It’s time to make your stand beyond the stars. When Indigo Brink pirates ambush your ship and take all of its systems offline, Saya and Kyyrrk respond to your distress signal and escort you back to the Manticore. The mercenary carrier patrols the Neox sector and, hired as their latest recruit, you must help them to complete contracts to earn your keep.
There is a lot of money to be made in Manticore: Galaxy on Fire, but, when delegates at an interplanetary peace conference to talk about the Neox sector’s future are murdered when a whole planet unexpectedly explodes, it falls to you to work out who was responsible. The disaster, which is remembered as “The Shattering,” is the impetus that drives your flight among the stars in this Nintendo Switch release. And, while this sci-fi action shooter becomes yet another mobile port to land on the Nintendo eShop for the portable home console, it is the most technically impressive by far.
The fringe world that you explore is constantly terrorised by ruthless crime lords, and, as you start to hunt down the Gr’Gath pirates that are believed to be behind the colossal attack, you take on missions across the Neox sector as you work through the game’s three acts. These are relatively bitesize in approach, which is something that is both understandable given its mobile origins but sees their structure equally well suited to playing on the move with Nintendo Switch.
The Neox sector has been torn apart by war over a substance called Glow, or “Mhaan-Tiq” as the natives refer to it, and your contracts will more often than not see you helping mining companies and colony worlds to earn some coin. These can see you use a Nivelian satellite to locate survivors in a rescue mission, chase down smugglers, race between checkpoints that have velocity amplifiers that overcharge your engine, or defend hulking spaceships from raiding bandits as it moves towards its destination.
Whichever contract you are handed, it won’t come as a surprise that you will largely spend your time dogfighting with your enemies. While the standard space pirates that you encounter can easily be gunned down to smithereens, you will also come face-to-face with the galaxy’s most wanted criminals. These are far more hardened foes, with sturdier hulls, restorative shields and other tricks under the hood of their ships to make it harder for you to obliterate them.
Your ship’s easy to manoeuvre through the stars, too. With the Left Stick used to steer and different directions on the Right Stick for boosting, to cut your speed, and barrel rolling left or right, it’s simple enough for anyone to learn. The game could certainly have done with some more evasive acrobatics, but the fluidity of your general movement lends itself well to deliver on the arcade-like experience.
Before each mission you will have the chance to choose which ship to pilot, with more, unsurprisingly, becoming available to you as you progress through the game. That will let you choose which primary and secondary weapons to load your ship with, whether they unleash laser, plasma or ballistic projectiles needing to be taken into given that each criminal has a specific weakness. These weapons don’t overheat, and, beyond this, you can soon arm yourself with homing rockets and equip devices that can temporarily make your ship invisible or emit a shockwave to disrupt nearby enemies.
The near-constant expansion to the weapons, devices and ships that you can pilot leads to more than substantial room to experiment with everything in an effort to discover what setup works best for you. Whatever you choose, it quickly becomes important to take a moment to upgrade them over time. This will require Mhaan-tiq, which is earned in-game and will help to make your weapons more potent and your ship swifter and more resistant to attack. Higher tier upgrades are gated behind your rank, which will increase from the experience that you gain after each mission, that you complete successfully. After each mission ends, you will have the chance to explore each area for intel fragments that unlock lore for you to pore over and ship parts, warp directly to what’s next or return to the hangar to tinker with your ship.
These missions all take place in captivating environments where planets and moons loom in the distance, derelict spaceship hulks drift lifelessly, rocky asteroids lend cover from laser fire, jump gates and wreckage from past conflicts. It was impressive on mobile and it continues to astound on Nintendo Switch, where it runs at 60 frames per second in Handheld, Tabletop and TV modes. Deep Silver Fishlabs is rightly proud of what they have achieved that they have added Action Freeze, a photo mode where you zoom and pan to take your own screenshots to marvel over.
Those high production values continue with the game’s main cast who help to breathe life into this dogfight-ridden space adventure. Your AI companion, Jalen, deserves a special shoutout for her constant sarcasm and sassy attitude, which more than makes up for some straight cut performances from more minor characters. It’s also worth mentioning HD Rumble, which reacts with a different vibration whether your shield is soaking up damage or if it’s your hull that’s being riddled with lasers.
And where mobile counterpart Galaxy on Fire 3 has suffered complaints around in-game adverts and microtransactions, these have all been removed in Manticore: Galaxy on Fire. That means that the £17.99 ($19.99) asking price is more than fair, especially given the more than eight-hour storyline and everything that will be left to search for after that. It could do with more variance in mission design and the enemy AI can be mindless, but the positives greatly outweigh the game’s shortcomings.
It is in the thrill of space combat that Manticore: Galaxy on Fire comes alive, as you get an enemy in your sights and mercilessly hunt them down. It’s not without its imperfections, but genre fans will get more than enough from the spectacle of it all.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Deep Silver