Review: PARTICLE MACE

I have what I consider to be a lot of Steam games. For some of them I’m not entirely sure where they came from. I could have bought a bundle for one game and it tagged along. I could have had it pushed to me from IGF, but since judging is over, I cannot check. Or maybe I bought it and just forgot.

PARTICLE MACE (all caps) is one of those games. I saw it sitting there in my library untouched and due to the penumbra in my heavenly rotation of responsibilities had an hour or two to myself to try something without the taint of preconceived reasoning for why it was in my library in the first place.

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PARTICLE MACE uses the simple Geometry Wars artistic styling, which is appropriate, since much of it’s play aesthetics feels cribbed from that title. Yet it cribs from the bits of Geometry Wars that are not themselves cribbed from Robotron 2084. In Particle Mace (no more caps, it tires me), there is no shooting.  Instead, your ship drags around the titular particles, which are your only defense against invading asteroids and creeps. Thus, the game plays much like the Pacifism modes in Geometry Wars at a very base level. Because of how the particles trail around the spaceship, a common dynamic is to try to fly in circles to get the mace to swirl around in a violent circular pattern. This makes the game similar in some way to Michael Brough’s recent game Helix, although since I am playing on PC, it doesn’t suffer from the finger occlusion problem that made Helix a very difficult go for me. Particle Mace is also out on iOS, and I can see it suffering from a similar problem there, but I haven’t played it there so take it as you will.

Sometimes your body tells you first whether a game is right for you instead of a rote spreadsheet-like mental calculus. As I played, my tongue slightly poked out of between my lips, my breath coming and going only when gameplay allowed the spare brain space for the luxury. I haven’t felt this sense of flow in an action game since Super Hexagon. Particle Mace shares the <60 second core loop* of Terry Cavanaugh’s game, yet I feel Particle Mace is actually able to be completed by non-cybernetic players.

I have spent most of my time playing the “Mission” game type, and it is a perfect framing for the main game mechanics. Players are given three tasks to do within the game world based on destroying specific units, traveling to specific locations, or avoiding death in certain ways. This would be a standard implementation of a modular achievement system if the goals didn’t conspire with each other to create unique scenarios. For instance, I simultaneously received a task that kept me within a tiny space along with a task to not destroy asteroids. The tiny space quest suggests a dynamic of frantically bouncing around your allotted space, but the task which forbids the destruction of asteroids means that zipping around will likely cause your mace to whack into the desultory asteroids. Since the tasks constantly cycle out upon completion, you are often reexamining your strategy instead of just frantically trying to stay alive. The normal “arcade” mode feels aimless in comparison.

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One can certainly ignore two of the tasks at any time and focus on one of the three, but that feels like it eschews the random beauty of pairing the tasks together, almost like a childhood dare: “I bet you can’t eat three pancakes while balancing on one foot.” Either task is simple but together they become silly and fun.

Meeting certain criteria unlock new ships and other bric-a-brac, but I’m not far enough yet for that to be much of an incentive. The credits are a playable level which, had I been involved in the making of this, would have pleased me as there is actually a reason to go into the credits screen.

There are additionally menu listings for a co-op arcade mode and a death match. Both use controllers and require two folks in front of the screen, so I have not been able to try either. I am imagining death match to be a lot like ROCKETSROCKETSROCKETS, another quick-cycle game that requires controllers and feels compelled to scream its title at the players. I have no evidence from which to make that judgment.

If you have played and enjoyed any of the games I’ve name-checked above, you will likely have a blast(as I did) with Particle Mace. It’s on Steam, itch.io, and Humble. And iOS, but I’ve got unfounded concerns there.

* The expansive stats screen tells me my average life is actually 26 seconds.

One thought on “Review: PARTICLE MACE”

  1. I believe the problem with arcade mode is absence of risk/reward mechanism and escalation of challenge, which leads to very safe and boring play. I really liked the missions, except “stealthy” ones (like “don’t accumulate multiplier”). Most of them were really good though.

    Multiplayer coop is as bland and uninspired as single arcade. Multiplayer versus for 3+ is too chaotic, but with 2 players it shines and actually is one of the better competitive local multiplayer games I’ve seen on PC lately, you should try it out.

    Btw, if you like Particle Mace, you should also totally check out Hammerfight.

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