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Ambrosia Software
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SketchFighter 4000 Alpha
March 27, 2006 | Marcus Albers

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I remember back in junior high sitting in math class, bored out of my skull. The teacher was droning on about something to do with angles and numbers and the importance of pie. What pie had to do with math I had no idea, but I wasn't too concerned. I was far more concerned with the war that I was waging in my notebook. Scribbled in the margins of my diligently-taken math notes was a battle of epic proportions, pitting a meager rebellion against a mighty, evil empire. Explosions erupted as huge, lumbering war machines crushed the tiny rebels under menacing metal feet. High above this action, space battle ensued. Battleships took on battleships in the classic fashion, as shots were exchanged broadsides. Tiny space fighters flitted around the huge battleships, embroiled in dog fights that would have sent the Red Baron home crying to his mother. If it all seems a bit too familiar, then you have a good idea of when I went to junior high, and we'll discuss my age no further.

Developer Lars Gafvert is currently hard at work creating a rather unique game for Macintosh publishing powerhouse Ambrosia Software. The game is SketchFighter 4000 Alpha, and it appears that Lars had much the same experience in math class that I did.

SketchFighter is just what the title suggests: it is a shooter designed from sketches on paper. Graph-paper to be exact. All of the graphics are hand drawn, literally. No fancy 3D rendered graphics, no Photoshop-enhanced backgrounds or vertex-shaded polygons. Putting pen to paper, the game comes to life.

The action revolves around your sketched starfighter, as you traverse the many dangers of the graph-paper caves. This labyrinth of twists and turns will keep you on your toes as you face a variety of enemies along the way. Many of the enemy designs emulate insects and animals of other sorts, but many more are very mechanical in nature. And they all have one thing in common: they want to see you squashed. Other barriers will hinder your progress, such as rocks that cannot be shot with your current weapon and shield doors that you have to figure out how to shut down before going through.

Throughout the levels, you will collect different weapons for your fighter. These weapon power-ups come in two types. There are weapon type power-ups, and weapon color power-ups. You start out with simple yellow pellets as a weapon, which do a passable job at dispatching the various enemies that you meet when you first start on your journey. You will soon collect more powerful weapons that will give you a better chance of taking out the baddies before they can take you out. You will also collect different colors for your weapons. This will allow you to trigger different doors in each level, as each door can only be triggered by a weapon of like color. You will often find yourself coming back to parts of a level that were previously unreachable after finding a different color for your weapon.

The control scheme for your fighter is reminiscent of the old Asteroids game, with the left and right keys rotating your ship clockwise and counter-clockwise. Pressing forward will thrust your ship forward. A difference exists when you press back, as this will thrust your ship backwards (rather than the classic braking action of other games). This is very helpful when attacking particularly difficult enemies, allowing you to back up and still shoot at the pursuers, turning them into pencil smudges on the paper.

Once you make it through the twisting caves of a level, you will face off against a boss. Ranging from huge bugs to oversized crabs to menacing tanks, these characters will give you a run for your money. Of course, making it past these boss creatures is the key to progressing through the levels of the game.

The game also offers a unique two-player mode. It can either be played competitively or cooperatively. The truly unique thing about this mode is that the two players are tethered together. This makes for some very interesting gameplay mechanics, both when playing cooperatively and competitively.

Another option that SketchFighter offers that will really add replayability to the game is the inclusion of a level editor. Using the same hand-sketched building tools that Lars himself used, you can design your own winding, mysterious cave levels. Make them as easy or devilishly hard as you want, and share them with others.

This is a promising shooter with a very unique twist, not only graphically but in gameplay aspects as well. I can't wait to see the full version of this game when it becomes available, as I think that it has the potential to be a huge hit. So pencil this one into your schedule and be ready to give it a try when it is released.

Be sure to check out the two cool movies of Sketch Fighter Alpha 4000 by click on the Movies button.

SketchFighter 4000 Alpha
Publisher: Ambrosia Software
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