This is the twenty-third entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1704 1741 games and game-related things included in the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,175,279.81 split evenly between the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, but don’t worry if you missed it. There are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

Interesting. This next random selection from the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality is — like the last one — about space. It’s Space Mayhem, by Chronic Vagrant. And, also like the last selection, it has no tagline in the bundle. I guess when you’re caught in the midst of some space mayhem, a few things slip through the cracks.

Space Mayhem is styled like a classic arcade game. In fact, it clearly borrows some inspiration from Asteroids, much like the second entry in this series, Asteroid Farmer. Players control a small spaceship as it flies around the screen in two dimensions, shooting at asteroids and enemy spaceships. But the similarities end there. For one, the edges of the screen don’t wrap around to the other side like they do in Asteroids. Also, the familiar small and large asteroids are quickly upstaged by enemy ships, of which there is an impressive selection. But the biggest difference is that Space Mayhem doesn’t use “thruster” control, the semi-Newtonian movement found in Asteroids (and Asteroid Farmer) where the player’s ship maintains its velocity while its thrusters are off, and must rotate and thrust again in order to change direction.

Instead, the player’s ship in Space Mayhem is always flying forwards at a constant speed. So it becomes a game about managing a fixed turning radius. It is possible to slow down slightly by hitting the brakes (and to speed forward with the limited boost) but the ship will never stop. Turns are slow enough that I felt I needed to plan my movements, but fortunately the general pace of the game accommodates that. Most of the unlockable ships are decently fast, but the fixed turns still recall naval combat more than anything else. I would chart a course across the screen, prioritizing targets and powerups as they gradually appeared from the sides.

Powerups are at the heart of Space Mayhem. The default weapon is highly accurate at long range, but its low damage and slow rate of fire make it less than ideal for eliminating threats. The powerups which appear regularly grant new and more effective weapons. This reminded me a little of the now-defunct Vlambeer‘s Super Crate Box, where each new pickup grants a weapon that works differently than the last. In Space Mayhem, I could see what they were before picking them up, but I usually needed to grab each one in order to manage the growing enemy fleets. Weapons run the gamut from a short range rapid-firing blaster, to big missiles with huge blast areas, a flamethrower, or homing rockets. Some are more defensive, like the mines, or the Orbiter which fires projectiles that then orbit the player’s ship to intercept incoming enemies. One weapon seemed to be an homage to the mighty Particle Vortex Cannon in Weird Worlds: Return To Infinite Space, sending a projectile across the entire screen that zaps anything that gets too close. Get some enemies in a line, and it can destroy them all in one shot, big and small.

My favorite weapon, though, is the laser. It has limited range, but fire it while turning and it sweeps through a pack of enemies, leaving nothing but explosions in its wake. With the laser I learned to approach enemies at an angle so I could perform these sweep attacks, and other weapons have similar impacts on tactics. One weapon fires outward in all directions, daring me to fly into a cluster of enemies so I could catch them all. Mines can be dropped as defensive measures, but they drift a short distance after being released, so savvy pilots can perform a bombing run against a tough enemy, releasing the mine at point blank range so it will attach to the enemy hull. Since weapon powerups only last for a set number of shots, it’s important to use them effectively rather than just fire them off wildly. The variety of weapon behaviors and effective ranges means that tactics must always be adjusted on the fly.

All of this feels and looks great. I don’t want to keep comparing Space Mayhem to Vlambeer’s work, but the latter are often lauded for excellent player feedback through sound, graphical flourishes, and effects like screen shake, and Space Mayhem uses all the same tricks. The pixel graphics look simple but allow for fantastic explosions, with numbers for points and multipliers bursting forth from defeated enemies. Just the right amount of screen shake accompanies each blast, in my opinion, but players who dislike screen shake effects can turn them off in the options if they prefer. Where Space Mayhem differs from Vlambeer’s games is its more sedate pace, feeling thoughtful rather than frantic. I enjoyed this more relaxing take on a score-chasing game, and even when I made a mistake it wasn’t the end of the world, because ships can take a few hits and even heal themselves with the right powerups. Refreshingly, scoring is not based on speed either, rewarding players with higher combos simply for destroying enemies without getting hit themselves. The only exception is the highest combo level which applies a 32x multiplier to scores and only lasts for a limited time before reverting back to 16x. Players looking to get really high scores will want to time things so they can take out swathes of enemies while this is active, but I was happy to just keep playing as normal.

The only drive for repeated plays, other than chasing high scores, is unlocking ships by grabbing enough of the coins that eventually appear. The first few ships aren’t that interesting, just minor variations on the starting ship with different speed or health. Later ships get a bit more interesting though, like the big, slow tanker which has a ton of health but can’t do much dodging or careful positioning. Each ship has its own high score table, so players can pick the one they like best or try to master them all.

There’s not much more to Space Mayhem. But that’s enough. It’s a simple game offering simple entertainment for short play sessions, with the occasional unlocked ship to spice things up. I could level a few minor complaints, if I were being picky. The sound design is less impressive than the visual design, for example, with stereotypical “pew pew” sounds for most weapons. But these change in pitch as weapons are nearly out of ammo, warning players to start looking for the next powerup, and enemies have distinctive sounds too, so I was aware of threats even if I wasn’t focusing on them at the moment. The music is rather simple and forgettable, unfortunately, but it can be turned off in the options if players prefer.

My biggest complaint is the bizarre default control settings. Movement is mapped to WASD by default, with shooting and bombs on the space bar and left ALT key. As someone who once broke their wrist, I appreciate the option to control games entirely with one hand, but it doesn’t make much sense as the default here. Developers: I know that WASD is used for movement in nearly all first-person games, but that’s because we’re using the mouse with our other hand. If your game does not use the mouse (Space Mayhem does not) we don’t need to have movement on WASD, especially if that means we’ll be using the same hand to control movement and shooting. Fortunately, it’s easy enough to rebind the keys in the options menu, so I was able to set the arrow keys for movement and Z and X for shooting and bombing. And you could set anything you like instead.

And you should, because Space Mayhem is pretty fun. It won’t consume your time for hours on end, but it’s a nice little game to play during a break, and it doesn’t require lightning fast reflexes so it shouldn’t be too stressful. If you missed it in the bundle, Space Mayhem is for sale for a minimum price of $1.

That’s 23 down, and only 1681 1718 to go!