The older Accounting gets, the better I’m convinced it is. As VR gaming has doubled down on shooters and RPGs, Squanch Games’ eccentric debut (built in partnership with Crows Crows Crows) remains one of the few experiences to explore the truly weird and unpredictable side of the tech. That’s why I was so excited to learn Squanch would next be producing a series of smaller, experimental titles for Google Daydream, and why I just spent a lot of time trying to figure out what Dr. Splorchy Presents: Space Heroes really is.
Well, it’s just a wave shooter… I think?
Available now on Daydream, Space Heroes initially looks like it’s going to be another madcap journey through the weird and wonderful mind of Justin Roiland and co. And in some respects it is, but after two playthroughs I left underwhelmed.
Things start out strangely enough. You find yourself on a space station with your undeniably testicular-shaped brother, who teaches you the basics of wave-based combat and puzzle solving and spouts nonsensical one-liners at you (“I’m Clemon Lemons!”). Before long, though, you find yourself trapped in a reoccurring cycle of shootouts and trial-and-error challenges, all fuelled by those squeaky voices, angry expressions and stuttered dialogue that give Roiland’s characters life.
At first, it seems like Space Heroes might be some sort of rollercoaster choose your own adventure ride that evolves based on both your decisions and your mistakes. Puzzles, for example, usually have hilariously morbid consequences should you make a bad move, which is basically impossible not to do. Much like Accounting’s infamous knife scene, Space Heroes got the biggest rise out of me when my actions led to something completely unexpected.
It’s a shame, then, that about 10 minutes into the adventure, Space Heroes starts to funnel you down a set path.
Shooting soon becomes the only option, and Space Heroes becomes infinitely less interesting the moment that happens. Combat is punchy and efficient; you tilt your head from side-to-side to dodge incoming bullets and flick the Daydream controller up and down to reload. But it’s also almost redundantly easy and surprisingly shallow. There’s one area, about four times of enemies, a handful of powerups and even just a few levels. The entire thing can be seen through in less than an hour, in fact. The only thing separating it from the flood of other wave shooters out there is Roiland’s sense of humor, which does admittedly give the game a distinct identity.
Ultimately, though, I ended up feeling like I was just a real-life lab rat testing out a prototype for a deeper shooting game. The real shame is that there’s a lot here that suggests something deeper lies beneath the surface. In the opening minutes you communicate with your brother via nods and head shakes, but it’s the only time in the game you’ll do it. Between rounds, you’re asked a series of bizarre questions, but I couldn’t tell you what if any effect they were really having on the experience other than trying to get me to laugh. I deliberately tried to do everything differently on my second playthrough and the ending was nearly-identical.
There are times in which the game is practically begging you to defy it and, given Squanch’s legacy, you’d expect to be rewarded for doing so. Instead, you’re just fed a slightly different line before you get the same outcome as always.
I was constantly hoping that Space Heroes was about to descend into Accounting-style anarchy, that I was just missing the secret ingredient that unlocked a whole new world of possibilities, but in the end its characters and plot felt like a red herring. The reality is that it’s a nicely dressed wave shooter that kept a smile on my face over the course of 60 minutes, but came up short when I started to look deeper. Even if you wanted to replay it for the shooting alone, you’d have to sit through the same story segments to get to that specific section.
I don’t know what Squanch and Google are planning for their future collaborations, and it’s quite possible that Dr. Splorchy is set to return, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was a little disappointed by Space Heroes. Though it initially looks like the game might be a sprawling selection of weird and wonderful possibilities, you’re eventually funneled into an entertaining if forgettable wave shooter and the number of choices you make throughout seem to have little effect on the end result. Hopefully this is just the foundation for bigger and better things to come.