Although I’m usually not a fan of space fighting or sci-fi games, Manticore – Galaxy on Fire is as unique an experience as any I’ve had on Nintendo Switch. While the game is visually breathtaking and its moment-to-moment gameplay is fun, its disjointed narrative and one-note gameplay loop keeps Manticore – Galaxy on Fire from taking intergalactic dogfighting to new heights.
Manticore – Galaxy on Fire, at its core, is an arcade-style, third-person space shooter where the player commandeers a different number of space ships and completes bite-sized levels and challenges. While there is an overall narrative that attempts to piece together each level, it’s not particularly well told, and it feels rather disjointed by the way in which missions are broken up. In general, each playable mission takes around five to ten minutes to complete, which makes the game perfect for quick, pick-up-and-play sessions. This does the game’s story a disservice, however, since the game always breaks away from the action to tell the story, and Manticore – Galaxy on Fire’s overall narrative suffers as a result.
Narrative issues aside, Manticore – Galaxy on Fire’s gameplay loop works well—take out a few enemy ships, defeat a boss ship, then go back to the hangar to upgrade your ship and unlock and equip new weapons. Each mission requires a certain weapon type, so you’ll often find yourself loading out with different ship mods for each mission, and although each weapon type behaves slightly differently, none of them dramatically change how you play the game. The most notable differences between weapons are that the hitbox size on enemies will change depending on the weapon you’ve equipped, as well as variance to the weapons’ damage over time, but none of these drastically affect overall gameplay.
That said, the game’s controls feel tight and responsive—credit is due to Deep Silver Fishlabs for translating the original game’s mobile controls so well over to console controls. The game turns on inverted vertical controls by default—which I immediately switched off—but otherwise, your ship’s controls feel smooth and natural. You can tilt the right thumbstick left or right to perform a barrel roll in each direction as well as tilt the right thumbstick up or down to boost or slow your ship down, respectively. The game doesn’t give a particularly robust tutorial on how to commandeer your ship, but after a few missions, I was able to get a good handle on my ship’s maneuvering.
Though there is some variation, most mission types play out in the same way: you instance into the mission, you’re given an objective, and then you take out a few enemy ships, usually while trying to protect a particular character or payload. Toward the end of each mission, that level’s boss will appear—which is always prefaced by a short but jarring freeze-frame shot of their approach—and you’re tasked with taking them out. The formulaic nature of most missions gives the game little variety, and most bosses are simply bullet sponges that don’t require a lot of complex shooting or maneuvering. While this arcade-like mission structure lends itself to shorter, pick-up-and-play sessions, it ultimately feels uninspired and unrewarding.
Because of this, Manticore – Galaxy on Fire ends up feeling stale after a few missions. Weapons just don’t feel different enough to warrant playing with different loadout combinations aside from the game’s mission structure forcing the player to do so. That, along with said mission structure often feeling too formulaic and predictable, leaves the core experience of Manticore – Galaxy on Fire fundamentally lacking.
One of Manticore – Galaxy on Fire’s redeeming qualities, however, is its visual presentation. The game runs at a full 1080p and 60 frames per second docked and at 720p and 60 frames per second in handheld, which is pretty remarkable given many Switch games are locked at 30 frames per second. I never noticed any frame rate dips during my playtime, so there’s something to be said for its consistently smooth performance.
Manticore – Galaxy on Fire is a fun space shooter once you learn your way around the controls and how the core gameplay loop functions, but beyond that, it begins to lose its luster. Though the immediate gameplay is fun and the visuals and performance are top-notch, Manticore – Galaxy on Fire falls flat when it comes to its disjointed narrative and repetitive mission structure that ultimately makes for a less-than-rewarding experience.
Disclaimer: A review code for Manticore – Galaxy on Fire was provided by the game’s publisher.