As I launched Space Giraffe, this line popped up underneath the publisher's logo: "Warning: This game may be psychedelic." This is a very big understatement, as I'm pretty sure that the game is considered to be drug paraphernalia and, consequently, banned in at least three states and half of rural Alaska. I found Space Giraffe to be a nonsensical, insane twist on a fairly basic gameplay pattern, with little marketable value aside from being particularly well-suited for drug-addled gaming sessions.
It probably doesn't help that the idea of psychedelic games was put into my head by Rez, and that I happened to pick up Qubed, an Xbox Live Arcade collection containing Rez HD, at the same time. While one title might be 2-D and the other 3-D, the games are far too similar in too many ways — and it rapidly becomes clear that Rez, Sega's offering from the days of the Dreamcast, is far superior.
In a word, Space Giraffe's basic gameplay is: Tempest. You're put on one of many variously shaped tunnels and move along, blasting enemies before they get to the line and without letting them shoot you back. Until we get to the visuals, there are only three differences between the old formula and its predecessor from 20-plus years ago. First, Space Giraffe lets you ram enemies who are on the line, as long as you've recently shot an enemy to fill a ramming gauge. Second, Space Giraffe has regular power-ups (though it isn't very clear what they do). The only one that really changes gameplay is that you can now aim your shots, and they'll even bounce off the edges, allowing you shoot enemies without being in their row. Unfortunately, as they can only shoot straight, this can break gameplay. If you pay a minimal amount of attention and aim your shots ahead of where you're going, you'll often be able to breeze through levels in a short amount of time.
Space Giraffe's gameplay really does not hold up that well. Just as its predecessor fell to more straightforward 2-D shooters and true 3-D shooters, Space Giraffe's gameplay doesn't hold up against most of the market. This forces the game to rely on its presentation to sell itself ... and this is where the real problems begin.
Like Rez, Space Giraffe seems to be going for a particular sensory phenomena known as synesthesia, where your senses bleed together until you are seeing sounds and hearing colors. Unfortunately, while there are many ways to bring across this effect, most of them only work while you're on substances that are more regulated than caffeine. Out of the efforts I have seen, only Rez has ever brought my senses to that state of openness for any length of time, and did so in part through an awesome synchronization of the music and graphics, both influenced strongly by the gameplay. In Space Giraffe, things just don't seem to synch up. When you do something, it affects the graphics and sound, but they don't seem to cross into each other, and the sound choices just don't work.
The graphical set features a shapeless miasma background, combined with vector graphics that remind just a hint too strongly of its competitor, but without the advantage of things resembling real-world objects to move the senses further into the experience. (Whoever declared that the player avatar looks like a giraffe had to be in the target audience state, if you know what I mean.) The results are tolerable, but a bit too abstract to really drag in the senses.
However, the sound only makes things worse. The music is quite decent but doesn't react to anything. Unfortunately, interaction with the music can be key to bringing forth the sense of synesthesia. Instead, the game goes for an array of sounds that seem completely disjointed and mismatched. Your gunfire is a tiny "plunk," picking up a power-up has the game singing, "Pod! Pod!", enemies explode with an 8-bit explosion noise, and getting shot … causes a telephone to ring? Wait, what?!
Space Giraffe doesn't provide the pleasant feeling of sense-opening synesthesia that I get when playing Rez HD. In no area does the game even begin to approach the quality of that classic gameplay. Space Giraffe feels like a game that, in trying to evoke a specific emotional state, ends up failing to evoke any at all. The game is mildly interesting, but I can't really see it appealing to an extensive audience. If shaking the screen makes you hear pink elephants, then you might be able to better understand Space Giraffe's idiosyncrasies than I.
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