Space Giraffe kicks down the doors of perception with cloven hooves and a dance-floor beat. This psychedelic shooter is a highly concentrated shot of retro gaming, old-school computing, and acid-house flashbacks. At first blush, the Xbox Live Arcade download looks like a gussied-up clone of the arcade classic Tempest. But game designer Jeff Minter has heaped so many new flourishes onto the formula of the original game that it becomes something entirely new.
Much of the game's simple wire-frame playing field is distorted with mind-bending visuals. The screen ripples with rainbow-colored waves. Enemies flare brightly, blurring everything around them like drifting sunspots burnt into the retina. All the visual noise genuinely challenges notions of perception: The constant color barrage forces players to see past the light show in order to master the game obscured beneath. The gem at the center of all this eye candy is a clever re-interpretation of the arcade shooter—one that makes actually shooting the bad guys the least attractive option. Truly big scores come when players let the encroaching targets reach the top of the web, where they can be shoved off the grid like so many Pamplona runners fleeing a rampaging bull. Killer bullets shouldn't be dodged, but ricocheted back into space where they can be picked up later for even more points.
Space Giraffe sounds difficult because it is. In spite of multiple in-game tutorials, the game really needs to be experienced, mulled over, and repeatedly failed before it can be fully understood. When that moment of video-game transcendence finally hits and everything clicks, it's a beautiful thing.
Beyond the game: Even Quentin Tarantino would be hard-pressed to cram this many obscure cultural references into his projects. Look for nods to The KLF, The Matrix, Super Mario Brothers, and Welsh shortwave number stations.
Worth playing for: Space Giraffe doesn't just hand out achievements. When you finally get one under your belt, you feel like you've earned it.
Frustration sets in when: If Pokémon really did cause seizures, then Space Giraffe has serious aneurysm-inspiring potential. Those prone to migraines may want to pre-medicate before playing.
Final judgment: Playing Space Giraffe is like being armed, dosed, and immersed in the opening credits of Doctor Who.