bears in space

Bears In Space Review – The Right To Bear Arms

Always an Ursa Captain, never an Ursa Major.

I’ve only ever considered myself a casual enjoyer of the bullet hell and boomer shooter genres. Although I grew up on a stable diet of games like Doom, Serious Sam, Duke Nukem and Hexen, these days I usually wait for the crème of the crop to emerge before diving in. That said, I do appreciate the skill, patience and determination it takes to master these kinds of games, so titles like Doom: Eternal and Returnal rank fairly high on my favourite games list. With my credentials out of the way, let me tell you about the wacky debut title from Brisbane developer Broadside Games, Bears in Space.

Though it physically pains me to say it, the term ‘retro’ now applies to many of the games I played when I was younger, and shooters were quite different back then. If you’re also a 90s kid, you’ll hopefully understand what I mean when I say that Bears in Space is a retro-styled, single player first-person boomer shooter adventure. What this means is that there’s a tonne of shooting to be sure, but unlike most modern-day FPS titles, there are also sprawling platforming sections, large arenas, collectibles, set pieces and boss fights to be found. When you’re not narrowly dodging a wall of bullets while fighting hordes of robots with your extensive arsenal, you’ll be utilising all manner of gadgets to explore the massive levels and meet the cavalcade of kooky characters within them.

bears in space

You’ll be playing as Maxwell Atoms, a geriatric space hero who unceremoniously merges bodies with a giant She-Bear, Beartana, after an accident on board your spaceship. Crash landing on a planet filled with (maybe) murderous robots is only the start of your adventure, as now you’ll have to fight your way through factories, dungeons, medieval villages and even a space carnival to find your way back to Earth. Thankfully, sharing DNA with a She-Bear grants you access to super-human abilities such as a double jump, a dash and even the opportunity to shift into giant bear form upon consuming a jar of honey.

If this sounds pretty goofy, that’s because it absolutely is. Bears in Space is proudly one of the most playful, silly and cartoony shooters out there. The folks at Broadside have drawn inspiration from all manner of games, TV shows and movies they enjoyed growing up, and much like our heroes, that absurdity is woven into the DNA of this game.

bears in space

Don’t be fooled though, as at the heart of all this tomfoolery is an excellent and deceptively challenging shooter. One minute you’ll be fishing wax lips out of an acid river for a homeless, rap-rock loving robot and the next you’ll be dashing across an arena, riding jump pads into a crowd of bullet-spewing automatons before unloading your laser shotgun into their faces. The myriad armaments at your disposal are all seemingly taken from the Ratchet & Clank reject pile, with my personal favourites being the rubber band anvil launcher and the ‘SFG’ (yes, it’s exactly what you’re thinking).

With ammo paradoxically being both scarce and abundant, you’re forced to cycle through your weapons almost every fight, and it’s a good thing too because as you use them, they level up and change form, making them even deadlier. If you’re a fan of the retro boomer shooter genre, I can guarantee that you’ll enjoy the frenetic minute-to-minute gameplay of this weird little game, with gunplay that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with other fan favourites. The ability to replay levels and hunt down all of the challenges and secrets within, means that you’ll easily spend 15-20+ hours seeing everything the game has to offer.

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bears in space

I get the sense that your enjoyment of Bears in Space really is going to come down to the presentation and tone of the game. It looks, sounds and mostly plays like a title from several gaming generations ago, with all of the nostalgic appeal and foibles that come along with it. The graphics are chunky and colourful, though not boundary-pushing by any measure. The sound effects can be grating, but everything has a distinct audible identity. The humour can be genuinely funny and is at times puerile and broad, at other times incredibly niche or a little risqué. If I had to draw a comparison, I would say it feels like a very Australian and family-friendly Conker’s Bad Fur Day or a Saturday morning cartoon version of the TimeSplitters franchise. 

All of this is intentional of course, as Broadside are a small but dedicated and talented team who have poured their absolute heart and soul into this game over the last seven years. It’s clear they’ve crafted Bears in Space in the image of what they loved growing up, and their passion is clearly felt all throughout it. I will admit that I initially bounced off this presentation when I first started, but the more I played (and the fact that the gameplay is excellent) the more endearing it became, and I often found myself giggling and smiling at the absurdity on display.

bears in space

The only real problems I ran into were that a few times upon starting the game, it would freeze after the developer splash screen, forcing me to close and reopen the game, which then worked afterwards. I also noticed some stuttering in some cutscenes, but because it wasn’t during gameplay and I’m a veteran gamer that’s been hardened on the jank of old, it didn’t really bother me and I’m sure these issues will likely be patched after release. 

bears in space
Conclusion
Bears in Space feels like a game that was lifted directly from the early 2000’s, remastered and then released today, and I mean that in the best possible way. With the recent deluge of fantastic retro-flavoured FPS games, I think it’s high time for a kitschy comedy 3D boomer (millennial?) shooter renaissance. Though I’m sure it’s not for everyone, Broadside Games have delivered a delightfully ridiculous debut title and if you’re a 90s gamer kid I urge you to check it out.
Positives
Absurd and charming premise
Snappy, challenging and dynamic gunplay
Massive levels with plenty of secrets to discover
Genuinely funny references and moments throughout
Heaps of great Aussie voice acting
Negatives
Audio is a mixed bag
Some of the humour falls a little flat
8.5