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Bunz Fighter Review: The Best Vertical Shooter You’ve Never Played

Like a stealth ship in the night, Bunz Fighter has managed to slip beneath most app shoppers’ and review sites’ radars. Und das ist für Schande! Because Bunz Fighter is probably the best vertical shooter you’ve never played.

The year is 3XXX. Mysterious invaders have deployed a destructive new weapon into Earth’s orbit, and you have been selected to pilot the Bunz Fighter, a new attack fighter being sent to destroy the threat. Beginning from Earth’s surface, you must battle your way into orbit, where victory will be a hard won battle.

First hurdle, get past the queer name. Bunz Fighter takes its namesake from its developer, Bunz Software Development, based in China, whose mascot is some kind of stupid bunny. On paper, Bunz Fighter is a vertical shooter offering original graphics and music, multiple difficulty levels, five different control methods, OpenFeint integration, scalable effects depending on your device, a diverse array of opponents, and bullet-hell gameplay that is both challenging and accessible.

Likes:

Presentation: The graphics in Bunz Fighter are incredibly detailed. Every visual component is carefully and intricately crafted, including the Bunz Fighter, enemies ships, the massive boss ships and the stage backgrounds. Even the bullets, missiles, laser beams and other hazards have received obvious attention. Visually, the game is very well crafted. Unanimously, the ships feature awesome designs. The audio is also well done, with adequate sound effects and a soundtrack of compelling electronica blending ambiance with beats. The menus are nicely designed, animated and informative.

Those playing on more powerful devices, such as an iPhone 3GS, third-generation iPod Touch or iPad may also enable additional particle effects, shadows and foreground elements, stepping up the impressive visuals even further.

Control Types: With five included control schemes, you can basically play Bunz Fighter any way you want. The game recommends the Finger Swipe method, in which your fighter adheres to your finger-tip; I also preferred this method, finding it very responsive. As alternatives, though, the game includes Tilt-sensor controls, a Joystick method by which your fighter can be controlled by placing your finger anywhere on the screen, and two dual-pad control methods in which horizontal and vertical control of your fighter are separated on two axis. My only gripe with the controls is that the control method can only be selected when beginning a new game and cannot be changed mid-game.

Challenging and Accessible?!: Bunz Fighter offers multiple difficulty levels, with Easy and Normal being available from the start. Even on the easiest setting, though, the game will challenge your survival skills. Destroyed ships will leave behind gemstones of various size and value which can be collected by flying over them. At the conclusion of each stage, these gems are tallied and calculated into your total score. All gems are lost, however, at Game Over. Meaning that if you continue mid-stage, all gems collected up to that point are lost. With the stages being so challenging, and boss battles even more so, only the best players will manage to hold onto their gems until stage end.

Accessibility takes the form of an extremely forgiving system of continues. Having lost all of their fighters, players have the option of continuing their game from the precise location of their demise. Continues are unlimited, and while gems may be sacrificed, ground is never lost. So while novice players won’t be climbing the scoreboards, they will at least be able to muscle their way through the game using perseverance.

Weapons, Upgrades and More: Four primary weapons are available to players during the game, and will occasionally appear as pick-ups during each stage. Weapons can be upgraded by collecting multiples of the same weapon type, and your weapon level will be maintained even when switching to a different weapon type. At the beginning of the game, weapons can be upgraded to a maximum level of four, though this limitation will increase later in the game. My favorite weapon is the basic Straight Shot, which transforms into a spread cannon as its level increases. Other weapon types include the laser beam, energy wave and homing missiles. The game will generally deliver you upgrades to the currently equipped weapon; the upgrades will float around the screen until collected, and waiting them out will cause them to change, cycling through the various weapon types until collected. It’s rare then that you will accidentally pick up a weapon you don’t want, and still easy to switch weapon types if you want to.

In general, the weapons become more powerful and versatile at higher levels. In addition to their standard attack modes, however, they can also be manipulated using additional touch controls. For example, the spread of the Straight Shot can be adjusted via touch to become either a concentrated, narrow salvo, or a scattered, wide-area “shotgun” weapon. On their own, missiles fire in a straight line; a specific target can be selected by tap, however, causing the missile to home in on that target until destroyed.

The Bunz Fighter also possesses an “Ultimate” attack that can be unleashed when its energy gauge is full, either by shaking the device or tapping the screen with three fingers. The ultimate attack sweeps the entire screen with crushing lasers, devastating enemies.

Breaking atmosphere and delving into space, the Bunz Fighter will gain additional armor, changing its appearance and allowing it to take two hits in combat, rather than one. Weapon level limits are also increased, unlocking new, devastating potential.

Bosses: The stage-end bosses are gigantic, and the battles epic. Bosses have multiple weak points, and their attacks will evolve during the course of battle as they take damage. The first stage boss, for example, will begin by pelting you with bullets from its cannons. Take out those cannons, and the boss will begin launching missiles at you, then fling a part of its body at you, and will finally unleash a massive laser blast that consumes the center third of the screen. It’s a difficult fight to win without using continues, and it’s only the first of many challenging encounters to come! In a nice artistic touch, bosses are typically tied into the background in some way, emphasizing the point that detail has been paid to the overall stage design, and that the stages are not merely generic backdrops for the action.

OpenFeint Integration: Thirty-five achievements, plus global leaderboards for each of the game’s three difficulty levels make a great game even better. Kindly keeps track of your personal best score, as well as ranking you against others. I’m currently ranked 14 in Normal mode, which only tells me there are not enough people playing this game.

Dislikes:

N/A: Bunz Fighter covers its bases well, leaving little, if anything, to complain about. The game is beautiful to behold, with responsive controls, impressive battles and interesting locations. Hardcore gamers will need to hone their skills to win highscores, while casual players will be able to enjoy the game on their own terms using continues. What’s not to like? I could maybe complain about the “Set” button that allows you to access the menu from in-game, but that would just be nit-picking …

Bunz Fighter caters to all types of gamer, allowing each player to play on their own terms and to set their own goals, whether gunning for highscores or just looking for a good time. It’s a vertical shooter of breathtaking beauty, featuring an original soundtrack, versatile weaponry, vast customization options for everything from control methods to graphical effects, and epic space battles against larger-than-life opponents. Any shooter fan would be remiss in not playing this game or, at the very least, sampling the free Bunz Fighter Lite.

Bunz Fighter is an underdog deserving to be at the head of the pack, and the best vertical shooter I’ve played since Space Invaders Infinity Gene.

Bunz Fighter ( $1.99 / Free ), by Bunz Software Development, was reviewed on an iPhone 3G at version 1.1.