Motherboard Plus Review

Review by seanthechinaman on Monday, January 21st 2019
Click to play Motherboard Plus

Motherboard Plus is a game created by littlepixel

Motherboard Plus is the hellish summation of Sticki and Littlepixel's talents. This Sploder bullet hell dips the player into a dystopian wonderland, as the player fights for their life against sentient viruses and space crustaceans over a psychedelic backdrop. The game is brutally bleak throughout, reminding the player that they are not supposed to survive, reminding them of their ant-like insignificance. But perhaps this bleakness is somewhat deserved, after all, the player is only a lone bomber unit in a world full of bomber units. Even as we quell the ire of space demons the player is mercilessly annihilating the ecosystem and firing at confused humanoids in watchtowers. The bleakness is definitely deserved. Our bomber unit is just as guilty as their superiors, blindly following order into hell and back, blindly firing into space. These themes persist across the expanse of over 9 levels, allowing the player to meditate upon their thoughtlessness as they thoughtlessly fire at space animals.

Thoughtless firing, while amoral, is very enjoyable in Motherboard Plus. The game follows traditional bullet hell dogma. Our bomber unit has unlimited firepower, but a limited stock of anti-firepower (EMP charges). Compressing bullet hell mechanics into a physics game has been done countless times before, but Motherboard beats out competitors for its polish. The entire game is decorated masterfully, taking advantage of the physics creator's unique polygons, and sparsely using custom graphics. Motherboard Plus feels a lot more complete than other boss battling bullet hells on the Sploder market.

I do feel as if some of this "comepleteness" is supplemented by filler however. There are multiple bosses that feel and play similarly to the last. While this lack of distinction between bosses makes the more important bosses more striking, it can make levels forgettable. Even pivotal bosses such as the viruses are not fully visually distinguishable from other specimens, which is a shame as the virus' counterpart, the operators, are instantly recognizable and iconic of the game.

The generic design of the first virus on level six is made more lamentable by other unique elements that the fight introduces. Immediately upon encountering this virus, the player's EMP is reduced to one charge permanently. This element of the fight provided a new, lasting challenge, and the loss of EMP charges makes sense given the implicit nature of viruses. The fight itself was also one of the more memorable of the game, with the player following a square carving its way through fields of bullets, blocking your shots in the process. Although I do feel that this linear motion does not accurately represent the chaos of a virus, and neither does the boss' visual design.

Operators C and A are the perfect parallel to these virus fights. Rather than lose anything, the player is rewarded with new abilities after defeating each operator. In addition, the visual design of these bosses is iconic, as I have already stated. Both bosses appear to be skull shaped robots of some kind, which is instantly distinct in appearance when pitted against other bosses. The second operator grants you a new EMP upon its death, to completely nullify the effects of the EMP radius reduction forced upon you by the last virus boss. But this new EMP is genuinely new, it acts differently to the last and is visually different too, with its own advantages and disadvantages. It's just a shame that such a power follows you into the final boss fight.

Motherboard D is our last task as a bomber unit. Perhaps even our last task as a living being, as the level description predicts. None of this is actually true of course, the fight was anticlimactic and didn't sit well with established themes. With all of our cradled power, our bomber unit can tear apart this space titan. And this does not make for a satisfying conclusion, especially considering the ideas of cosmic horror that are alluded to in the literal introduction to this same fight. It would have been interesting to fight another virus just before we fight the Motherboard, interrupting the player's journey and essentially wiping their progress back to their starting weapons. This would reinforce the insignificance of our bomber unit and make the final boss feel truly powerful over the player. This would cohesively conclude Motherboard Plus.

Now that the game is finished, and the review is coming to an end. I would like to address a missed opportunity in the game's design. Throughout Motherboard Plus, boss fights transform as time thresholds are met. Some bosses will simply run out ammunition, while others will continue to shoot new tricks from their sleeves as time goes on. This keeps boss fights dynamic and fresh, but I feel that it didn't reach its full potential. Even the final boss does not make a meaningful change in attack as the fight fades out. The only fights that felt wholly affected by these dynamic elements were the virus and operator bosses. Keep in mind that none of this is a major concern, simply an element of the game I felt didn't meet its creative capacity.

Overall, Motherboard Plus offers a polished, bullet hell experience, adorned by polygon based visuals that challenge the status quo of custom graphic only games. The game definitely deserved its feature, as it stretches the physics creator far past its limit, resulting in a game that could easily compete with other amateur bullet hell games outside of Sploder. In spite of my qualms with the cohesion of themes in the story and gameplay, it is still very much worth your time.

(this review was an entry in my now defunct New Review Queue series, in which I reviewed requested games from Sploder members on the Community Forums)