Isotope: A Space Shooter Review: A Periodic Table of Awesomeness

Affogato Software’s Isotope: A Space Shooter is one of those rare games that has managed to win a permanent space on my iPhone home screen. It’s a dual-stick, glowing neon wire-frame shooter in the vein of Geometry Wars, packed to the gills with content and goodness, and with nary a flaw to be found. Isotope is a whole lotta game, and there’s a lot to love.

Likes:

Visuals and Theme: Odd as it sounds, Isotope is themed around the periodic table of elements. The ships, abilities and the levels are all named after elements, and the playing field background is an array of squares, as if flying over the table itself. The user-interface follows this theme as well, with icons made to look like elements on the table. The theme carries through the game, tying the whole together in a very cohesive way. It’s rare to see games presented front-to-back with such coherence.

The background also reacts to the presence of your ship, your enemies and your bullets, changing color depending upon what occupies the space above it. As you play, the playfield becomes a pulsating, iridescent, reactionary matrix of neon squares. It’s a very cool effect, and pulled off in such a subtle way that it never interferes with the action on screen. It’s only a matter of time before your screen becomes a mass of surging colors, enemy swarms, throngs of bullets and lasers, and kaleidoscopic explosions. Through it all, the game maintains a steady 30 frames-per-second, and the action remains discernible despite the copious amounts of radiant rainbow carnage.

Ships: Like ships? Isotope has them in spades, with customizations galore. Forty ships can be purchased and upgraded through the course of the game, in areas of Firepower, Shields and CPU. Ships come in many shapes, some resembling space fighters, while others come in simple geometric shapes, crescents, shuriken shapes and more. Depending on ship type, a variety of weapons are also available, ranging from single bullet streams to spread shots, homing bullets and explosive projectiles. Upgrading firepower not only increases the damage you inflict, but also the frequency and number of shots fired. Ships can also be fitted with special limited-use abilities, including bombs, lasers, healing modules, black holes and more. Stat boosters can also be equipped, raising your ship parameters beyond the level limits of each ship type, increasing firepower, shields, money or experience earned, etc. The number of attachments is dependent upon your ship’s CPU level. Later in the game, you can also equip satellites to assist you in combat. Satellites can perform a number of functions, firing on enemies, setting off bombs, healing your ship, knocking back enemies and more. Satellites also level up through combat, increasing in effectiveness to a maximum level of 10.

Enemies: Like your own ships, enemies come in a vast number of shapes, types and sizes. The most basic are simple, glowing shapes that pursue your relentlessly through the arenas. Some can pass through walls, while others cannot. Further on, the game introduces enemy types with guns of their own. Some pursue you and target your ship, while others are fixed position cannons, or fire bursts of bullets in all directions. Some are fortified with barriers that must be destroyed before you can attack them. Neon snakes, Tron-like light-bikes, ships that leap from wall to wall creating a web of laser trails, kamikaze shuriken-shaped ships and more all work to thwart your progress. And at the end of each level, you face off against one or more boss ships packing massive firepower.

Levels: Isotope’s levels consist of a series of connected arenas. When entering an area, you will find your way barred by a barrier and a “hot spot” waiting for you that will trigger attack when flown into. The enemy horde must then be defeated before the barrier will drop, allowing you to progress. The arenas and corridors create further challenges, with enemies strategically placed behind walls and around corners, with obstacles and traps that must be navigated while in combat. Some levels are mazes that must be cleared to progress, while others are open combat arenas where enemies swarm in from all sides. Isotope’s Campaign mode comprises over 30 stages, each offering up new challenges to overcome.

Interface:
Isotope features splendid touch-anywhere controls. Navigation occurs via the left-thumb, while shooting direction is controled by the right. Inferface opacity is fully adjustable, and there are options for how you would like your ability triggers laid out on the screen. Affogato seems to have thought of everything, and have nailed the details. The interface is clean, attractive and as unobtrusive as possible. The menus are easy to navigate, and fit the overall periodic table design of the game.

Isotope is packed with content, offers a lengthy gaming experience, requires both strategy and twitch reflexes, is visually stunning, and gobs of fun. In addition to the lengthy Campaign mode, it includes several Survival maps, and Affogato periodically releases web-based levels via their site, with notices appearing in the game menu to alert you of their availability. Affogato further displayed their committment to the game with a brilliant update in August, adding additional content to the game, as well has interface refinements and other improvements.

Over the past several months, I’ve spent more time playing Isotope than any other game on my phone, and it’s one that will never, ever be deleted. At $1.99, it’s a steal. And if you still have doubts, a lite version is available. If you own an iPhone or iPod Touch, you owe it to yourself to play this game.

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Isotope: A Space Shooter is developed by Affogato Software and is available in either a $1.99 full edition, or a free lite version. Reviewed at version 1.5 on an iPhone 3G.

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