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Space War Arena (Switch) artwork

Space War Arena (Switch) review

"Space War Arena presents a competent but repetitive take on the familiar concept of ships shooting at each other."

Picture two piles of Matchbox or Hot Wheels cars sitting in the middle of a living room, half buried in some impossibly deep shag carpet. It is the 1980s, maybe the early 1990s, and you are a kid sitting on the floor between the two piles with no ambition beyond carnage. You grab as many of the diminutive vehicles as you can in one hand, as many as you can in the other, and you bring the two clusters of them together with a resounding crash. Metal toys grind against one another, and most of them drop to the floor until finally you have just one toy remaining in one of your hands. That hand is the winner.

Space War Arena (Switch) image

When I play Space War Arena, a real-time strategy game from Playchemy, it feels a bit like I'm that kid on that living room floor. It's an engaging enough time killer at first, because pitting two forces against one another and seeing which will be the last one standing is always enjoyable on some level, but my interest rather quickly wanes because it doesn't take long to feel repetitive.

Naturally, there is more nuance to the video game than there is to the clash of metal cars. Your arena isn't surrounded by a sofa, some chairs, and an old tube television. It rests within the vast, empty void of space. You don't control both sides of the conflict that is being waged within that boundless venue, either; there is just the force on the left side of the screen, drifting lazily toward an invading armada on the right side that poses a "treat" to mankind's future (I think the writers probably meant "threat"). Most of the war takes place in the expanse between the two rival mother ships, and your ultimate goal is to break through the enemy's defenses and deal a killing blow before your rival beats you to the punch.

Space War Arena (Switch) image

Space War Arena begins with a series of tutorials that introduce the play mechanics and some basic ships, and then you can begin the proper campaign with a few useful options. You're only able to bring several ships from your shipyard, and each one has a cooling period that prevents you from just filling the screen with allies of a particular type. You have to be careful about which units you bring along, so you're not relying on forces that take too long to materialize, or that launch super quickly but are immediately shot down because they have no defensive capabilities. And in battle, you have to decide carefully what to send out next and how to get more from less.

Units vary rather substantially. Of course you have the heavy bruisers, which can absorb a fair bit of damage before they burst into debris. You can also deploy little floating stations that in turn send out smaller units to harass any inbound vessels. There also are shields, pods that regenerate health, long-range strikers, mine fields the enemy pilots can't see (though to be honest, my experience was that they flew through them without suffering much for that) and so forth. For a long while, every stage you clear gifts you with some new ship, slightly different than anything you've had before it.

Space War Arena (Switch) image

And so, the campaign just keeps going and going. It's not so much the number of individual stages that starts to feel like a grind as it is the sense that really, you're not doing much different. At least, that's how it feels for me. I suspect some players will delight in tinkering with their fleet and settling on just the right combination of ships that will overcome the latest challenge, but I was underwhelmed.

There's nothing definitively wrong with Space War Arena, and you might even love it. I hope I've provided enough information that you can decide whether its general setup may appeal to you even though it failed to maintain my personal interest. Me, I'm wishing I had a few more toy cars.


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (April 08, 2019)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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