Space Giraffe
by Polly


Me and Space Giraffe have had a bit of a contentious relationship since its original release on XBLA in 2007 and through its PC release in 2008. It's a game that I have played off and on in bursts over the years and attempted to review many times, but there's just...  SEE? IT'S HAPPENING NOW! I've probably scrapped three total Space Giraffe reviews in SMPS.Net's lifespan, but I figure now that I've learned to get back to basics and winging it a little more, rambling on about this game like an idiot should come a little easier without the subconscious pressure the site usually put on me to be a little more structured. 


Jeff Minter generously saves me from having to type 38 characters with his introduction in Space Giraffe's "How To Play" menu. Though many will look at its tube shooting premise wrapped in a nearly impenetrable wall of psychedelic eye razors and suspect that it's just another rehash of Tempest 2000/3000 by that guy that made Tempest 2000 and 3000Space Giraffe is actually more of a derivative spin on tube-shooting.  Much in the same way this generation saw iteration upon iteration of the twin stick Robotron/Smash TV'esque shooter, Space Giraffe takes an old idea and builds on it in ways that add vitality and depth.  


Yeah, it looks and feels a lot like Tempest. The only immediate difference you'll notice is that along with using the left stick to move along the rim of the web, you can also use the right stick to aim "hoof shots," to aim at enemies and projectiles in lanes to your left and right. But, go ahead, sit down and try to play Space Giraffe like Tempest. You'll probably be fine for the first four or five webs, but after the fifth or so stage, you'll feel as if you're trying to  create a new door for your house by banging your head against the outside. You may make some progress, but you aren't gonna finish, and in both cases you'll likely need hospitalization.

Explaining and understanding the mechanics that make Space Giraffe unique can prove a bit daunting, but I'll give it a go. The in-game tutorial and manuals do a TERRIBLE job of explaining themselves, and I find this is where most people get frustrated with the game initially. 


Understanding and learning how to utilize the "Power Zone," the game's most important mechanic, is key to ever being anywhere near moderately decent at it. 

Simply, the Power Zone is a white line that moves horizontally across the web and back toward your..."giraffe."  Everything between the white line and the rim of the web is considered "in the Power Zone." The Power Zone is constantly shrinking, and the goal is to keep it expanded by  shooting more enemies and collecting or using Jump Pods (more on those later.).

The Power Zone serves two very important purposes.

1. It slows down enemy projectiles.
2. While it's active, the game's other key mechanic, "Bulling," is possible.


Bulling says, "eff that," to Tempest's "don't let enemies reach the rim" design. Instead, Space Giraffe actively encourages letting the little space buggers pile up and chase you around the web, and with the Power Zone active, you can steer directly into huge clumps of enemies to  well..."bull" them off the stage, resulting in huge score bonuses and a ridiculously cathartic sense of satisfaction. There's no better feeling in the game than when you finally learn to set up huge bulling chains and watching your multiplier and score skyrocket as everything disintegrates into a blinding puff of multicolored neon space dust. 

Doubling back to the Jump Pods mentioned earlier, these shiny little trinkets appear on the web as you destroy more enemies. They serve as crucial bonus upgrades such as faster shooting and extra lives, but their most important feature is refilling the Power Zone and letting you jump off the web to avoid and destroy enemies impervious to bulling, as well as bat away projectiles and give yourself a moment to breathe. You also have one smart bomb, or "Sheepiezapper" per life that can clear out most of your opposition, but it's nowhere near as fun as bulling. 

When all these core elements come together, along with the game's vast variety of enemy types, web shapes, and intense reliance on risk vs reward, Space Giraffe is a delight to play. The moment everything finally clicks and you "get it" is one of the best I've felt this generation, comparable to the same feeling when you realize how Portal works. 

That said, the game has some really damaging flaws that can really turn folks away, even if they're able to jump that first hurdle and "get it." 


The first thing that's gonna really ruin a lot of peoples' days is the game's psychedelic visuals. To put it bluntly, they're just a little fucking out of control a lot of the time, often to the point of obscuring gameplay so much that it's hard to tell what's even going on and why you died. Enemies, flowers, and bullets can often get completely lost amid the visual chaos that plays out in front of you, and by around levels 50-60 the game can sometimes start feeling really unfair. 

Jeff Minter has been working with visualizers for 30+ years and loves to show that off in all his games, and nowhere is that more present than Space Giraffe. To his credit, the visual effects are astounding, but often a bit too overwhelming.

The PC release of the game tried to remedy this with a new visualizer mode you can select before launching the game (NUXX Space Giraffe), but things still tend to get a bit too intense, and will still be very unfriendly to those (like myself) with eye problems or bad vision. 


As you can tell, NUXX is certainly a bit more tame, and the view is pulled out on certain stages that were problematic in the original version to make viewing down the web a lot easier. There are also some gameplay-related differences between the two modes, but they're essentially the same, and at some point you WILL have to tap out for a break. 

With visuals so overpowering, the game uses audio to try and guide the player. Every single enemy, attack, and event in the game has a unique audio cue, and these can be memorized and reacted to without visuals. The game seems to want you to try and build a dynamic moment-to-moment mental map based on the visual and audio feedback, and when it works, it's a fucking great magic trick, and when it doesn't, it'll be really hard to fight that urge to shut the game off. 


I feel the main reason that type of immersion gets broken is that the game has a weird obsession with subtly tweaking its own rules for certain stages and not telling you. Sometimes you'll find yourself in a new stage and for some random unexplained reason, the Power Zone shrinks at an alarmingly fast rate, and destroyed enemies don't seem to fill it up quite as fast. Other times, enemies' projectiles seem to completely defy the rule of the Power Zone in that "enemy projectiles move slower in the Power Zone." Sometimes flowers grow at three and four times their normal rate and are also indestructible. These subtle, yet impactful rule changes just keep happening throughout the game's 100 stages. You'd think at the very least, that stage names would try and clue you in on what the deal is, but such is not the case. Instead, you have to suss out and remember what random gimmick stage 81 has for next time, and then find a way to fight back against it. I've never been a fan of changing the rules of a game all willy-nilly on the player and not preparing or telling them. In fact, it's one of the biggest issues I can have with a game, and just because I like Space Giraffe doesn't mean I'm going to give it a pass on a really boneheaded and unfair design choice. 

Thankfully, given that it's a high score based game, Space Giraffe takes it pretty easy on the player in terms of progression. You can always resume from the stage you last entered, and you can even resume a high score run by starting at and completing any stage you entered with three or more lives. This is definitely a feature that makes the game much easier to come back to and definitely shaves a bit of the frustration off. It's also probably, ya know...good for the eyes, because holy shit I can't imagine staring at this game for 100 stages in a row.


If you're able to find your way to this game's warm gooey LSD-laced core, through the eye-searing visuals and boisterous 80's arcade sound effects (complete with Llamasoft's staple farm animal noises), Space Giraffe is both an engaging and fully satisfying experience that will instill that "just one more try" sensation any good high score blaster can. It's just really gonna test your patience in the process with some bad design decisions, awkward difficulty spikes, and initially sharp learning curve. I'd wholly recommend trying the demo a few times and seeing if Space Giraffe can work its magic on you before you completely write it off, however.

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