For the last decade or so space games have been on a steady decline. Whether you crave an on-rails experience similar to Starfox or a more complex space simulator provided by the X series, one can’t deny that pickings have been rather slim for a while now. Meanwhile, fans of the genre have been eagerly awaiting the upcoming releases of Space Citizen and Elite Dangerous. However, while we wait perhaps it would be best to check up on smaller, unknown indie developer teams and see how they’re tackling the genre.
This brings us to Kromaia, an indie space game seeking to bridge the gap between on-rails shooters and 360º action games similar to Descent, all while sporting a minimalistic graphical style reminiscent of early texture-less 3D games. Right from the start Kromaia establishes itself as a unique experience, providing little in the way of narrative or context, but giving just enough to entice curiosity while letting players fill the gaps themselves. The game then propels you to a hub area with little more than an idea of where to go or what to do.
Upon entering a level the objectives become much clearer. Stages have 20 jumpgate components which must be collected before facing the main boss with each component being guarded by a variety of enemies. Despite the free-flow movement, combat is closer to that of an on-rails shooter than a space sim. Enemies will only attack once they swoop into the player’s field-of-view, if you try to dodge they will simply swing around the player until they are in your view once again.
This makes outrunning enemies is a near-impossible task; instead Kromaia requires gamers to either dogfight until they are all eliminated or to try and rush through each objective while being chased by an ever-growing horde. Both strategies have their merits, it’s possible to clear a map of enemies, but it’s long and grueling process. On the other hand simply rushing through each objective prevents exploration and makes each boss battle a much more daunting task.
Each enemy type requires its own set of specific tactics to shoot down, meaning the combat relies on mixing and matching these to the different attack patterns facing you. Players can boost, strafe, yaw and generally move in any direction to avoid projectiles. Your ship can only take a handful of hits, similar to what you’d expect from Starfox, though enemies tend to drop the occasional power-up or health upgrade. Finally, your ship can also “level up” proving shorter reload times for both weapons and boosts.
Players can move about in any direction they wish and are generally free to fulfil each objective at whatever pace they set. Maps are fairly large and wide while being populated by asteroids and even buildings or temples with a strong Greco-Roman inspiration, some of which can even hide secrets waiting to be unlocked. The minimalistic art style coupled with a fitting soundtrack helps establish the aura of mystery provided by what little story we’re given. We could call the visuals “Rez-inspired” but that would be a disservice to both games. Yes, both use a simplistic polygonal look, however, Rez establishes a fast paced cyberspace feel, whereas Kromaia creates a mysterious world that spikes the player’s curiosity and encourages exploration.
It should also be noted that Kromaia’s vagueness extends to its optional objectives. In one case I found a secret item but the game never bothered to tell me what my discovery actually was, choosing instead to display alien symbols with few clues as to their meaning.
Despite their size, levels still have borders but they are not apparent until crossed, when that happens the camera will suddenly shift to the opposite direction. I didn’t come across this often, but every time I did it threw my off my bearings. In one particularly egregious case the camera suddenly shifted while I was fighting a giant boss, suddenly I couldn’t see my enemy, its projectiles or where I was going.
Kromaia’s biggest issue lies with repetition. There are only a few stages in the overall package and the game expects you to replay them several times with different ships. Moreover the continuous onslaught of enemies quickly becomes monotonous. The game tries to get around this issue with an arcade-like point scoring system, it’s not enough to offset the near relentless aggressions. This isn’t to say Kromaia is a difficult game, it’s actually quite accessible, but it does a poor job at balancing the frustration of a SHMUP with the exploration it tries to provide.
The game allows players to use a keyboard & Mouse, controller or a joystick. I didn’t get the chance to try it with a joystick, but between both remaining options, I surprisingly had an easier time steering with the controller. It sacrificed accuracy for an easier flow of movements which I found preferable to its mouse counterpart where a 180º turn often had me struggling with the controls.
Kromaia is an interesting take on space games, combining the constant flow of action found in an on-rails shooter while providing the freedom of movement and exploration found in titles like Descent. The action is solid and its moody atmosphere intrigued me into learning more about this world. Unfortunately, the repetitive and often frustrating nature of the games it pays homage to quickly sets in, preventing players from properly exploring its artistically beautiful locations. For this reason, Kromaia is at its best when played in short bursts.
Kromaia was played on the PC with review code provided by the publisher.
Developer: Kraken Empire
Publisher: Rising Star Games
Release date: October 23rd, 2014
Languages: English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Russian, Spanish