The arena shooter (going by the old-skool, and therefore accurate, definition) is a well-worn formula. A solitary ship/robot/man, agile and heavily armed and under twin-stick control, is trapped in a small space and has to dispatch swarms of enemies. Meanwhile, every particle effect and glitchy noise the developer can muster gets fired off at you in an off-putting synesthetic cacophony. There’s no reason for any of it but it’s fun until boredom or a desperate need for paracetamol sets in. And there’s no reason to change that.
Well, OOOB by Bruce Slater does want change that. Some of that. The fun and the headaches can stay.
Rather than controlling a single ship, OOOB splits you in two. At the centre of the arena lies a vulnerable, rotating but otherwise fixed gun turret. Around it buzzes an agile, invincible, but unarmed ship. You use one stick to control the ship, the other to shoot with the turret. There are several turret and ship styles to choose from, the turrets all having different firing patterns.
Into the mix comes a squadron of enemy ships, geometric shapes (traditional) buzzing around the arena, only a handful at first but approaching in increasing numbers. If any of these make contact with your turret you lose energy. Lose all your energy and it’s game over.
It’s an unusual control scheme that I found hard to grasp. I could aim my weapons pretty accurately, but with my attention split between the turret and the incoming enemies, my other-half would usually be found aimlessly hovering around the corner of the screen. I only have two eyes, and they spend most of their time pointing at the same thing.
Luckily, OOOB is nice to look at. It lacks the boisterousness of many of its peers, its particle effects and bloomy glows being somewhat muted compared to NEON Ultra, for example. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and as the density of enemies and pickups increases it remains readable as a result. Sounds are limited to simple explosions and pickup buzzes.
Another gameplay mechanic to add to the mix is resource management, in the form of limited ammunition. This is where the secondary ship properly plays its part, as a sort of mobile hoover for loot drops. Every enemy you destroy leaves behind a box of bullets, and these need to be collected by your wayward partner lest your turret run dry.
It’s a good idea that initially falls slightly flat. Early in my first game I found myself critically low on ammo while I aimlessly fumbled Roomba around the place. This is particularly true if you choose one of the more heavily armed turrets – a five-shot weapon that fires in all directions at once goes through bullets five times faster than the standard pea-shooter, and is consequently harder to manage at this early stage.
However, once I realised that I needed to be somewhat cautious, and that I actually had to make proper use of my collector, I found my stocks of bullets increasing rapidly. After a minute or two spent carefully targeting specific enemies with short bursts, the density of enemies reached a watershed moment such that I could spray bullets with abandon and make an ammo-profit with every kill.
This profusion of bonuses actually leads to OOOB’s third and most subtle gameplay element: your bullets don’t pass through the loot drops. Your mid-game bullet festival killing spree reaches a point where you are surrounded by so many pickups that you can’t collect them fast enough to make space to shoot new enemies as they arrive. Your Roomba can safely collide with enemies, but each hit slows it down briefly, making it even more difficult to keep the hoovering under control.
This situation ends up creating a sort of circular wavefront of flotsam, hemming your turret into an ever-shrinking claustrophobic bubble of free space, with enemies frothing at the surface and reinforcements arriving constantly. This is end game.
OOOB is a nice take on an established formula that tries to do some interesting things, and somewhat succeeds. It is, however, a self-limiting experience. Many twin-stick arena shooters beg me to play more, to learn, to improve. OOOB’s end-state seems so insurmountable that after a couple of attempts I feel that I’ve got nowhere left to go. And I don’t mean to show off (OK, I do a bit) but the Itch page for the game includes the words “Can you beat 183645!”
Yes, I can. By about a multiple of five. I’m done.
All criticisms aside though, OOOB is a fun and well-presented game while your interest lasts, well worth a look if you like the genre and want to pass twenty minutes.