Over the course of Space Giraffe’s development cycle, the eccentric Jeff Minter has made it clear time and time again that this was not going to be a new version of Tempest. In fact, when you load up the How to Play section, the first sentence is, "Firstly, Space Giraffe is NOT Tempest!"
I’m sure no matter what is said, many ignorant gamers and reviewers (one specific OXM reviewer comes to mind) will simply look at the game and just think "oh goodie, just another Tempest clone." Meanwhile other gamers such as myself will look at Space Giraffe with an open mind and find a lot more in the mix, and that from deep within the psychedelic visuals and the Tempest-like shell, there is a whole new game to behold.
Yes, Space Giraffe is a web based shooter, just like Tempest. Yes, Jeff Minter is responsible for what I consider to be the only game worth buying a Jaguar game console for, Tempest 2000 (as well as Tempest 3000 for the little known Nuon DVD platform.) And yes, Jeff Minter is also responsible for the Neon music visualizer found on the Xbox. But aside from the Neon, that’s where the similarities of Tempest end and where Space Giraffe begins.
Tempest forces you to keep your shots in the same zone your shooter is located; Space Giraffe allows control of your shots. One touch in Tempest means certain death, even from the weak Flippers; Space Giraffe allows you to extract revenge of those same foes (now called Grunts) by running into them. That will be explained later. Tempest’s webs are pretty static; Space Giraffe’s are more vibrant depending on the environment, and even by the monsters that dwell in it, and is influenced by a "power zone."
Basically the Power Zone is a white line in the middle of the web, in which bullets are slowed down, the Giraffe’s shots are controlled, and yes, it is the source of "bulling." Bulling is running the Giraffe into a crowd of Grunts, smashing them off the web, and vastly increasing your score multiplier. And it is in bulling where Space Giraffe deviates most from Tempest.
Try playing the game like Tempest and your scoring will hit rock bottom. If playing Space Level 2 (UV Exposure) like Tempest, your score will end up about 63,500. But by playing it with Space Giraffe rules, bulling included, your Level 2’s score could end up being 571,000 points!
Each of the 100 webs have their own unique designs as well. There are even those that look completely different on one side from the other. And as I mentioned, there are even foes that will disorient the web and cause the entire display to go haywire. The Neon visualizer can also get chaotic as well — and both combined can be difficult for many gamers to contend with. As a result, you will die on some stages, a lot. But to remedy that, usually the following stage is much simpler to negotiate, making it easy to shoot grunts, grab pods, fill up the Power Zone, and bull your way to a 9X multiplier and some 1ups.
Jeff Minter’s trademarks exist in this game to full extent, references to llamas, sheep, and of course, giraffes, full blown psychedelics via the Neon engine, and even some subtle nuances during some of the stages.
Heck the first stage alone has the bald head of Microsoft’s J Allard in the background! Even hilarious references to Super Mario Bros, Engrish, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and the legendary Commodore 64 (via an achievement) can be found in the game! The game is very smooth, by far the smoothest of any Tempest like (or "Not Tempest) game I have ever played. Yes there is a lot going on, but it is very good looking.
Sound actually is a must for success in Space Giraffe. Each monster has a unique sound, and it helps to hear them when there is a lot going on. Hearing the Chewbacca-like grunt of a destroyed Flower (formerly a Spiker) is a big plus, and yes the sound of the mad bull when ramming through a mass of grunts is quite exhilarating. While the music play list is a little on the light side (with only five songs, three in the game itself, one bonus stage tune, and the very strange title theme based on a Welsh numbers station,) it is still in the techno style that Minter and the Tempest/Non Tempest series are well known for. If only the original soundtrack from Tempest 2000 could be used, especially the excellent CD remix of the first stage track (Mind’s Eye,) but that’s what the Xbox 360 music player and customized soundtracks are for!
Space Giraffe is definitely an acquired taste. It is not for the ignorant who will just look at it as another Tempest clone, but more for those with an open mind looking for an exciting classic arcade shooter with a psychedelic flair and a firm challenge to boot.
And at only 400 Microsoft Points ($5) why not give it a chance? It sure beats some of the crappier XBLA titles that have come out that cost 800 points ($10.) And watch out for Space Level 64!