Space Impact is probably Nokia's second most famous game after Snake, but how well does it make the transition from simple embedded game to commercial N-Gage game? Read All About N-Gage's review to find out...
Space Impact: Kappa Base (SIKB) is an old-fashioned scrolling shoot-em-up, inspired by the original Space Impact games which were embedded on Nokia's older mobile phones such as the 3310.
In Kappa Base you pilot a craft (or "skyblade") through ten levels of baddies and hazards in space, in the upper atmosphere and near the ground. The plot goes like this: the Earth has become so polluted and difficult to live on that some humans have chosen to alter themselves mechanically and become a race of cyborgs called "MEKS". The MEKS have decided that the remaining unaltered humans are "obsoletes" and should be destroyed. Cue the usual man vs machine malarkey...
The plot has various interesting twists and turns and there's a sequel-hunting ending, but the main aim of this game is to score well. This isn't the kind of title where you play through it once and feel that you've "beaten" it. In fact SIKB's playing structure is much more like Mario Kart, as you receive a grade for each level and the challenge is to go back again and again to improve the grade.
The gameplay revolves around choosing the appropriate skyblade and weapon loads for each level. As you collect money in the game you unlock more options, and eventually you can choose from eight skyblades and seventeen types of weapons. Because you can take several weapons at once on the same craft, there are 200 different combinations of weapons load, and what you choose will make a lot of difference. Some levels are almost impossible with a bad choice of weapons, but become much easier when you select a more appropriate combination. The choice of skyblade can also be important, as they have different properties in terms of speed, armour, and kinetic energy gathering.
That last phrase might have sounded a bit weird, as it refers to an unusual central concept of SIKB: to build up the energy for certain powerful "kinetic" weapons, you have to let enemy bullets graze you. Once the kinetic meter has been filled, you can use the special weapon. The kinetic weapons aspect turn the usual gameplay on its head, as you often find yourself desperately trying to get hit by bullets so that you can use the special weapon and wipe out all the baddies on the screen. The kinetic aspect also comes into play when you're trying to get a high score, as there's a separate bonus meter which fills up as you get hit.
You occasionally receive wingmen to help you, but they generally just sit there shooting and getting hit, rarely moving about. Your bullets don't harm them so you can just ignore them if you like, or you can dive for cover behind them if you're worried about taking damage.
The controls on SIKB are very simple: you move with the direction pad and shooting is automatic. You can optionally set it to shoot manually, but there's little point in using this as you have unlimited ammo. The only other control is pressing 2 to fire your special weapon, which is not covered by the autofire because its use can depend on building up precious kinetic energy.
Rather awkwardly, there seems to be no way to play the game in horizontal mode. You can physically hold the phone horizontally of course, but it's difficult to use the keypad on slider models, and SIKB did not use the N81's gaming keys at all.
There are four savegame slots, and three characters to choose from for each slot. The choice of character doesn't make a huge amount of difference, it mostly just determines which skyblade is unlocked at the beginning of the game, and it also means the cut scenes are slightly different.
You can choose to play the game in easy mode or normal mode. Easy mode is very easy indeed, this reviewer played the game all the way through on the first go in easy mode, but normal mode offers much more of a challenge. The levels are the same in both modes, but you have four continues in easy mode compared to one in normal mode, and the enemies are harder to destroy in normal mode.
The gameplay and most of the graphics are in 2D, but there are some 3D objects and enemies too, and the mixture works very well indeed, with a pleasing alien look. There are 3D renderings of all the craft and weapons during the weapons selection process, and the larger "boss" enemies are all in 3D as well. The backgrounds are nicely detailed and varied, ranging from snowscapes to forests to space stations to alien planets.
The speed of the graphics can get very fast indeed and on some levels it's extremely frantic, like watching a video on fast-forward. There are often many dozens of separate moving objects on the screen at once, and trying to find your ship among all the enemies and bullets can be like trying to see dandruff in a snowstorm.
Cut scenes consist of anime-ish characters with text and dramatic music in the background. These are sprinkled throughout the game, appearing between and in the middle of levels as the plot unfolds. It gives the game a real 16-bit feel, which is a good thing in this style of game.
Soundwise the game's soundtrack has a nice mixture of ambient and dramatic music, and the very last level sounds like a dance version of a Gregorian Chant. All of the music enhances the game without getting in the way. The music and sound effects have separate volume controls, so you can mix them to your own liking.
As befits an old-style shooter, the only online feature is a "World Battle" global high score table. We could not get the Arena connection to work in SIKB though, so we couldn't see if the promised clans feature was present.
Whether you like SIKB depends on what kind of gameplay you enjoy most. Although the offline game is called "story mode", the aim is really to play and replay levels constantly chasing after a better grade, and to unlock more items.
If you just want to play through the game once, then you will be missing the point of SIKB. This is an "old school" scrolling shooter where high scorers receive the greatest rewards, with a smattering of 3D graphics to give it a 2000s look.
In short, if you like classic shoot-em-ups then SIKB is for you. If you hate them, stay away.
PS: You can see a gameplay video of Space Impact: Kappa Base over on the Unofficial Nokia Gaming Blog.