On the surface, Ace Armstrong vs. the Alien Scumbags! by Laughing Jackal should be pretty cool. The name? Sweet. The concept (side scrolling shooter featuring an heroic, comedic character and hordes of aliens too shoot at)? Awesome. The price? Nice and low. If you read all that, chances are good that you want this to rock.
What Ace Armstrong vs. the Alien Scumbags! ultimately teaches us, then, is that it's nice to want things.
First up, the basic gameplay stuff. At it's core, AAvstAS is a side-scrolling shooter. Spam the X button to shoot the basic weapon while using either the d-pad or thumbstick to control your craft.
So far, so good - right? Not so much.
The movement seems to have some very slight lag in it, whether you're using the d-pad or the thumbstick. Shooting has no speed limit, meaning that, to succeed, you're best off hammering the button as fast as you can - causing OOS to set in far faster than with a traditional (speed limited) fire rate. There's no autofire, either. Your shots are also super small and hard to see against the too-bright background, often getting lost. Enemy fire, too, is lost in the background, with no real attempt made to ensure this one-shot-kills enemy goop is easy to see. Touching the walls insta-kills you too, as your too-large spaceship attempts to navigate the awkwardly laid out levels.
Sounds bad already, right? There's more.
There's a mechanic in the game that, on the surface, sounds like a cool twist for shooters: hold the circle button and you'll draw in the goop that enemy ships occasionally leave behind. Draw in enough and you get to use an alternate fire weapon - with three-way, power shots and spread-fire on offer. Unfortunately, it takes way too long to actually draw in the powerup; if you are lucky enough to survive, the screen will be full of enemies you'd otherwise have shot down. Neat idea, poor execution.
Other fundamental stuff is poorly executed too - levels peak at "average" and all too frequently stray into "poor" territory. Enemy placement and wave sequences are uninspired and dull. It's hard, but not because of cool, challenging gameplay (see: R-Type) but more because of all the poor design decisions like visibility of enemies and the size of your ship.
Visually it's average at best, with crappy "cutscenes" that don't even tell you when they're over - you'll have to figure out when to press X yourself. You have to figure out the gameplay stuff too, as they don't ever tell you in game (go to the "how to play" section to have fundamental gameplay explained to you). The best (and, to be fair, vaguely cool) thing about the visual package is the way the little enemies fall out of their ships and, if in a vacuum, burst semi-comically.
The sound, while far from anything special, is easily the best thing about the game. It's basic bloops and blops are backed up by a simple soundtrack. There's not even any dialogue - making the claims about being a "humourous" experience in the PSN store somewhat dubious.
If anything, Ace Armstrong vs. the Alien Scumbags! serves best as an example of how not to make a shooter. Despite the genre being 20+ years old and packed with numerous examples that could easily have been plagiarized (or, at least, heavily referenced), Ace Armstrong vs. the Alien Scumbags! manages to completely fail to learn anything from their example. Nothing about it is fun; it's too hard (mostly due to poor design) and its simple mechanic is so badly executed you're left wondering if the developers have ever even played a shoot-em-up game.
Hopefully this game won't put off players that are exploring the PSN minis for the first time as there are loads of games out there that, unlike this, are well worth their asking price.