Reviews// Manticore: Galaxy on Fire

Posted 3 May 2018 16:05 by
I dropped off the mobile gaming scene a few years ago during the rise of Clash of Clans and the wholesale shift to the free-to-play with in-app purchases model of payment. I was never a fan of this, having always been concerned that it would lead to a change in game design, a shift back to the old arcade model whereby titles were engineered so that players would feel the need to continuously pay so that the experience would continue.

The shift to free-to-play has, in my opinion, damaged the mobile gaming market irreparably and I rarely look to see if there is anything worth playing on my phone, largely because I know I will be confronted with hundreds of free-to-play Battle Royale clones.

That being said some developers have released some excellent games on mobile that I feel have perhaps been rather buried under the rush to cash in on in-app purchases. Fishlabs is one such studio, having carved out a niche creating largely excellent space combat games, a genre that has sadly rather declined since the days of X-Wing and the Wing Commander series. I remember playing the first entry in the series on an iPhone 3GS and being shocked at the game's visual quality but being rather disappointed at how quickly I ran out of things to do.

The sequel fixed this with a greatly expanded trading system and the chance to choose factions, be a pirate, engage in the story or explore the universe. So far, so Elite. With this third entry in the series, Fishlabs has altered the formula again, providing a more streamlined experience that nonetheless still provides players with the opportunity to choose their path to a degree.

Manticore is not the first game to make the leap from mobile to the Nintendo Switch, but it is certainly the one that I was most looking forward to playing. Controls on mobile were remarkable given the limitations, but I always yearned for the superior control method of a standard controller. Fishlabs has done an excellent job of utilising the layout of the Switch, with intuitive controls that provide subtle feedback during missions.

Structurally the game, as already mentioned, is rather more linear than I had hoped. In the opening cutscenes the player meets up with the crew of the 'Manticore' a ship of mercenaries who offer refuge and the chance to advance in their organisation by engaging in missions to protect shipments, engage in combat with pirates and collect bounties on dangerous individuals. The player is provided with a ship that can be upgraded with an array of different offensive and defensive weapons and secondary options such as cloaking devices and EMP systems. Ship classes are gradually unlocked as the player explores the galaxy at the behest of the captain of the Manticore.

Each completed mission provides experience points. It is worth hanging around after the objectives have been fulfilled in order to scan the region, which provides additional upgrade points. However, it is this aspect of the game that I found to be the most problematic. It is certainly worth doing for the upgrades, but the gameplay quickly becomes quite tiresome. The 'scanning' is undertaken by a drone beside the player that changes colour depending on how close the ship is to a piece of 'intelligence' or broken spare part.

Endlessly circling around asteroid and debris fields until the drone correctly identifies the correct location isn't exactly fun but I felt compelled to do it because later missions become really rather difficult to complete without an upgraded ship. It feels like busy work, something designed to encourage players to spend additional money on in-app purchases to avoid the tedium.

I'm sure that the upgrade costs have been adjusted for the Switch release, but this gameplay mechanic is, in my mind, an unfortunate hangover from the original, free-to-play mobile release. It certainly isn't game-breaking and is more of an unfortunate irritation that could perhaps have been avoided with a more diverse approach to exploration and item discovery. Giving players the ability to obtain intelligence from destroyed ships in combat or in negotiation with other alien species rather than simply through scanning debris fields would perhaps have been more engaging.

Fortunately, the core combat experience of Manticore is excellent. Ships handle perfectly with the selection of different design types providing additional tactical choices when planning how to undertake a mission. The same debris fields that I did not particularly enjoy exploring in detail serve as great locations for combat as ships dodge in and out of wrecks, skim over asteroids and bank towards larger ships to avoid being tailed. The targeting system is forgiving with a large reticule, but I still felt a great degree of satisfaction for every enemy ship that I downed.

Manticore is undoubtedly more linear than its predecessor, but fortunately the core story was interesting enough to keep me engaged. The universe that Fishlabs has developed over these last two games provides an impressive backdrop for the changes that occur in the galaxy from the outset of Manticore. Voice acting is generally very good, with suitably villainous enemies providing extra spice to encounters.

The Switch has hardly been flooded with space combat games since its launch, however this is more of a reflection of the genre in general than the console. Manticore may not provide quite the level of depth as earlier titles in the series, but it is still a very enjoyable experience and well worth considering if, like me, you miss the days of games like X-Wing. The game's free-to-play roots are generally well hidden and the Switch release does feel like a complete experience.

However some elements, such as the aforementioned exploration for upgrades, do slightly sour the experience, as did the few technical problems that I had with the game. Unfortunately, on two occasions it crashed, and I had to hard reset my Switch. I have not heard of this being a widespread issue, so I may have just been unfortunate.

Manticore: Galaxy on Fire doesn't really push the Switch significantly, but it is still an interesting game that's worth your time. Greater depth in future releases would, however, certainly be appreciated.

+ Refined control system with excellent feedback.
+ Engaging missions.
+ Visually impressive.

- Exploration is rather limited.
- 'Busy work' for upgrades.
- Some technical issues.

SPOnG Score: 7/10

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