With many games, we tend to only be limited to the various planets our characters inhabit – Rarely do games take, and most importantly, make use of the great expanse above each and every one of them – The endless vacuum of space.
Manticore: Galaxy on Fire is one of those more arcade-like titles that thrusts players in the helm of a space-faring battleship, being part of the mercenary group Manticore, investigating the happenings of a terrible terrorist attack known as “The Shattering”, and the shady underworld business trading of an extremely powerful, volatile and valuable resource known as “glow”. Spanning across three central acts, each lasting a number of hours, Manticore definitely starts off on the right note by making you aware of just how much is on offer here – Where Manticore goes wrong, however, is that despite the initial offering of vast content, it quickly dries up into nothing more than repetitive tedium.
Throughout your galactic adventures, you undertake a number of missions with set tasks much like any other game in the same vein: these can range from search & destroy missions, VIP protection, cargo inspection, rescue missions, races and exploration missions… But the issue here is that, ultimately, they all feel so similar. Search & destroy missions pit you against a number of enemies, culminating in a boss; VIP protection has you fight multiple enemies, culminating in a boss, whilst protecting a moving target. Exploration has you fighting multiple enemies whilst roaming… Rescue missions have you fighting multiple enemies whilst roaming to designated locations… You get the gist.
A lot of Manticore’s gameplay and staying power relies on its admirably fluid controls; navigating the vast expanse of space is a breeze with intuitive controls that never really get in your way; barrel rolls, speed adjustment and varied weaponry are all par for the course here, with my only complaint is that it’s often a bit tricky to try and adjust your forwards movement slightly without suddenly boosting multiple hundreds of miles per hour ahead of yourself. It works absolutely fine with slowing yourself down… Just not with speeding yourself up!
However, shooting down enemies and bosses does feel extremely satisfying – The punch of each weapon can be felt with HD Rumble, and all have some form of unique projectile and benefit that’ll be handy all the way throughout the game; equipment, however, I felt was relatively underused and I more often than not accidentally triggered my equipment rather than intentionally utilising it; tying quite nicely into your choice of arsenal, the difficulty of Manticore is something that shouldn’t go underappreciated. For my review, I played through the game on the normal difficulty, assuming it would be fairly run-of-the-mill; not hard enough to kick Uranus but challenging enough to lead to some fairly intense moments.
Saying this, Manticore provided more than enough of a challenge on just the basic difficulty, with me dying and getting stuck repeatedly either due to bad planning or my own poor flying. It was definitely a surprise, given that I powered through the first half-a-dozen missions and actually felt that I was rather overpowered in contrast. Out of all the mission modes available in the game, I have to admit that perhaps my favourite lies within the racing and mass-arena styled missions; dashing around asteroids and space stations at blinding speeds and narrowly dodging debris and structures is where Manticore shines best, especially with its tight and accurate controls; the arena missions are specifically enjoyable as they’re true do-or-die moments, and take all the skills you’ve learned and compacts it into a struggle for survival.
One aspect of Manticore that I’ve kind-of neglected talking about is with the game’s various companions – When flying, you can take up to two followers with you (Often predesignated by the current mission), who… Fly around you and shoot things…? Admittedly they aren’t that much of a helping hand, despite their entire existence being focused on helping out. Many times during boss battles with opposing faction VIPs, the boss would throw up a shield that absorbs shots to heal themselves… And my AI companions just sat there unloading at them. It’s definitely frustrating, and feels like the AI needs more situational awareness to fully feel realised, perhaps in distracting enemies or performing their own unique manoeuvres, or using their equipment to assist the whole team rather than themselves would make them feel a lot more fleshed out and useful.
On the topic of AI, I did encounter a few amusing bugs during my playthrough, nothing too notable outside of ships sometimes killing themselves, however one particularly hilarious instance I had was with a suicide bomber ship that was en-route to collide with a space station… I had flown behind this ship, started pelting it with shots, and I realised I was too late – This ship was about to detonate and collide with the space station… That is, until I realised that by shooting the ship, I had slowed it down, and it pinged off like a shuttlecock off of a badminton racket! After a minute or two of pinging off this space station endlessly, the ship just outright exploded, dealing no damage to the base despite being right next to it. It was certainly… odd to say the least.
Finally, we have the game’s presentation, cast and graphics – For one, the game runs surprisingly well on the Nintendo Switch, providing what seems to be 720p at 60fps on the handheld mode with no slowdown, and 1080p at 60fps on the docked mode. Saying this, I would mainly recommend playing this title in Handheld mode, as this game definitely benefits more from the pick-up-and-play nature of Handheld Mode as opposed to sitting down and playing it; ships appear distinct and have an air of Blake’s 7 mixed with Battlestar Galactica around them; somewhat serious, but not anything as easily identifiable as Cowboy Bebop or even No Man’s Sky. Characters, honestly, are a bit of an afterthought in a game like this – The main cast are all fairly dry and akin to cardboard, with the typical tropes and quirks that you’d see in a writer’s think tank; one, however, sticks out as an outlier from the rest – Your trustworthy AI companion that you obtain shortly after the beginning of the game is an absolute wonder to be around, and provides many references and quips that gave some snickering moments even to me; she’s surprisingly fiery for something made of metal, with a cold heart to run parallel – It’s good to see an AI character I actually enjoy for once, and one that doesn’t get annoying.
All in all, Manticore: Galaxy on Fire is a very traditional arcade-like space battle title that often tries too hard to stick to conventions rather than to push the galactic boat out – Missions feel repetitive, enemies offer little variety, and locations feel samey, however when taken in short bursts, this game is a delight – Marathoning Manticore is probably the biggest disservice you can give it, as you will most likely get bored after an hour.
Manticore: Galaxy on Fire isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, rather it’s not amazingly good either – It’s almost stuck in the middle, in the endless void of ‘just better than average’, much like the ships you’ll spend hours piloting.
I give Manticore: Galaxy on Fire a 6/10