I’m quite confused. The game that landed on my desk last week was 1993 Space Machine for Steam, but having seen the release calendar, this came out many years ago. 1993 Shenandoah is the title that was released on the Switch this year, but the review is done now: 1993 Space Machine for the PC.
Not so long ago I wrote a feature about some of the best shoot ’em ups on the Switch. Whenever I think about shoot ’em ups, one of my all-time favourites was Xenon 2: Megablast by the Bitmap Brothers. I don’t know what it was – perhaps the OTT customisations, the classic Amiga hue or the pumping soundtrack by Bomb The Bass – it doesn’t matter. It’s a classic.
1993 Space Machine has a certain scent about it that resembles Xenon 2: Megablast and peering under the hood, it becomes apparent that this title was a significant influence for the shmup. But is it a homage to the aforementioned, ‘inspired-by’, or should it be left in the 90s?
1993 Space Machine PC Review
1993 Space Machine was originally called Shenandoah: Daughter of the Stars and destined for the Amiga, only to be forgotten about and left in the attic of one of the developers. A change of name to 1993 Space Machine, and then 1993 Shenandoah for the Switch, it was 1993 that the game was conceived. Awwww, bless.
With multiple splash screens and stings at the start of the game, 1993 Space Machine captures everything about the 90s that I remember such as SWIV, Fizzy Chewits and McDonald’s Land. The colour palette was also on par with Xenon 2: Megablast with a bit of The Chaos Engine chucked in for good measure.
But before we get carried away with comparisons and renaming 1993 Space Machine to Xenon 3 Megaclone, let’s point out the immediate differences. First of all, this game is a horizontal scrolling adventure where Xenon 2: Megablast was vertically scrolling. Secondly, the soundtrack was not as memorable as the pedestal reference.
To make it clear, the soundtrack is excellent – really, it is. However, it lacks the energy and urgency of Bomb The Bass’ seminal score and instead sounds more like a Psygnosis title like Shadow of the Beast but mid-game. That’s not a bad thing, but I want nut-grabbing urgency that makes me want to save the universe.
Big Ship, Little Ship, Cardboard Box
Who are we fighting? Some ex-commander named Nestor. He’s a dick. You’ll cover half a dozen planets in the campaign, and that consists of a space scenario and another based on the planet in question. The story is quite generic, but it’s not being judged here – what about the gameplay?
Fortunately, the action in 1993 Space Machine is decent, and the ship manoeuvrability is tight. I was hoping to play with my controller, but for some reason, it wasn’t registering. A bit of ‘turn it off and on again’ tomfoolery and verifying it works for the rest of my games, I was reserved to mechanical keyboard bashing. Still, it was a delightfully pleasant sound when I occasionally could here the keys over my headphones.
There are two categories of ships to choose from: dinky ones and medium-sized ones. The latter can take more hits, do more damage, but are relatively slow – one of them being more so than the others and resembling a flying hairdryer.
The smaller ones were the most satisfying to fly, especially for achievements like the pacifist where you can’t shoot any of the enemies, only the boss. In this case, shields aren’t enough, so you have to out manoeuver the enemies instead. However, the big bastard ships were much more enjoyable for firepower – especially when you upgrade them.
The MERChant Of Venice
At the end of each mission, sometimes two-thirds of the way in some of the more prolonged levels, you can take a timeout and buy new weapons or upgrade them on a three-tier system. Weapons can be mounted on the front, back, top and bottom of the ship, but you only get two slots for the smaller vessels.
The weapons in 1993 Space Machine are OTT, but not so that you can’t see what you’re doing. The fully powered upgrades are relatively downplayed, allowing you to see what’s on the screen at any one time. That excludes some of the bosses though as a few are a little too generous on the projectiles. A bit like a trip to grandma’s when she gives you a bucket full of Murray Mints and a machete. Or is that just mine?
Visiting the shop also plays a bit on the Xenon 2: Megablast model, both in presentation and feel. There’s even a Megablast weapon that absolutely annihilates the competition. That is, if you can afford it. Overall, the arsenal and upgrades were very satisfying.
Which leads me to the “balanced” BBC view, giving both sides: 1993 Space Machine crashed like a mutha fluffa. After every mission, it would crash on the results screen. All my drivers were up-to-date, there were no other issues, and I even alternated with windowed versus fullscreen, but it would always crash and give a ‘not responding’ error. Restarting each time was a nuisance, but it saved all my progress. But you know what? These things can be ironed out with patches; the fundamental gameplay isn’t broken. Not everybody will share this opinion, however.
Send Me To Outer Space
I mostly enjoyed my playthroughs. As you can expect, 1993 Space Machine follows the mould of the other titles before it and can be completed within just over an hour or so, but has the replay value in unlocking the weapons and ships and elusive achievements such as dying precisely 42 times in a campaign.
The visuals were spot-on, and while the soundtrack has the unfortunate job of competing with the game it was inspired by, it was still pretty good – just lacking the urgency that you can expect from a bullet hell-like title or similar.
I would say that I would like to have seen a few more features in the game, but if we’re going for authenticity, then I guess this replicates the games I grew up on. One thing I will say, though is the last two levels were hard going.
The backgrounds are static in every mission, but the last (main) one moves and let’s say it was incredibly disorientating and that I have been grinding other levels rather than face it again. Additionally, the final bonus mission was an absolute killer. That’s all I’m saying. Give it a try…
1993 Space Machine Review Summary
1993 Space Machine hits the mark in terms of retro shmups with nostalgic looking visuals, a decent soundtrack and satisfying gameplay and upgrades. The fact that it crashed so much was a damper, but the fundamental experience was mostly enjoyable and worth a further look for genre fans.