The life of a space pirate seems pretty cool. Flying your space ship. Piratin’ other folks’ spaceships. Maybe having some space grog of an evening. Yep, it’s all fun and space shanties until some un-named space pilot mercenary comes along and blows you up. In Manticore – Galaxy on Fire, you are that un-named pilot, and you rather suspect you’re not having quite as much fun as the pirates you’re up against.
Not that it isn’t fun. Manticore – Galaxy on Fire draws on a decade’s worth of lore to bring you as much cheesy space opera as you could ever handle. Making its debut on Switch, developer Deep Silver Fishlabs has crammed Nintendo’s little hybrid with a universe of space battles to enjoy, even if there’s not a great deal of variation in the core experience. The Galaxy on Fire series has enjoyed almost a 12-year lifespan on mobile platforms, going back to 2006’s Galaxy on Fire 3D. The series has offered up a popular blend of shooting and trading, and even an MMO spin off.
A series that’s always been technically impressive on mobile devices is silky smooth and chock full of detail on Switch, whether hand held or on the big screen. And it’s an easy title to pick up and play, too. Flight control is on the left stick, while the right controls boost, braking (for tighter turns) and evasive barrel rolls. Space lasers on ZR, space missiles on ZL, and L and R to swap between variants of each type. As you progress, you’ll bolt on additional gadgets to your ever-growing garage of ships, accessible through A and B. A simulator this is not, and in play you’re not overtaxed with a thousand tasks to micro manage. Point and shoot.
The structure of the game is equally simple. The game’s campaign – topping out at around eight to ten hours – is built on a framework of mini-battles, each one focused on taking down one of the baddie bosses. The expected space battles are interspersed with convoy escort missions (not as annoying as you might expect), capital ship take downs (where close proximity to the big ships gives a real sense of speed and excitement) and even the occasional speed run. Deep Silver Fishlabs has tried hard to bring variety, no doubt conscious that console game sessions tend to be longer affairs than their mobile brethren. In between battles you’ll have the chance to explore different sectors; there’s a sort of hide-and-seek mechanic involving a beeping, glowing drone that will help you find packets of information that flesh out the story. Exploration is entirely optional, though, and you can warp back to the fight at any time.
While the basic campaign story is pretty simple – kill these bad guys to get to the end game bad guy – it’s well worth delving into all the lore, and taking the time to explore each sector to locate every last scrap of intel. The galaxy is full to bursting of history, factions, political intrigue, aliens, pirates and space ships. For the full experience, make sure you listen to every piece of spoken dialogue and read every morsel of lore.
Unless you’re truly invested in the universe, you’ll definitely want to skip the dialogue. While not plumbing the depths of, “As you know, your father, the king…” the dialogue, well acted as it is, is definitely aimed at those who want to lose themselves in the game and are willing to play along with some of the clunkier exposition.
If all you really want to do is fly cool ships and blow stuff up, you’ll do just fine. As you progress, your hangar space will fill with exotic craft and a dazzling array of weaponry to bolt on to each one, affording you ever-more powerful ways to dispatch the bad guys.
The ships you fly are more than just variations on a theme, with different hull and shield strengths, energy levels and weapons payloads, and all with markedly different visual styles. Just make sure you indulge your ship-fetish with your own ships, as – other than the occasional fly-by – you’ll tend to destroy most of the baddies at stand-off range. Only the mini-bosses will offer anything like a spirited dogfight experience, and at least they exhibit better AI than their less illustrious counterparts.
There’s no doubt that Manticore – Galaxy on Fire is a beautiful game to look at, with incredibly colourful skyboxes offering dramatic space vistas, while the structures, space debris and capital ships you’re flying close to (you’re almost never floating in the empty vastness of space) are all detailed and vivid. The built-in photo mode – just hit the ‘+’ button to freeze the action – gives you plenty of opportunity to catch the drama.
Things are equally polished on the audio side, with thumping explosions and weapons fire, and background music that’s suitably atmospheric, ramping up and down with the on-screen action.
Manticore – Galaxy on Fire is a game that begs you to invest time in it. The flying and shooting’s great, but if that’s all you want to do then you’re missing out, and short-changing yourself into the bargain. Dig in, suppress the urge to eye roll your way through the occasionally hammy dialogue, revel in the scenery-chewing characters, and drink in the kind of spectacular space imagery that would make Hubble weep.
And shoot those pace pirates. Maybe you were having more fun than you thought.
Manticore – Galaxy on Fire is available from the eShop for £17.99 / $19.99 USD / €19.99.
Release Date: 19 April 2018 on Nintendo Switch (there’s a slew of Galaxy on Fire titles available on iOS, Android and other platforms.)
Some people call me the space cowboy
- Overall - 8.0/108/10
Manticore – Galaxy on Fire won’t be for everyone, and to get the best out of it you need to view it as more than just an exciting space shooter. It’s glossy, slick and content rich, and outside of the odd cheesy line and unsubtle character portrayal, Fishlab’s title rarely missteps. If all you want to do is fly and shoot, you’ll have an enjoyable – if repetitive – time. But throw yourself headlong into the game and you’ll live every space fantasy you’ve ever had. Well, maybe not the one with Eccentrica Gallumbits of Eroticon Six.