Episodic video games have become an infrequent sight. They’re difficult for studios to stick the landing on and come with tricky financial implications to boot, but there is something satisfying about the model. New installments of a favorite series feel like just the right mix of novelty and familiarity, allowing for especially clever devs to iterate between entries and make improvements. This week I’m going to bring an ongoing project to your attention, a set of episodic releases from Renegade Sector, maker of many a solid action game. Space Captain McCallery has got it all: space, piracy, and frankly unreasonable quantities of bullets flying in every direction.
Episode 1: Crash Landing
The game begins with what’s essentially a movement tutorial, which I’ll talk about here as it applies to all 3 games. Controlling McCallery feels a little odd at first. He moves a bit slow, but has a particularly quick dash that throws him pretty far, functioning as an excellent dodge. He also can’t actually jump. This means you’ll be navigating your way up environments largely by finding paths, not hopping around, and platforming consists of spacing your dashes correctly lest you fall to your doom. You also have the ability to pick up and throw objects as well as punch, but the former is difficult to land on enemies and the latter is often going to hurt you as much as it hurts the aliens. After learning the basics you find your lost gun, and this is where the game gets to what Renegade Sector is excellent at – filling the screen with big chunky bullets.
Time to explain the energy meter, the McCallery’s most critical element. McCallery is perpetually burning calories and needs to constantly chow down on local flora to survive. His gun, presumably through some kind of horrifying biopunk function best left unseen and unexplained, recharges ammo by leaching energy from his body. As such you’ll be burning your proverbial candle at both ends as you explore the planet and fight its inhabitants. It lends levels a wonderful sense of urgency and tension as you need to navigate alien landscapes while also scrounging for edibles with as little dawdling as possible. It also shouldn’t surprise you to learn that not everything you eat is going to go down easy. I had one particular interaction with an NPC in this episode while tripping on spaceberries that I’d need to replay sober – I’m not convinced it actually happened (a note from future Demetri: I was right that it was a hallucination, and that rules).
I eventually leaned the hard way that the checkpointing in this game is unforgiving. When you first find a checkpoint you should absolutely use it, but be -very careful- about hitting the rest button for a health refill. Stopping for a nap resets progress in the area. Granted it also resets items in the area so you’re unlikely to run out of supplies, but sleeping after completing the first part of a block pushing section only to nap and reset it, forcing myself to do it over, was not the greatest moment. That said this is easily remedied after one messup by simply choosing not to do that!
What this game does wonderfully is evoke that 5th gen console sense of lonely exploration. You’re exploring large, 3D spaces with eerie fog, atmospheric tunes, and periodic enemy interruptions, finding your way without the help of a guide, map, or intrusive HUD. It is simply you and the world. This creates a very specific flavor of nostalgic experience, and while I don’t know if everyone would feel the same effect it absolutely works on me. I long for more games like this, linear experiences that still feel adventurous.
These games are listed as episodes for a reason – they’re quite short. I beat this one in under an hour and that was with periodic notetaking breaks for this review. That said I found myself fully engrossed from start to finish, clearing it in one sitting that somehow felt even shorter – in a good way! You eventually unlock “survival mode”, which is a game-enforced 1 credit clear challenge. I…attempted this, then found a path I’d never gone down before and died in the process. But I fully intend attempt to complete this challenge again, and that’s high praise.
Episode 2: Pilgrims in Purple Moss
A direct continuation, this time on an entirely different planet with an entirely different goal. We’re looking for space pirate booty this time! The material kind, that is.
This place is gorgeous. The whites and purples contrast beautifully, with various other areas (including the inside of the temple) standing out more as a result. The problem, at least early on, is that this planet’s edibles are mostly in the exact same color palette. This makes them fit in the world, yes, but it also means finding your pickups requires more attention than before. The enemies are also more of a threat from the jump, which makes sense for a followup game. Your dodges will need to be tighter, your reloads timed better, your items used just a bit more efficiently as you won’t be finding quite as much to nosh on.
Gameplay feels largely the same, as it should, with some creases have been ironed out. Most notably the camera moves a bit smoother in this episode, making switching between enemies with the lock-on a breeze. This planet’s snacks are considerably more interesting than the previous: moss that rots if you rest, spiky cucumbers that are full of stamina but ding your health, and of course more fun hallucinogens. You’ve got some things to see here tucked in the temple’s nooks and crannies, and while I had an easier time finding them in this episode I had the benefit of, y’know, it being episode 2. Secret hunting is easier when you have a sense for the dev’s hiding places.
However, I ran into a couple bugs that hampered my enjoyment in the latter half. During a fight I tried to pick up a throwable rock and ended up hoisting my own gun as an item, rendering myself unable to do anything but move and dash, requiring a checkpoint reset. The other was an aggro range exploit that made the final boss considerably easier than intended. Nothing truly gamebreaking, but some marks on the experience that the first didn’t suffer from.
Overall though, I found this followup very enjoyable. It loses some of the moody isolation of wandering the first game’s planet but makes up for it with some of the best aesthetics in the series and a step up in difficulty, particularly as you try to break into the temple. I made the Megaman Legends comparison in my review of Renegade Sector’s Escape From Terror City but this episode deserves it even more. Treasure hunting in semi-operational technological ruins filled with bullet spewing robots is as close to Legend-like as it gets, and I adore it for that.
Episode 3: The Weaponmaster’s Challenge
Dinosaurs in space! Hell yeah! I know not every shooter with dinosaurs warrants comparison to Turok and I won’t bring it up again, but as one of the dozen remaining Turok fans I had to get it out of my system. You have no idea how rarely the opportunity strikes. It’s a problem.
Of all the episodes this is the most exploration and combat focused. You’re given a compass in the top right and you’ll be making use of it as you explore a more layered map than usual and cross through previous areas via new routes and exits. Food has been made a bit more heal-focused to assist with the heaps of pissed off dinosaurs and their buddies, and there’s even more edibles that’ll mess with your head than the last episode. You ready to hallucinate spiders? You’re gonna!
There’s a bit more jank in parts here, as well as exploits. I was able to reliably respawn the starfruit in the first area, a 1-time use collectable present in the previous episodes that rewarded players for exploring with an permanent extra unit of health. If I wanted to run the route to collect it over and over I could have, and that’s probably not intended (future Demetri again – I talked to the developer and he intends to fix it. Hooray, but also I’m sorry to take this from you!). I also found that pushing blocks off of platforms onto lower areas can create a situation where you can fall through the crack between the block and the floor, dying horribly. That’s not a bug so much as a gotcha that you’ll fall for once, but that once wasn’t fantastic.
As an overall experience, though? This edged out the other two as my favorite. The action is almost constant, the music is pumping, the planet looks fantastic, the jokes from your slowly expanding crew land a little bit better, and the plot hooks at the end have given me even more reasons to be interested in where this series will go. Enemy variety is fantastic here, with constant introductions of new problems to solve in increasingly dangerous locations. It was just a tiny bit longer than the rest and I certainly am not complaining about more of a good thing. Also I met a wizard? In another dimension?? And we’re friends??? That’s not a joke, and I refuse to elaborate further! This game rules!
Finishing episode 3 almost made me regret playing through all of these in one weekend. Space Captain McCallery impressed me in many ways I expected as well as a few I didn’t foresee. It’s action and presentation are on point, yes, but I did not expect to generate quite so many positive brain chemicals throughout each episode. It’s the perfect kind of retro throwback: one that understands its both inspirations and its aspirations, that builds on the foundations of older games while also pulling off new ideas of its own, and in so doing surpasses what came before. These are the kinds of projects I trawl through new releases to find, always seeking That Good Indie Shit, and SCM is absolutely that. More episodes please. I need them.
Copies of these games were independently purchased for review.