“In the future, all races take place in neon worlds.”
Spectra isn't a music/rhythm game, and yet it bears a close resemblance to familiar titles like Frequency and Amplitude. The neon lights and pulsating soundtrack immediately come to mind, but even the subtle movements from one side of the track to the other instill a sense of déjà vu. Spectra belongs to the racing genre more so than anything else, because it allows a stronger sense of freedom in track navigation, but it doesn't have enough freedom. The game rests somewhere in between the worlds of Amplitude and arcade racers, and its emphasis on simplicity and brevity only makes the disconnect that much more jarring.
The structure of Spectra stands out as one of its biggest flaws. The game includes 10 different tracks, all of which feature simple obstacles on the course and a bunch of orange pick-ups which contribute to an overall score. Avoid the obstacles, collect the pick-ups, rinse and repeat. The tracks get harder as the game progresses, but it quickly proves tedious. Greater variety from one track to the next would have given Spectra more life, but instead the game simply adds more obstacles to seemingly familiar tracks with its procedurally generated levels for each session. Despite playing through each track multiple times, it all blurs together.
The game's point system allows for some creativity in that players can quickly go off-track and get back on immediately for small point boosts. Weaving in between obstacles also results in higher scores, and Spectra throws quite a few of them at the player in the later tracks. In fact, it took me a few tries to finish the last few courses at all. Once I did that, I unlocked hardcore mode which presents tougher versions of the 10 existing tracks. I had the most fun with the hardcore versions because they require quicker reflexes and more input on the part of the player. Trying to get back on track after bumping into an obstacle on a hardcore course provides a welcome rush of adrenaline. Otherwise, there's little movement of the analog stick during races; Spectra just doesn't emphasis its arcade-racer influence enough.
Then again, the simplicity of arcade games comes to mind when one looks at the content in Spectra. It's just 10 tracks, hardcore versions of those tracks, and a handful of achievements to complete. It only took me about an hour to see all of the tracks in the game, and the archaic menu design does little to compensate for the lack of content. I can only avoid obstacles and pick up orange objects for so long before my mind wanders. Fortunately, the soundtrack in Spectra gave me some motivation in key moments.
The music in Spectra comes courtesy of Chipzel, the woman who also worked on the soundtrack for Super Hexagon just a few years ago. It propels the entire Spectra experience in that it ties into the mechanics of the game. When a song ends, the track ends. When a song gets more intense, the track gets more intense. It's a dynamic that both benefits the game and illuminates the already-fantastic soundtrack. The irresistible electronic beats also compliment the bright neon glow of Spectra and its emphasis on deep purples and bright oranges.
Sadly, Spectra doesn't shine quite as bright as its neon environments. On paper I like the idea of a retro arcade racer with an eye-catching presentation, but the simplicity of the mechanics and the lack of content hold Spectra back. It's not a successful music/rhythm game and it's not a successful racing game. It's merely an adequate hybrid with a kickass soundtrack. At least the latter is worth a download.