Kirk Hiners review of SketchFighter 4000 Alpha.


What I really like here, I have to admit, is the title of this game. There was a time, you see, when all a company had to do to make its product seem high-tech was attach a future date to the name. You still see this on some products only advertised after midnight or sold solely at gas stations, and I believe all those weight supplements sold at GNC still use a number, albeit for reasons other than to invoke thoughts of our high technology future, I'm guessing.

Of course, the irony of SketchFighter 4000 Alpha isn't lost on me. Sketch? Okay, sounds pretty basic. 4000? Whoa! Who even knows what the world will look like in 4000 if our solar system hasn't already been swallowed by a roving black hole? Alpha? Okay, so it's either the beginning of the tale or an early version of a future...uh...retro title from a simpler time?


SketchFighter 4000 Alpha's hook is, of course, the graphics. It doesn't look like any video game you've played before, it looks like a sketch; a home room doodle come to life inside your Trapper Keeper. The visuals are basically nothing more than crude line drawings on top of graph paper. Nearly everything is black at the beginning, although there are colorful marker highlights on your ship, its laser fire, force fields and such. In fact, when color is used, it often serves a strategic purpose; some force fields can only be destroyed by weapons of the same color, for example.

This provides for a very clean look, obviously. Remember when OpenGL first appeared and everything was all color and background motion and texture? Not for SketchFighter, thank you kindly. The only texture you'll see here are the cross-hatches of the border walls. The only motion comes from that which can be destroyed. The only color comes from the aforementioned weapons and such. SketchFighter remains true to its doodle inspirations right down to the explosions of enemies; after they're destroyed, eraser marks remain. It's actually quite funny...and a bit confusing, as the sketching seems to have been done with a felt tip pen, but do I really need to be getting that picky, here? No.

And anyway, I don't want to spend this whole review talking about graphics. Despite the developer's focus on the stylized look of the game, it's not what makes SketchFighter work. As with all arcade titles, it's the action, and the action here is drawn from 80s tunnel-exploration titles such as Vanguard, only without the rip-off of Queen's "Vultan's Theme" from Flash Gordon to move you along...unfortunately.

Using the arrow keys, you navigate through five areas: the Forest, the Factory, the Wasteland, the Ice Caves and the Volcano. Indeed, they sound like locations in a Flash Gordon comic. You're not so much fighting giant lizards and gyro-ships here, though, as what appear to be robot ladybugs, giant crabs and random floating objects. Some are armed, some attack you simply with numbers, and others...well, you'll discover for yourself. Your rocket is outfitted with shields, but these can be depleted easily under enemy fire or by simply bumping into walls. Upgrades can be found, and the tunnels do occasionally offer stopping points where you can bring your shields back up to full repair and save the game. Different missiles will be discovered, as well, as your enemies become tougher.

If it all sounds pretty routine, that's because it is, but that's fine in the world of arcade/action games. Kill or be killed. So be it. As I mentioned earlier, though, gamers will be pleased to note that Ambrosia didn't rely solely on the graphics to help SketchFighter stand out. They also built in a really cool multiplayer mode, which can played either online or with two people sitting at one computer. You can play either cooperatively or competitively, but the kicker is that in multiplayer mode, the two spaceships are tethered together. This keeps all of the action on one screen, and fighting for not only points but also control of which direction you're going provides a wild multiplayer experience.

And yet, there's more. SketchFighter comes with a level editor so you can create your own tunnels of armageddon. I know what you're thinking, though. You've tried level editors before, and found them not worth the frustration. I agree, but the manual for the SketchFighter level editor is seven pages long. Just seven pages! That's not to say you'll be creating levels in a matter of minutes—there's still a lot of planning, learning and work involved—but you'll find the rewards will actually outweigh the effort, for a change.

SketchFighter 4000 Alpha brings a unique look to traditional gameplay, and it's solidly built, too. The system requirements are modest, and the game played smoothly and trouble-free on my Intel iMac. In the end, it doesn't rise above the arcade/action genre, so don't let the unique look pull you in if you're not a fan of this style. But if you've enjoyed Ambrosia's other arcade action games, you'll find SketchFighter to be a triumphant return to form...right down to the title.