your mouse cursor aims your weapon. Holding the left mouse button fires your primary, while R releases a secondary weapon of your choice. The space bar is used for a dash maneuver that will get you out of any hairy situations, but I was never overwhelmed enough to remember that I had it. While I feel like the secondary weapon could have been relegated to the right mouse button, the controls are easy to pick up and play. I still feel that I would prefer dual stick shooter controls on a 360 controller, but this works just fine as well.
The objective of each level is to survive the waves of enemies before the five minute time limit runs out. Even on hard it seems like I got the job done with three minutes left on the clock. You have shields and health that let you to take a good amount of damage, but when your shield is down, you’re not only vulnerable from damage, but the game punishes you by messing with your ship. Sometimes the ship will spin wildly out of control, other times the navigation will reverse and still others your ship will slow to a crawl. Its different every time and it makes things interesting and becomes a game changer when you’re forced to adapt or die.
When the game begins, you select your ship, secondary weapon and three perks. You’ll unlock all of these the further you get in the game’s twenty-one selectable and unlockable levels. Each of these levels has three difficulties and one extra difficulty setting to unlock.
Each ship plays relatively the same, but offers different primary weapons. The default ship has a pulse beam, the second ship has a long laser that penetrates through enemies without stopping. The third vessel has a rapid fire machine gun like green laser and so on. Ships all have their unique stats from defense, health, speed and dash to weapon stats like homing accuracy, power, capacity, firing rate, reload speed and so on. It makes each ship feel different, even if some play better than others. Its up to you and your play style. You might have unlimited ammo, but wWhen you run out of ammunition you’ll need to reload for a second or two. I’d prefer to have no reload, but whatever.
Then you compliment each ship with a secondary weapon. You start with a giant bomb that detonates at a certain distance, so you can overshoot an enemy. Then you have an array of powerful lasers, blinding lights and even a shadow that will draw enemy fire. Its a lot of interesting stuff, but I prefer to stick with the default bombs. As for the perks, you select three of them, everything to more defense to quicker reload time. Its nice to mix things up and try different ones, but I think restricting some or even randomizing them might make a level more interesting.
The real star of the game is the enemy diversity. While I scoffed at the original generic space fodder that is seen in every level, by the second level its a lot more interesting. A giant boss ship that contaminates a section of the screen until you destroy it. Each stage has the same boss that appears multiple times, but at least each stage has a different big boss that bestows a treasure chest with something to unlock. From there, the enemies only get more interesting. Circular ships that draw your gunfire, Disc ships that generate bubble force fields. Another ship that I can best describe as a horse shoe that turns its back to you as it charges, then reveals its weak center when it shoots a projectile at you.
Plenty of ships shoot projectiles, and you can destroy them with your own lasers, but one of the more interesting things in the game is the explosive projectiles. With these when you shoot them they explode, leaving you to dodge or take damage. It makes you have to strategist. Other ships fire straight lasers that divide the screen. Still other bosses release a black hole to hold you in place while it fires a fat straight beam at you. Ships that split in three and two are decoys. While other ships can cloak completely invisible until they need to recharge.
Again, this is completely where the game shines and stays interesting. I could write a review about the enemy design alone there’s just so much. Holy Ship has enemies that every other game should have. In a game that has twenty-one levels about shooting enemies, Holy Ship manages to keep it interesting. Even on hard difficulty, the enemies never felt overwhelming. There are never more than four or five vessels on screen at once. I’d prefer a little more craziness.
Enemies will drop all sorts of power up crystals. Some enemies even drop fake crystals for you. These crystals do everything from a speed boost to refilling your ammo clip. I played for a few hours and still couldn’t figure out which does what. There are force fields and barriers that damage any enemy that comes within its radius.
The graphics are admittedly the worst part of the game. While they’re clean, crisp graphics, they just feel cheap. Worse yet are the menus that need to have a different texture choice other than old brown paper on a generic metallic background. Just because Holy Ship is a cheap game doesn’t mean the menus have to look it. The backgrounds during each of the levels look good, but a lot of them just feel flat and one dimensional.
The music doesn’t feel like a strong point either. There’s nothing wrong with the music, but it could be better, more fitting and more spacy. Perhaps the lowest point of the game are the cheesy sound effects when you complete a mission. Clapping. Yes clapping, but that’s a lot better than the “womp womp wamp waaaaaaa” sound to signify that you’ve died and its game over.
One thing that I couldn’t help but notice is holding my mouse in the same spot while strafing wouldn’t turn my ship to face the mouse. Instead I needed to slightly move my mouse for my primary weapon to follow the mouse. I think that could have been done better. You also can’t go to the bottom edge of the screen since you have a HUD. There should be a more condensed HUD with a black box behind it.
For a game about shooting waves of enemies before time runs out, I expect a meter showing you how far you are or how many ships you have to go. You just sit and fight until everything is destroyed. Then you get your score and rating after each level.
The $3 price tag is well worth the fun that Holy Ship brings. Just be warned that while it looks cheap, but its got a lot of thoughtful design behind it. Holy Ship manages to keep itself strong despite any budget shortcomings.