There's trouble afoot in the city of Viligance Valley. Fresh out of training, a new superhero takes to the streets, pledging to fight evil and show that crime doesn't pay. Don your cape, focus your powers and practice your snappy one-liners - it's time to join the Spandex Force!
My initial excitement at the idea of this game - make your own superhero, gain new powers, battle supervillains - was tempered by a somewhat cynical idea that an indie game would be unable to match the big-budget console games that sell the same idea. I am pleased to report that, rather than try to match such a game with about 1% of the budget, KarjaSoft have ignored the beat-em-up style altogether and gone for something simpler, substituting humour and delightful digs at superhero cliches for the high-definition homogeneity of the bigger budget offerings.
Begin by creating your superhero. Enter a superhero name, their secret identity (your own name, I suspect, as multiple profiles can be set up on the same computer) and then create their "look". This is less varied than I would have liked - you are limited to two generic shapes (one male, one female) and can change the colour of their hair, skin, eyes and costume. You can have a blue-skinned, red-eyed hero if you like (though I can't see them blending in when not in costume!). Having created your hero, it's off to Vigilance Valley.
Here the setup is straightforward enough. You have a base in the middle of the city, with the various streets and buildings around it. People wander about the town. Occasionally people offer up missions, indicated by a glow around the person. Click on them to take up the mission. Early missions include such things as getting cats out of trees or saving people from being run over, though later you can also attempt to catch muggers and put out fires. This is not an exhaustive list - the range of missions available depends on your base, which can be upgraded with a high enough level and enough money.
Missions themselves are minigames involving the matching of three or more symbols. You have two minutes to collect a set amount of each of three symbols - these represent the "charging up" of your mind, body and elemental powers. There are also symbols that relate to money, reputation and clues, and there's a time bonus for all three of these. Playing minigames is the main way to earn cash, as well as gaining reputation and experience (both essential for levelling up your hero). There are different minigames, including some where you select chains of symbols, some where you slide rows/columns of symbols to make matches and even a Bust-a-Move style game where you fire symbols at a descending wall of other symbols. As you level up the number of symbols you need to match increases, making these minigames steadily harder.
Then there's the combat! Combat sees you and your opponent taking turns to swap pairs of symbols on the grid. Match three or more as normal. This time you're charging up your power bars for your special powers, which have varying damage values and varying power requirements. Rather than move, you can attack. Both you and your opponent have a hitpoint bar and the winner is the first to reduce their opponent's bar to zero. Your hero has up to four special powers, which can be upgraded by visiting the mysterious gypsy woman in the park. The powers she has for sale vary over time and all will cost you. Another way to boost your abilities is to buy artifacts.
Spandex Force emphasises cartoon graphics throughout and, while animation is limited, this actually fits well with the comic book style. Sound is well balanced and the backing music is fitting and unobtrusive. The game follows a set storyline in a series of "chapters", generally featuring a villain appearing and threatening the city and then the collection of "clues" to find out where they are in order to go and duff them up.
The writing here is superb - comic book cliche speech, loving jibes at the genre, even the insanity of a villain with greying hair and an impressive beard pretending (badly) to be an eleven-year-old boy. This is the main reason I keep returning to the game - I can't help but wonder what's coming next in the story. This humour continues with the minigames - having rescued an old lady from being run over a few times my hero asked: "didn't I save you the other day?"
Apart from setting up your profile the game is entirely mouse driven and it is impossible to "die" - if you fail in a mission or in combat, there is no penalty beyond your own embarrassment. The difficulty level starts off incredibly gentle and ingame tutorials pop up whenever you encounter a new minigame or event. Spandex Force is easy to get into and rather difficult to get out of - there's always one more goal to aim for, another piece of the story to see. If you do manage to tear yourself away the game automatically saves your progress, though you cannot do this during a minigame or fight (you must first quit or finish the minigame).
It is virtually impossible to identify anything bad about Spandex Force. Action fans hoping for superhero combat may end up here by mistake, but that's their fault. Fun, humour and quick, easy games make this an almost irrestible game once you get started. The city of Vigilance Valley needs you! Why not see if you've got what it takes to be a superhero?
Keywords: spandex force review, karjasoft reviews, karjasoft games, spandex force scores, pc game reviews, indie game reviews, independent gaming.