Spectra Review

Relive the '80s with chiptunes, neon, and challenging arcade gameplay

A.J. Maciejewski

Reviewed by playing an Xbox One on

ESRB Everyone rating

It's difficult to tell what kind of game Spectra is just by looking at it. "Is it a rhythm game?" Good guess, but no. "How about a racer?" Not really. I think it's best to not put it in a single category. If we have to then let's just call it something generic like a modern yet retro-feeling arcade experience. I have a pocket full of quarters so let's pop a few in and see what Spectra is all about.

Spectra screenshot 1
This certainly seems straightforward enough

Spectra is played by controlling a small craft along narrow tracks while avoiding bumping into obstacles and trying not to fall off. The only control that you need to know is that pushing left and right steers your ship. However, don't let its simplicity fool you since this is one challenging game. If you fall off the track then you have to start all over again and seeing how each stage lasts more than a few minutes; being able to survive that long is not going to be easy. As you progress and score points by collecting cubes, getting air time, and nearly missing obstacles, your points are temporarily put on hold until a timer runs out. You also gain score multipliers by driving over boost pads. If you bump into an obstacle then the points that you haven't received yet along with your multiplier are lost forever. Therefore, the key to scoring big is to survive as long as you can with as few collisions as possible.

Visually, Spectra looks like it's straight out of an '80s sci-fi movie with dark star-filled backgrounds and bright neon foregrounds. This not only looks cool; it also makes focusing on the gameplay a lot easier. Where Spectra excels is in its soundtrack. The modern take on chiptunes that plays during the intense gameplay makes it feel so much more thrilling. It should be mentioned that although this music is awesome, it doesn't really match the stage layouts. If you had to steer left and right in time with the music then it would add a layer of immersion to both the presentation and the gameplay, but that's only a small complaint since it still looks and sounds great!

Spectra screenshot 2
Should I go left or right? I better choose fast!

The most impressive feature of Spectra is that the stages are rendered randomly so each time you play it'll be different from the last. This is implemented fantastically because when you come across a layout that you enjoy, you can replay it until you're completely satisfied with your score. Once you quit and load that same stage, you'll have an entirely different experience. Although this feature is great, the amount of content to be found is rather disappointing. There are only ten progressively difficult stages (that each correspond to a different song) and once you pass them, you unlock a hardcore difficulty setting. Of course, you can replay the stages as much as you want to try and get all of the stars, but with such a small amount of content and no online features such as leaderboards, I can't imagine that anyone would do this for more than an hour or two.

After playing just a few stages, you'll ask yourself, "Is this it?" because both the gameplay and visuals never really change. If each stage introduced a new mechanic and had a different colour scheme then it would feel like a complete adventure, but instead it starts wearing thin much sooner than you'd want it to. When you combine this with the lack of content and online features then it makes for one brief trip to the arcade. In the end, it's quite unfortunate that the developers didn't work on more content and variety.

Spectra screenshot 3
Boosting off a ramp and catching some air is totally radical, dude

Spectra is an arcade game with a lot of potential yet with its lack of diversity and overall content, it's a difficult game to widely recommend. However, if you just want some quick arcade fun then you surely won't be disappointed.

  • + Simple yet intense gameplay will reward you for your precision and timing skills
  • + Awesome chiptune soundtrack
  • + Random stage layouts add replay value
  • - Both gameplay and visuals lack variety
  • - Very little content with only ten stages and two difficulty settings
  • - No online features whatsoever
5.7 out of 10
Gameplay video for Spectra 4:17

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