Truly great video games are able to teleport players to a new world, but truly great VR experiences have a way of making it feel like you’re right there in that world yourself. In the case of Space Pirate Trainer, it’s a world that most gamers will be familiar with: a retro-styled, Space Invaders-ish world with high scores, lots of droids to blast, and a slew of terrific ways to destroy them. Lob remote-detonated grenades, shoot them with single or auto-fire blasts, use a shield to protect yourself while deflecting their own lasers back at them, power up your various tech to kill them for you, and use power-ups to get an advantage… because with the hordes of bots you’ll be facing off against, you’ll need every advantage you can get!
Title: Space Pirate Trainer
Game Version: Final
Review Copy: Provided by developer
Interface: PSVR headset, 2 move controllers
Available on PlayStation 4 (PSVR and 2 move controllers required) and Steam (Windows: HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, or Windows Mixed Reality and motion controls required)
Remember those awesome classic arcade cabinets? Imagine if those were immersive… Space Pirate Trainer puts you in one of those; fighting off relentless waves of droids with all the weapons and gadgets you would ever need as a space pirate. You better dodge some of those incoming lasers though, since just using your shields won’t get you in the top rankings. Pick up your blasters, put on your sneakers, and dance your way into the Space Pirate Trainer hall of fame.
Over the last 3 decades of gaming there have been a few particularly powerful moments in gaming for me personally; moments that blew me away with just how much is possible with video games. One of the most recent was certainly VR, and a few indie teams have created experiences that truly live up to the word awesome.
My latest mind-blowing experience came from a seemingly-ordinary game listing on the PlayStation Store for a game called Space Pirate Trainer and the trailer above. It gave me this feeling of Star-Lord (from Guardians of the Galaxy), out in space, protecting some awesome loot he found while battling off endless enemies. The space pirate in that video doesn’t just shoot, he dances around with Matrix-like bullet time while blowing them away. That seemed like something I desperately wanted to do!
Space Pirate Trainer is a VR game with intense action, lots of options for destruction, and that “just one more try” addictiveness all turned up to 11. You stand in a small area with a blaster in each hand, and each blaster has six different weapon options. You also have the option of lifting an arm and reaching behind your back, then drawing it back out to swap it to or from a shield. This means you can go at your enemies guns blazing, swap to a shield in either hand so you can protect yourself while fighting, or try to go full-Jedi and use two shields, angling your shields just right so that the bullets deflect right back in their shiny robotic faces. The shields have a secondary mode of their own, essentially turning into an electrified billy club that can power up your various tech or grab enemies and either toss them around or slice them right in half. Oh, and don’t forget that while you’re doing all this, you’ll need to move your body out of the way – ducking, dodging, spinning, arching, or bending – of the incoming lasers to keep from getting hit!
In addition to all the ways you can take the droids out, there’s a great variety in enemies. While there aren’t a whole bunch of enemy types, the waves are varied and each enemy type is very dangerous in its own way, such as a giant orb that blasts you with a beam for several seconds at a time or droids that shoot guided missiles that have to be blown out of the air before they reach you. These various enemies and attacks means that if you want to truly do well at the game you’ll need to change your own tactics to counter theirs. Those guided missiles go down in no time with your remote grenades, and since they have no regular fire mode you’d may as well get rid of that useless shield if they’re all that’s left. Are you at the beginning of a wave with lots of enemies? Use two guns to blast the heck out of them, then grab your shield before they get a chance to return fire. If you’re paying close attention you can even see which ones are about to fire and can just focus on them first. The shotgun works great if they’re crazy enough to get close, but you can also just deactivate your shield, power up your tesla machine and let it zap everything nearby. For the truly ambidexterous you can even fire up the gigantic laser from above and aim it at your foes to incinerating them!
The game has four modes to play – Arcade, Explorer, Hardcore, and Old School. In each you’re given three lives, but explorer halves your total score in exchange for regaining your lives each level. All four modes are fun, but I’m certainly not ready to dive into Hardcore longer than I need to since bullet time is one of the real draws of the game for me. Each of the modes allows you to start at the beginning or play from every 5th wave you’ve reached, and each point is saved separately of the other game modes. There are no upgrades to purchase, just high scoreboards to throw your initials all over, and there are as many scoreboards as there are modes and weapons, so even if you just want to challenge yourself to be the best laser beam fighter in Arcade mode you can absolutely do that!
More than anything, the game does a terrific job of making you feel like you’re right there in the action. From the moment the game loads up you’re thrown into the play area, and even going through the menus is done while standing there ready to face off against your foes, using either blaster to shoot your choices. The menu also works as a tutorial area with a little screen with tips to the side, and you can flip through all the various gun settings and try them out as long as you aren’t pointing at the menu options. Swapping to your shield is probably the coolest control setting I’ve ever seen in a game; it’s so natural just reaching behind your back for it without even having to press a button. Hitting enemies feels terrific, and I love that non-fatal hits send the small ones spinning around or falling a bit before they can regroup. It’s also super cool using a shield in one hand, blocking shots in slo-mo, and then lifting an arm over the shield to return fire. I may or may not have accidentally fired a few grenades into the back of my own shields to learn that the hard way… Plus, being able to use any weapon or a shield in either hand means that right-handed and left-handed people are able to dive right in without any settings changes whatsoever. And finally, the grenade launcher is easily one of the coolest guns in any game I can remember playing. It’s such an amazing feeling lobbing a grenade into the air, watching it get into just the right place between several enemies and then detonating it – BOOM! – while getting a big combo bonus for your effort.
Finally, for those (like me) that are interested in VR as exercise, the Virtual Reality Institute of Health and Exercise rates the game as equivalent to using an elliptical machine (just over 5 calories per minute for a 130-ish lb person). The only thing cooler than being thrust into a VR version of an 80s-style arcade game is burning calories while doing it!