In my mind, a company by any other name than Llamasoft could not do justice to a game entitled Space Giraffe. Be prepared for a bombardment of chaotic visuals, an audio track as helter-skelter, and gameplay that can only be described as an abstract twist on classic arcade gaming. Obi-Wan Kenobi once said, "Your eyes can deceive you, do not trust them." He could have been talking about Space Giraffe. The aforementioned gameplay might dissuade the faint of heart, but reward anyone who would give the game the chances to see that it something beyond sight and sound: it is a feeling, and that is one quality that many games fall short of.
Obscured by layers visual happenings is a very addictive and simple game - once you get into the groove of things. Your avatar is of course a giraffe, with a clearly visible extended neck and extruding hooves to move you on the long trek. Your giraffe stays on the outer rim of a gigantic 3-dimensional surface - think of it as a far stretching tunnel rave drenched in an explosive rainbow of madness - while you try to navigate to and fro, all the while avoiding enemies tasked with your demise.
The gameplay begins with learning to defend your giraffe using bullets he is able to shoot from his hooves that can either destroy foes or reflect back the enemy's bullets and buy some much-needed time. As a last ditch effort, your giraffe can jump - allowing ample clearance for aerial destruction with your hoof projectiles - boosting you to the neutral zone in between the giraffe's safety and the enemy's home field: the Power Zone.
The almighty Power Zone can be as small as mere centimeters or as far reaching as to invade the area where enemies spawn. The crux of the battle is fought in the Power Zone as the exchange of enemy fire, hoof bullets, and number of power-ups is excitingly evermore present as time progresses. The Power Zone not only slows enemy bullet speed, but allows aid in the form of more accurate hoof shots. Here is also where the Bull Rush occurs.
As you destroy enemies (or the giraffe does his aerial acrobatics), the Power Zone becomes extended and weakened. When enemies reach the outer rim of this extended Power Zone and the giraffe is near, you may in a delightfully satisfying endeavor, use your avatar to physically bull rush any number of enemies in a domino effect and rack up a much needed multiplier which in turn gives you a greater score.
However, if the Power Zone is not extended very little can be done to continue self-preservation. A single smart bomb is issued per life, and its effects are great indeed. If all else fails, activate the smart bomb and any enemy within proximity will be instantly obliterated, allowing you another opportunity to continue your quest for high score domination.
What I feel really makes Space Giraffe stand out from many other arcade titles, is that while all of this crazy jumble of incoherent madness is going on, there's a seemingly conventional humor underlying all of the levels. From Mario quotes to obscure fighting game references; Monty Python to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy; and even the eyes of Jay Allard on the introductory level - not to mention some far left of conventional level names - that really set a mood of subtle hilarity.
After spending as little as 30 minutes with Space Giraffe, you'll find yourself able responsive not only to the action on the screen but also to a smorgasbord of color leaving you with a feeling of success at overcoming waves after waves of bizarre enemies. It is a sense of accomplishment and fun, added to the humor, which separates an arcade game from the truly fun arcade games.
The bonus levels are a nice touch to the already nutty trip, by giving you a breather among the madness. Once activated after certain power-up requirements are met, you let your giraffe drift in nothingness as you steer his hooves through flower pedals as he remarks on how tasty they may or may not. Accompanied with the music, they are somehow calming and very welcomed among the incredibly hectic later levels. I thought the music, while not memorable, did a very good job of accompanying the onscreen action at any given point, and further cementing the norm space giraffe never frequents. Of course, even for Space Giraffe, the good comes with the bad. Luckily in this case, I don't believe the negative outweighs the positive by a long shot.
There is one true negative that comes to mind with the level variety - not the variety itself mind you but perhaps some of the design within. Within the later levels of Space Giraffe, when all the baddies are present and accounted for some of the levels power zones are that of pure insanity. And it's not the crazy good I've mentioned thus far, but the kind of crazy only the maniacally evil in possession of mustaches they may fondle could possibly enjoy. Some are clear and away unfair as they are a straight shot to the enemy spawn point, with little to no respective camera control to the action. Others are so mangled in zigzag, that there is little time to react and therefore no way to determine from which angle you met your demise. Memorization of levels is obviously a must for the latter portions of arcade architecture, but I feel to a point and purpose. Understanding abstract is wild enough, but comprehending and thusly moving thru what can't be seen? A might unfair me thinks. Luckily, the poorly designed stages are few and far between and the vividly entertaining levels progress nicely with advancing skill and entertainment.
For those who have physical limitations and cannot tolerate intense light and sound the eyeful that Space Giraffe emits may not be for you. The graphical engine based upon the neon light visualization software from the Xbox 360 that accompanies the music player when listening to music. If you might be one of the people who is even remotely aggravated by its mere mention, I give condolences for your anger management problems, and advise you, among other things, to steer clear of Space Giraffe.
I grew up and continue to love arcade experience and the challenge they provide, and Space Giraffe is no exception. While a learning curve exists - with level 32 standing at a wild exception to an abnormal difficulty bump early on - I can only comment that the later levels will truly test dedication and arcade merit, as I have only marched my giraffe a bit past the afore mentioned third of the games entire content.
You will be awarded with patience and dedication. But for those who may not exactly possess either quality previously mentioned, or have the courage to summon them for multiple replays - which is what underlies arcade games, the ability to regularly start at the beginning - this may not exactly be your cup of tea. You may want to try the game based exclusively on the save score feature. Whenever a level is completed, it is aptly saved with previous high score intact, so that any weary sole in need of a break (or a giraffe warrior who just couldn't cut it) can go back practice, enjoy, or restart their adventure once again unpenalized. I find this to be the greatest feature the game possesses, in a charming way to compliment an experience that may have been lost otherwise on all but the hardcore and giraffe fetishists alike.
In the end, as much as entertainment is first and foremost for me as the most basic of principles, difficulty is always a close second when dealing with any game - and an underlying rule in arcade experience. In this example, you can only play through a game once, so any arcade game worth its numbers in high score has to maintain on the value of replayability. With what I feel is a falling standard, or the very least, a shortage of purely awesome challenges in gaming, something like Space Giraffe is easily refreshing for an old school challenge, and well within the reaches of sane learning curves to boot. Conveying what Space Giraffe has to offer is only offset by how much of a strange first impression the gives. I would point out that anyone with a healthy appetite for the alternative would benefit greatly, leaving plenty of room for the curious, and just as much for anyone else thirsting for a greatly unique arcade experience.