The Latest

Bright Side of the Moon – Halfbrick Blast Off

Halfbrick Blastoff for the Xbox 360. Developer: Halfbrick, Publisher: Halfbrick

While most of my friends have blissful memories of tossing a football with dad in the front yard, my recollections of father/son recreation centered solely around videogames. Saturday afternoons were either spent playing Combat on the Atari 2600, or at one of the local arcades. My dad wasn’t a consummate gamer, instead focusing on a select number of diversions. Atari’s Lunar Lander was one of his favorites; the title’s robust challenge and advanced physics modeling captivated him. Being a youngster, I naively preferred the simplicity and charm of Pac-Man.

While many modern titles borrow heavily from classic gaming’s canon, the moon landing simulator has been a relatively neglected genre. Recent XNA Community title Halfbrick Blast Off is clearly influenced by Lunar Lander, and has tenderly updated the game into a compelling, and wonderfully thorny arcade- puzzler. The object of each of the game’s 48 levels is to liftoff from earth, collect a required number of astronauts that are littered around the screen, and return to a revolving warp gate. After a few hours with the game, I experienced the same fascination with the game as my father did with the Atari coin-op, years earlier.

Although Blast Off’s control set is delightfully simple, each new level brings an additional amount of adversity to challenge the gamer. Players first set their escape velocity by holding down the ‘A’ button, letting go to expel into the dangers of space. Players then use the left stick to rotate their plucky rocketship, while applying thrust. It’s an astounding simple control scheme that works, and is less complex that Lunar Lander’s level and three button input method.

After the first level introduces the control scheme to players, planets are introduced. Each galactic globe has a gravitational field that attracts the player’s ship, making navigation delightfully problematic. Head into a planet and your ship explodes in a plume of smoke and debris. Instead, players must carefully slingshot themselves around each space sphere, flying dangerous close to a planet’s surface. Even after hours of gameplay, traversing the circumference of a satellite was a consistently harrowing experience.

Make no mistake- Halfbrick Blast Off can be frustrating.  Successions of deaths are almost guaranteed, even on the easier levels. Fortunately, the gamer has an infinite number of lives, and the required number of cosmonauts for level completion is curved slowly. Successfully completing a labyrinthine journey around many of the levels invokes a warm feeling of satisfaction, however.

While a scant few XNA titles harness the graphical power of the 360, Halfbrick Blast Off’s visuals are extremely competent, displaying spinning textured planet surfaces, hazy galaxies and the occasional passing meteor. Sonically, the game’s soundtrack is exceptional, featuring a synthesizer score that conveys the sense of isolation felt by the drifting astronauts. All potential XNA developers should take notice of Blast Off’s minimal aural accompaniment that complements the on-screen action admirably.

As with all of the XNA community games, players have to wallow through the 360’s cumbersome dashboard interface to find HalfBrick Blast Off. Fortunately, the title’s galactic journey is much more enjoyable that the slog required to actually find the game. At five dollars, Blast Off offers players a few hours of gratification that hark back to a tragically forgotten era in gaming.

About Robert Allen

With over 35 years of gaming experience, Robert 'DesertEagle' Allen is Tech-Gaming's resident worrier/warrior who spends his days teaching at three colleges and his nights devoted to JRPGs.

27 comments

  1. RocksontheScotch

    Cool find. I might have to try it.

  2. Got the demo precued, I’ll be trying this when I get home.

  3. I agree finding titles in the XNA is really shit. Many people don’t even know about them.

    They need to create some ads to direct people to the general area.

  4. Never heard of it. Sounds like its worth a shot.

  5. Just got the demo. I almost wished the game scaled the screen, instead of gave you the off-screen indicator.

    That would be cool to see big planets turn into pinheads.

  6. So DE played a lot of games as a kid. Go figure! What a nerd- he probably throws like a girl 😉

  7. Sounds really simple, but I’ll try it.

  8. So Halfbrick is going the PixelJunk route and putting their name in all the titles.

    Keep an eye out for Moonknight’s Kart Racing on Xbox 1040 in 2016.

  9. Makes me think of the song ROCKETMAN!!!

  10. I’ll give it a go or your recommendation.

  11. Damn, that rocket is tiny!!!

  12. I never heard of Lunar Lander before. Thanks for the history lesson.

  13. I’d like to see an interview with the developers.

  14. I just d/led it and it’s balls hard. I strongly advice people to play the demo before purchasing.

    Not that it’s bad in any way, but for me, the frustration factor is high.

  15. I tried the demo, easy levels were very hard. Still It got some replay value.

    One thing to the devs- put the retry option on the FIRST screen, please!

  16. Man some of the levels seem impossible to gold.

  17. Nice Floyd reference. Game sounds interesting.

  18. While I’ll be skipping this, I look forward to Halfbrick’s next efforts.

  19. Looks cool.

  20. Download the demo. Man, the game gets tough quick.

  21. The warpgate looks like a bullet hole in those pics 😉

  22. Kick ass game, thanks for the info!!!

  23. I will probably get this as soon as I get the points.

  24. It appears Halfbrick is making a big impact, at least in the development scene. After the Joystiq interview I came across Kotaku:
    http://www.kotaku.com.au/2009/04/interview_aussie_dev_halfbrick_talks_xna_community_games/

  25. Thanks for the links, Foxtail.

  26. Wow, these are interesting games. There are few og the games that are connected with planets. That is why these are very special.