The Switch checks off another genre on the list.
Let’s start off on the right foot. I absolutely despise the current mobile phone game climate. It is largely a market based less on rewarding game design and more on encouraging the player to gamble their money away one micro-transaction at a time. It has less to do with the art form of video games, and more to do with a Vegas slot machine. All that to say that when a game takes an opportunity to make the leap to a true console release, I’m always interested to see how its design can hold up in a very different environment. Such is the case with Manticore - Galaxy on Fire, a reworking of Galaxy on Fire 3 on mobile phones.
Manticore is a 3D space-shooter with full 360 degree movement. It's a genre we’ve yet to see represented on Switch, and one I hope we see much more of in the future. You play as a nameless pilot who falls in with a band of mercenaries called Manticore. Your team is quickly embroiled in a hunt for a dangerous weapons cartel after a terrorist attack leaves a planet in pieces. The story plays out as a linear progression of missions to hunt down various pirates. Each one leads you to the location of the next as you slowly work your way up their organization. The plot does its job but I never found myself particularly attached to any of the characters, as very little time is spent developing any of them. The story isn’t boring by any means, but I’d have trouble recounting the finer points were you to ask me. Then again I’m not really here for the story. I’m here for space ships and perhaps an explosion or two.
Unlike other similar looking 3D space games like Wing Commander, Star Citizen, Elite Dangerous, or No Man’s Sky, Manticore is much more shooter than it is simulation. Gameplay is broken into levels with specific goals, more in keeping with something like the Rogue Squadron series. This likely speaks to its mobile origin as the scope of the game had to be kept in check given the platform. This is not a bad thing, in fact it's placement on the Switch makes this a very appropriate design choice. Each mission can generally be defined by, blow up all the targets in the area, or keep this target from getting blown up by the bad guys. The generally short missions make for great pick up and play sessions. While progression is entirely linear, you are always free to revisit old environments to search for additional ship blueprints and lore entries. You can also use your main carrier’s hangar to swap ships and customize each one with different weapons and upgrades. I did find that these upgrades didn’t take much to earn, and I always had more money than I had upgrades available to purchase. In fact overall Manticore felt very easy, and I strongly recommend anyone with a background in the genre crank up the difficulty, else you’ll fly through the game very quickly. While it may be a very simple, and some would argue shallow, space-shooter it's still a very fun experience especially on the go.
Manticore targets a buttery 60 frames per second, and in handheld mode it does a surprisingly good job of hitting it. Docked mode runs into some very noticeable slow down during heavy action. It's not a deal breaker by any means but it feels like handheld is the ideal way to play the game. Whether docked or portable Manticore looks very sharp. The game’s mobile roots are a bit easier to spot when displayed on a large screen, but even on my 4K I was surprised by how good the game managed to look. As is the case with many Switch titles, handheld may have the edge here as the smaller screen hides the occasional low resolution texture or modest polygon count on certain assets.
Manticore - Galaxy on Fire is a simple but very satisfying romp through 3D space. For those like me who were waiting eagerly for this genre to arrive on Switch, Manticore makes a great premiere showing. While its origins on smart phones show through in spots, it still holds up remarkably well on console. Manticore is an easy pick for fans of the genre, and a great premier space shooter on Switch.