This is the ninety-eighth 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.
Duel in space with friends
But what if you don’t have any friends? No worries, there’s also an arcade mode that lets players duel against AI ships, which meant I was actually able to play this one!
Space Duet is a small side project from Matthew Alan Estock, whose main project is Kingdom Bash. Described as “a quick game to enjoy while you wait for your other games”, Space Duet takes inspiration from one of the oldest video games, Spacewar!, which appeared way back in 1962 for the PDP-1 minicomputer. Like that game, it pits two spaceships (blue and orange spaceships, of course, because those are the Only Colors) against each other inside a gravity well. Rotate, fire thrusters, and launch torpedoes to try to blow up your opponent before they do the same to you.
I’ve never played Spacewar!, but I did look it up on the internet. So I can report that Space Duet makes a few changes to the formula, beyond just modern conveniences. Torpedoes in Space Duet are color-coded, just like the ships, and do no harm to the ship that fired them. This makes it a little easier to maneuver once a bunch of torpedoes are orbiting the gravity well along with the combatants. There’s no star at the center of the well to crash into either, so slingshot maneuvers are much less risky. And the warp maneuver from Spacewar! has been replaced with a boost dash, teleporting a ship in the direction they’re facing, allowing for more skillful dodging and a bit more control over the duel. A scoring system has been implemented as well, taking into account near misses as well as speed and proximity bonuses to award higher scores for fancy flying, not just mere victory.
Duels are still quick, though, often lasting mere seconds. Especially at the start, when I was still adjusting to the controls. I’ve played thruster-style games before, such as Asteroids (or indeed Asteroid Farmer, one of the early entries in this series) with it’s free-floating classical mechanics, or Lunar Lander and its ilk, where thrusts must offset a downward gravitational pull. But I’ve never flown around a circular gravity well like the one here, and my early flights ended in destruction in a laughably short time. But within just a few minutes I was getting the hang of it, making some cool orbital maneuvers, and starting to predict the orbital trajectories of my torpedoes to create a danger area for my AI-controlled foe. I even made it onto the high score list!
Space Duet is, as advertised, a very simple game, but it’s presented well. It has smoothly animated pixel art with some cool effects for torpedo trails and explosions. There’s a pulsing chromatic aberration effect to mimic vintage displays, although this can be disabled in the options if desired. The action is accompanied by some pleasant chiptune music. AI enemies all appear to be dogs, each with a name and face, and the player can pet their own dog pilot between rounds. Most importantly, it’s fun! A nice little thing to play for a few minutes here and there.
Also, while playing against the AI is fine, I suspect Space Duet will really shine in local multiplayer. The default keyboard controls use WASD, the space bar, and left shift, which seemed odd until I realized it was leaving space for a second player on the same keyboard (and also means Space Duet can be played with one hand, for those who need to). Get two people together who are similarly skilled (or similarly inept) at orbital torpedo blasting, and Space Duet could be a raucous good time. And if you’re solo, a few bouts against the AI is fun too. If you missed it in the bundle, Space Duet is sold for a minimum price of $3, and if it earns enough money Matthew Alan Estock will add some new features too, like powerups, arcade bosses, or online multiplayer.
That’s 98 down, and only 1643 to go!