This is the thirty-second entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1741 games and game-related things included in the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,149,829.66 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.

Here we go with another random selection from the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. This time it’s SPACEBEEF, by aeonofdiscord. Its tagline in the bundle reads:

Explode your friends!

For those who may be wondering what “beef” means in this context, you can find a helpful explanation from noted Youtube personality and social media influencer The Notorious B.I.G. right here. This is that, but in space.

Readers, I admit I was concerned by the mention of exploding one’s friends, fearing I would be unable to play SPACEBEEF without some other humans to play with. SPACEBEEF is clearly intended as a local multiplayer game, but fortunately for me, it includes the option to use AI opponents for solitary players. What we have here is a top-down view, competitive twin stick shooter with spaceships. Each player or AI opponent chooses a pilot and heads into a circular arena, able to control their ship’s movement and firing direction independently. This is traditionally done with a gamepad, using one analogue stick to move around and the other to aim one’s shots, but I was able to use my keyboard for movement and mouse for aiming and shooting. The goal is to blast everyone else and be the last ship flying.

Over a starfield backdrop with some nice blue nebulas, combatants’ ships careen around at high speed, firing off their pew-pew guns at each other. Ships also feature a kind of laser scissors to cut up enemies at short range. Asteroids drift by too, breaking apart when shot in true Asteroids fashion. Everything moves smoothly, with nice particle effects accompanying ship engine trails and weapons. I like the game page too, with its concise, funny description, including bulleted features such as “Runs on junk!” and “You can turn the music off!”. Unfortunately, playing SPACEBEEF is an exercise in confusion and disorientation.

Ships are small and fly around very quickly, making it hard to keep track of who is who. The camera is constantly switching to different zoom settings, so when I did finally find my ship on the screen, I’d lose track of it again a few seconds later. Dying and respawning is instant, so for my first few matches (which last mere minutes) I actually didn’t even realize I’d died (three times!) until one of the AI pilots was declared the winner. I eventually determined that death is one of the causes of the sudden, jerky camera movements, as my ship respawned somewhere else in the arena.

Not only is it not possible to rebind the controls, it’s not possible to find out what they are. There’s no in-game help screen, and the game page doesn’t list controls either. I managed to figure out that I could use WASD to move, my left mouse button to fire my main gun, and my right mouse button to activate the laser scissors. But sometimes my gun changed into homing rockets and I have no idea why. The HUD indicates that each ship has a few bombs, but I don’t know how to use them. I’d assumed that the four available pilots were simply cosmetic choices, but the changelog implies that they have unique abilities and/or ships. I have no clue as to how those work.

With a dedicated group of friends to play with locally, who don’t mind a lot of trial and error as they figure things out, SPACEBEEF could be fun. It certainly seems there’s a lot more to it than I was able to deduce. But playing against AI was just a brief, confounding experience, and it didn’t leave me itching to learn more. If you think you might enjoy settling some beef in space, however, consider giving SPACEBEEF a look. For those who missed it in the bundle, it’s available for whatever price you wish to pay (including nothing), for Windows and Linux.

That’s 32 down, and only 1709 left to go!