Only by Midnight describes Curved Space as “...an intense arcade-style twin-stick shooter that takes the classic formula and plunges it into the weirdest reaches of space.” I agree with most of that statement, but not all of it. This is certainly an arcade-style game, even insofar as it has lives and continues, something you don’t see all that often these days. It also lives up to the promise of being in the weirdest reaches of space, with gravity defying levels throughout (more on that later). The part that is (in my humble opinion) somewhere between an exaggeration and a bare-faced lie, is the “twin-stick shooter” part. Call me old fashioned, but I’ve always felt that the key ingredient in that particular genre is the use of two sticks to control the action. As that isn’t the case here, this isn’t a twin-stick shooter. It’s a small thing to be nit-picky about, but when a game has lied to me before I’ve even figuratively got the shrink wrap off, that’s not a brilliant sign.
Inaccurate description aside, Curved Space is a reasonably original take on the multidirectional shooter genre. Your ship is hovering slightly above the floor of 3D levels throughout, but the twist is that gravity is relative, allowing you to flip over to the other side of structures in a manner akin to Super Mario Galaxy or Kula World. This is a really nice novel mechanic that I’ve not seen often and it makes the game stand out compared to others in the genre, one of the levels is even a mobius strip!
Whilst it’s available on multiple platforms, I played Curved Space on the PS5. It’s a good fit, with a look and feel that harks back to some of the futuristic games of the original PlayStation such as N2O, Wipeout, and Viper. The lighting effects and bursts of neon throughout are stunningly gorgeous, certainly some of the best I’ve seen from an indie developer on the console so far. The soundtrack reinforces this retrofuturistic ethos too, with pumping synthwave throughout from artists such as 3Force and Scandroid. It’s a modern take on the often big-beat soundtracks you would get in those kinds of games and I’m down with that. There’s even an option in the main menu to play the soundtrack, complete with some sweet visualisations.
Unfortunately, it has to be said that this game doesn’t play as well as it looks and sounds. That unique gravity effect makes for some cool looking levels, but they aren’t always easy to navigate. Getting your bearings on where you are is tricky sometimes due to the twists and turns, and when the game asks you to kill only one particular enemy and ignore the rest, finding them is a bit on the difficult side. This is made slightly less frustrating by the fact that all the levels are relatively small, but then that adds its own frustrations with things starting to look a bit samey after a while.
Enemy variety is also rather limited, with just a few variations on a small number of beasties, all of them spiders or bugs. There’s not that much of a difference in how to kill them either, and in most cases you can just strafe around everything with the fire button held down to progress. It’s cool to feel overpowered but it does get old very quickly. There are a few additional game modes to add longevity, including an endless variant and a daily multiplayer challenge. This doesn’t resolve the issue of the core gameplay loop being too repetitive however so for me, it didn't add that much extra.
One thing I did like was that the game makes pretty good use of the Dualsense. The haptic feedback and adaptive triggers are used to good effect, with explosions and hits easy to feel even if the action gets too hectic to see them well. Characters in the game communicate with you through the controller as if you’re being given instructions over radio comms too, which I felt was a nice touch.
In short bursts, Curved Space is fun, but it was a chore to work through the campaign and I can’t see myself returning to it much. It’s a shame because it looks great and the concept really appealed to me. This is a pretty low-priced title, so I don’t want to be too harsh on it, but it’s not a twin-stick and it’s only entertaining for a short spell so whilst it’s decent for the price, it’s not a must-buy.
Curved Space (Reviewed on PlayStation 5)
Game is enjoyable, outweighing the issues there may be.
A fantastic looking game with a banging soundtrack, but not one that will keep you occupied for too long. Gameplay is far from bad, but it’s not up to the same standard as the graphics and audio sadly. Curved Space is a slickly presented but sadly average title.