When writing up the Rundown, I attempted to classify and shrink my review for Glowbz (80 MSP) into a doable three paragraphs, but found I kept having more to say. The funny thing about it is, even with a full review to stretch out and get a little wordy, I can only really try to explain the literal second to second gameplay, try to give you some insight about its nuances and how it weaves all these different bits of tapestry (meaning strategy) together, as Glowbz really needs to be played to be fully understood, and therefore appreciated.
It’s similar to another recent release I had a fun run with, Sherbet Theives, although Glowbz is much more interested in showing its serious side, stressing precision and bullet-counting. Early on you’re given a wide berth and shown the ropes, helpful powerups like speed and damage boosts showered upon you, but later levels will prove that, like chess, your moves (and shots) must have purpose. The game doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, but it never really needs to. It comes off in the ‘easy to learn but difficult to master’ category, yet retains a pick up and play feel regardless if you’re coming to it new or revisiting it weeks later.
It starts easy enough, tasking you to shoot orbs, the namesake Glowbz, to shatter them into collectable energy (minus that ‘b’ to make it Glowz), which you haul behind your ship (up to fifteen) then return to the home at the center of the stage to deposit, which goes toward filling the score requirement, like a bank that needs a constant bailout. Drones of the non-shooting variety will be your main impediment, flying predetermined routes and generally clogging up the shipping lanes like an intergalactic version of Frogger. A timer ticks off during all this, at which point a boss ship heads into the area, making your job a lot harder. Imagine sparse yet lovely graphics and backgrounds set to a perhaps-too-epic soundtrack, and you and get the idea. Or, you could just watch the video below to see it in motion.
As you reach higher levels (and higher deposit requirements), the game gently applies the gas pedal, adding different enemy ships to the encounter rate, some which zap and destroy the orbs before you reach them, others that continually stalk your ship like a jealous ex, or drainers, which head for your home base and then casually subtract orbs from your subtotaled score, and can erase a whole lot of hard-fought progress very quickly.
Already a full plate and long hit list, now add limited ammunition (refillable with energy powerups, or via a slower recharge). Get too lazy with your aim or liberal with path-clearing, and you’re reduced to kamikaze tactics, ramming through any blockades, provided you’ve kept your health up. I’m not usually a fan of games that punish you for being trigger happy. Often it’s instituted arbitrarily, or, even if it makes sense in context, ends up being a drag instead of a plus. Not here. That I don’t mind the stringent charting necessary to pass the upper-tiered levels, that I actually want to carefully ration my shots, really is another feather in Glowbz’ cap. Were you able to blast through the levels without a thought, this would obviously play (and rate) a whole lot differently.
Sadly, though the enemy loadouts and backgrounds change, you are just ferrying the same orbed passengers back and forth without end. One could make the case that this is the very definition of an arcade experience, and for a dollar, I should shut the hell up and enjoy it for that, but a little bit of a mix thrown into a blender couldn’t have hurt. Also, and once again for Indies, the lack of a global leaderboard saps some of its otherwise enjoyable replayability. Devs, I need those bragging rights. I’m a scummy bachelor; it’s all I have. Now that I’ve played quite a few XBLIGs, several of which are listed in the dreaded ‘space shooters’ category, you’ll have to excuse me for being greedy and expecting more.
Though that’s not meant to admonish the game. When all its minutiae and cogs are running and working in unison, you’ll hardly notice you’ve breezed through an hour and a dozen levels. In Glowbz, you’re always doing something and manufacturing your next opportunity, always asking questions before you shoot. The game ramps it up to full-tilt regularly, but it’s never too fast or complicated that it cuts into your fun or has you heaving curses at your screen. It’s a genius setup that refreshes a stagnant genre.