September 7th, 2012 | By Petey A.M.
I am more than familiar with arcade games and I have genuinely enjoyed the genre for the entirety of my life. I think it has something to do with my mother never wanting to give me quarters to play games in the arcade. I suppose I could be living out some sort of repressed childhood angst. Now that arcade games come to the computer and iOS and do not require quarters, I am more than pleased to make up for all those lost matches of Street Fighter I was not allowed to play. What really draws me in is that arcade games are a change of pace from the sometimes monotonous level grinding I spend hours doing in RPGs. Recently, to continue wetting my appetite for score stacking excitement, I was offered the opportunity to try a preview copy of Rob Fearon’s new arcade piece Death Ray Manta (DRM). I had read fantastic previews on Twitter and other sites, which gave DRM nothing but praise, so I happily booted and began arcading.
I had not read much about DRM and opened my zip file without having any clue what to expect, and although I had obtained some knowledge of the controls and level goals from the readme, I was unprepared. This made it all the more confusing when I came to start up the preview copy and was bombarded with a cacophony of colors.
I honestly believe cacophony is the only way to describe what I have seen, as each and every enemy burst into vibrant colors which filled the screen. It could almost be considered parody of arcade game graphics; however, it feels fitting for DRM. The colors are not distracting from gameplay as I’ve found with games of a similar aesthetic, they were not an obstacle as in most other brightly animated games. Instead the colors act as an accent to the gameplay as the spectrum of lights appear at the same rhythm as our characters move. Though the initial shock of the game field flourishing to life with its many colors can be jarring at first, they soon settle into view as more of the icing on a very pleasant cake.
The novelty gained through combination of vibrant aesthetic and gameplay in DRM is renewed with each level as that initial burst of color brings each new stage to life. Each level lasts between 7 to 15 seconds, messages between levels seem to disappear in a split second, so the game is providing a constant challenge to the player. If you die, you immediately start over, the game does not hold you back with a finite amount of lives, there is simply losing and beginning again. It at first seems difficult, but each level is so fast that it is never all that frustrating to lose because the player can just begin again in seconds.
The main character is a Manta Ray, which can shoot death rays out of its front side. The goal is to destroy all the enemies in each level without running into them or floating triangles. Other enemies shoot energy orbs at the Manta Ray, which can also lead to an abrupt end. Enemies are destroyed either by shooting them using z, which activates a laser from the Manta Ray, or by picking up a weapon upgrade, which acts as a diamond that follows our hero around and shoots backwards.
There were 30 levels to play in the demo, with each and every one offering a different layout and progressing challenges. Beating the level gains one point, while picking up the lone weapon upgrade in each stage scores another. A few more levels will be available on release, offering an ultimate score of 64. It was and is Rob Fearon’s design choice to set a cap for the high score, which a majority of arcade games forgo to allow infinite scoring. Another interesting option is that DRM‘s text files are editable. Players can make enemies slower, change the title screen and messages between levels, and pretty much screw up anything they see fit for DRM. The set cap for a high score and editing possibilities are unusual additions, and design choices which separate DRM from a smattering of other arcade games.
Overall, DRM is an oddly addicting experience. I am not sure of its staying power and replayability as there do not seem to be any unlockables or alternate game modes, but if you can edit the text and alter the game to your wants, it can become personal and perhaps a fantastic arcade experience. I kept playing trying to reach level 30, but was never able. I cannot explain why, but I kept playing, because each time I progressed further, and eventually began to know what lie in front of me. It’s a learning experience and becomes a die and try again type arcade experience definitely worth playing. It is challenging, but more important than that is that it asks the user to challenge him or herself to learn and improve. One thing I am sure of is that if you turn the lights off and flip on DRM, your brain may erupt, seizures may be induced, euphoria may occur, and you will not blink until the game congratulates you for your efforts.
Death Ray Manta is set for release in mid September, but the method, time, and date of release are currently mysteries. You can check out many different sources for more information on DRM as Rob Fearon has an entertaining and opinionated blog, a similarly boisterous Twitter account, and a Greenlight page. Other than getting your information directly from Mr. Fearon, you should check back with Indiegamemag.com for more info on this and other exciting Indie games.