Tag Archives: Dual-stick Shooter

Beat Hazard Ultra – Play Your Music And Have A Blast Too

Beat Hazard Ultra by Cold Beam Games is an auditory and visually stunning experience.  You fly a ship in a confined area destroying asteroids and ships while gathering powerups to make the music louder and your vessel stronger.  Oh yeah—and all of this is generated by your music, or the music of one of the available Internet radio stations.

Beat Hazard Ultra analyzes the music from your iDevice library to create a playing experience that corresponds to the peaks of your chosen song, and this works incredibly well.  The visualizer in the background gains intensity as your song does.  Then more enemies spawn, and the screen goes crazy!  It’s frantic, hectic fun.  I’ve played music from “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by the Beach Boys, to “The Seed (2.0)” by The Roots, and every song has proven to be different in terms of what the game sends your way.  And all of them have been enjoyable to play this way—there rarely is a complete lull in action, the game creates a challenging progression of enemies for each song.

The audio is clearly awesome, but how are the controls?  They’re amazing, because they’re very customizable.  You can play it as a dual-stick shooter, or use one stick, and choose between floating and fixed, as well as change the size.  All you need to do is try a few things and one of the options will work out perfectly.  Honestly, the controls feel as responsive to me as they do when I play the computer version using my gamepad or keyboard and mouse.

The game has a few modes: standard, survival, boss rush, and chill out.  They’re all pretty self-explanatory, and all very fun.  If you play well you are rewarded with points to spend on perks that can alter your game and customize it to fit your needs.  If you die a lot, you can purchase a perk that gives you two extra lives.

Likes:

Graphics: These are fun and exciting.  The visualizations that take place in the background based on your music make the gameplay more exciting, and are just plain cool to watch.  The ships and asteroids are all very well designed.

Controls: Completely customizable to your needs.  What more could you ask for?

Concept: The overall experience of this game is awesome.  Being able to play your music is incredible—because you can choose songs you like and then add another element of fun.

Modes and Perks: The standard mode is enough, but the other modes create more depth, as do the perks.

Dislikes:

Radio Stations Available: This is a stretch, I truly don’t dislike anything about the game, because they have is good, but more customizable experiences here could be nice.

Beat Hazard Ultra has been flawlessly ported to the iDevices.  The core gameplay is still a blast, and the visualizations are phenomenal.  What surprised me are the controls—they work perfectly once you find what works for you.  Definitely a “Must Have,” and I whole-heartedly recommend picking it up.

Beat Hazard Ultra was developed by Cold Beam Games, and I played through version 1.4 on my iPod Touch 3G.  The current price is $1.99.

Bug Heroes Quest Submitted, Coming Late July/Early August

Bug Heroes Quest, essentially a sequel to the overwhelmingly awesome Bug Heroes, has been submitted to the App Store for review.

While Bug Heroes was more of a tower defense/dual-stick shooter survival game, Bug Heroes Quest promises to be more of a story-based action RPG, complete with dual-stick shooter goodness, character development, and more.

The game spans over 60 different missions with GameCenter leaderboards and achievements included, alongside tons of armor, weapons, etc.

Bug Heroes Quest also boasts of a very in-depth fantasy world and an interesting storyline, not like the old “cookie cutter save the princess and the kingdom”.

We’re looking forward to getting our hands on Bug Heroes Quest, but for now, be sure to check out the recently released game trailer; look for it in the App Store late July/Early August.

Etolis Arena Review: Nothing We Haven’t Seen Before

In a genre as well represented on the App Store as dual-stick shooter games, it seems as if it’s becoming increasingly difficult for developers to find a unique twist that will make their title stand out among the pack.  Nearly each week brings a new onslaught of these titles, proliferating as relentlessly as the robot drones and mindless zombies which populate the games.  Etolis: Arena is one such title, and while it is fundamentally ok, there really is little about it which is likely to make it a unique or memorable experience.

Etolis Arena, while not a bad game per se, is about as run-of-the-mill as dual-stick shooter games come.  The premise, such as it is, is that you are a guy in a futuristic space suit who engages in armed combat against endless hordes of robots and creepy crawly thingamajigs.  Dispatch a few waves and you are given a chance to spend the ‘honor points’ you earn by killing baddies on various upgrades.  A few more waves of bad guys down, and you unlock a new map.  While this would seem to add a degree of complexity and progression to the game, in actuality it does little to offer variety.  The level designs are all fairly basic, the enemy AI is rudimentary, and the different weapon upgrades are a little unimaginative.

Likes

Competent: While I didn’t find much about Etolis: Arena to recommend it above the hundreds of other dual-stick shooters available on the App Store, I want to make it clear that I don’t want this to be a complete bash.  It’s an all right game, and it performs adequately (although not as well on my 2nd gen iPod touch as I’m sure it does on a more recent device).  I just didn’t find much of a sense of excitement, or a “hook” to the gameplay.  From the impressions of other users and reviewers that I’ve encountered online, it seems as if some people genuinely like this game, and maybe I’m just getting a little jaded from having played so many dual-stick shooters.  If you’re just getting into this type of genre and want a streamlined sci-fi shooter, then it may be exactly your cup of tea.  But, basically all I can offer is my personal opinion: While I didn’t have a bad time with this game, there really was nothing about it that kept me coming back to it over and over, or compelled me to spend a lot of time with it (which I generally see as the hallmarks of a great iPhone game).  And after I delete it off my device, I doubt I’ll be compelled to reinstall it later.

Universal App: Considering how greedy most developers are as far as splitting their app into an iPhone and iPad version, it’s refreshing that Chillingo and Facet Studios made the decision to make this a universal app.  (Although I think it’s a little strange that the App Store still makes it look as if there are two versions of the game, considering both versions say they are “designed for both iPhone and iPad.”)  So, while it’s not exactly a groundbreaking or addictively fun game in my book, I think it’s commendable that the developers show this courtesy to their customers.

Dislikes

Redundant: There really is not a lot about this game that differentiates it from the ever-growing horde of dual-stick shooters on iOS.  The graphics are nice enough, but not great (it actually looks a bit better in stills than in motion.)  The controls are ok, but not what I would describe as smooth or responsive.  And above all, the gameplay just isn’t exciting enough to make me want to play this above any of the old chestnuts I have in my collection of games like this on iOS.

If you just can’t live without some sort of sci-fi themed dual-stick shooter where you kill robots and there are different maps, it might be just the thing for you. But for my money, there are more exciting experiences available in this genre on the iOS platform.

Etolis: Arena was developed by Facet Studios and Chillingo Ltd.  I played version 1.01 on my 2nd Gen iPod Touch.  The price is $1.99.


‘Bug Heroes’ Review: Inventive, Addictive, and Just Plain Crazy-Fun

‘Bug Heroes,’ by Foursaken Media, quite simply deserves to be on every iGamer’s device.  Its gameplay is a wickedly fun hybridization of the dual-stick shooter and castle-defense genres, with light RPG leveling-up elements.  Admittedly dual-stick shooters and castle-defense games have been around on the App Store for what feels like forever, but ‘Bug Heroes’ combines its various gameplay elements with such a masterful touch that it seems almost in a league of its own.  If you want to stop reading this review right now and go ahead and buy the game, I would endorse that decision.  😉

‘Bug Heroes’ is a pick-up-and-play game on the surface, but there is so much depth to the gameplay that a good session in Adventure Mode might literally take an hour once you get the hang of the game.  In Adventure Mode, the player controls a trio of heroic bugs, an ant, a spider, and a beetle, and leads them in the perpetual battle to protect their stash of food against a never-ending horde of enemy bugs.  You control only one of the three bugs at a time, although you’re able to switch freely between them as much as you like and they all bring unique skills to the team.  Alternately, you can choose Coliseum Mode, where you control one of the three heroes against a never-ending horde, without having to worry about the additional complexities of defending a food stash.  When your food stash is entirely eaten by enemy bugs, or all three of your heroes are killed in battle, it’s “game over.”

Your demise is inevitable (and you never really ‘win’), but you have a wide arsenal of upgrades for your characters and to build turrets for your base, leaving you with the constant task of gathering food, dispatching wave after wave of vicious enemy bugs, and strategically upgrading your resources in order to set high scores.  Nearly every aspect of the game is highly polished, and the wide variety of skills, upgrades, and turrets rewards experimenting with new strategies.  The tone of the game is wacky and fast-paced, and between several arenas, two different game modes, three levels of difficulty, three different heroes (all with their own unique strengths and weaknesses), and many different types of enemies with their own strengths and vulnerabilities, there is a huge amount of variety to enjoy.

Likes

Two Classic Flavors that Taste Great Together: Quite frankly, before I played this game I had gotten a bit tired of both dual-stick shooter games and castle-defenders altogether.  Sure, these are styles of games which lend themselves very well to the touch-screen interface, but by now I thought there was relatively little room for innovation within these genres.  ‘Bug Heroes’ is enough to prove I might have been wrong because the developers have managed to merge these two styles into an excitingly fresh and addictive treat, much like the mad scientists who first combined peanut butter and chocolate back in days of yore.  Giving the player multiple characters to fight with and manage, as well as the food stash (the ‘castle’ that you defend in this game) provides a unique twist to the usual dual-stick action shooter formula that we’ve all become used to.  I also like how your food stash doubles as your main supply of health in the game’s main mode, Adventure Mode.  This creates an interesting dynamic, because you must protect the stash above all else, but you also have to know when to dip into it to give a much-needed health boost to your team.  All in all, the gameplay is just dynamic and fun, and I obviously get a little verbose in trying to describe just how awesome it really is.

Charmingly Detailed Graphics: This game reminds me of playing a Pixar movie in the palm of my hand.  The environments are impressive to behold, and all the character models are lovingly rendered with a huge level of personality and detail.  Even playing on a 2nd generation iPod touch, which only allows me to select the lowest level of graphical detail possible, this is a visually striking game with a lot of character and appeal.

Memorable Protagonists & Vile Villains: I guess it’s a little dorky, but if the three insect heroes from this game were real, I would totally keep them in an extra-large Mason jar in my room just so I could hang out and watch their goofy antics.  Which is my way of saying they’re pretty cool, and I enjoy the variety that having three protagonists brings to the game.  While the beetle has the highest armor and is best at controlling swarms of less powerful enemies with a stick he uses as a club, the spider is best for one-on-one combat, since she is quick and capable of dealing out massive critical damage with the blades she wields with her four front arms.  Meanwhile, the ant is a very strategic character who not only has the only ranged attack of all three of your heroes, firing with a machine gun, but he also has a lot of team-player type skills, such as healing your team in small increments or laying mines and miniature turrets around the battlefield to control the swarms.  Managing your team and coming up with a strategy for each level is essential to doing well in this game, and there are a wide variety of tactical choices you can make.

The enemies are also a lot of fun.  There are hordes of army helmet wearing ants with pistols and fleas with knives chasing you down at every turn, and never-ending hordes of grubs who go straight after your food stash, disregarding you entirely.  Then there are the bigger, meaner baddies who range hilariously from grenade-launcher-wielding cockroaches, to lady-bugs swinging huge clubs, to queen ants (who boost all the other ants on the field to dangerous levels), to poison-spitting slugs, heavily armored snails, and finally all the way up to vicious scorpions and voracious centipedes who can wipe out your food stash in about three good bites.  There’s an impressive variety of enemies, I’m even leaving a few types out of the list.  Some levels also have a huge indestructible enemy that roams the environment, attacking you or the hostile bugs indiscriminately.  These are a toy robot in the playroom stage, and a house-cat in the back yard stage.  They can create a lot of havoc, but they’re pretty easily outmaneuvered, so you can manage to use these as additional defense with a little crafty gameplay.  Basically… it’s a lot of fun.

Room for More in Updates: Maybe this is just me being greedy, but I’d love to see the developers give us even more bang for our proverbial buck in future updates.  There is a wide range of stuff they could expand on, such as giving us more levels in either Adventure Mode or Coliseum Mode, more skills for the three protagonists, more types of turrets and base upgrades, more enemy types, and perhaps even more heroes to unlock.  (I for one, think it would be really cool if we could play as this “Bruce Flea” that they mention in one of the unlockable ‘history scrolls’ that you get from some of the side quests.  (Double parenthetical: that’s right, there’s also side quests.  Seriously, just buy this game already.  For two dollars, it’s insane.))  The game is already pretty close to perfect, but a little extra content in a free update never hurt.  So if anyone out there from Foursaken Media is listening, more please.

Dislikes

No GameCenter: My only major gripe won’t even be an issue for much longer, since the developers have already responded to user requests for GameCenter integration, and they’re promising it in a future update.  It’s really a no-brainer in a game like this, which hinges on addictive high-score action gaming elements, and I’m looking forward to it.  The developers have already shown very fast turnaround time in giving us an update that fine-tuned the controls and squashed several bugs that caused the game to crash after long extended play, and are showing themselves to be very responsive to users’ critiques.  So, even in my dislikes section, I must once again issue some well-deserved kudos.

In short, this is the first superb new iOS game of the new year.  I sincerely hope this review convinces at least a few people to head on over to the App Store and give it a download.  This is a truly creative, well-designed, highly polished, and downright enjoyable game, and I think it deserves to be a big hit.  In short, it’s what I’d call a…

Bug Heroes was developed by Foursaken Media, and I played through version 1.0.1 on my iPod touch 2G.  The price is $1.99.

Mushihimesama BUG PANIC Review: A new and welcome take on bullet-hell

Japanese developer Cave has become well-known in the app store for ports of its arcade bullet-hell shooters Dodonpachi Resurrection and Espgaluda II. For its third foray in Apple’s sea of apps, however, the company has produced its first native iPhone title: Mushihimesama BUG PANIC. Go on, say that five times fast. While the title may be incomprehensible, the game is a new, iPhone-exclusive entry in Cave’s Mushihime-sama (Insect Princess) series of action titles previously appearing in arcades, and on the PlayStation 2 and XBox 360 in Japan.

Despite the apparent popularity of Cave’s two previous titles, I must admit that I was not overly impressed by either Espgaluda II or Dodonpachi Resurrection. While I am most definitely a fan of top-down shooters, the games just rubbed me the wrong way. And so I came to Mushihimesama BUG PANIC with a great deal of skepticism. To my great surprise, however, I have found myself thoroughly impressed by the game, and feel it to be Cave’s finest effort to-date on the iPhone.

Mushihimesama BUG PANIC effectively blends the dual-stick shooter and bullet-hell genres into one highly entertaining game.

The giant insects of Shinju Forest are exhibiting strange, violent behavior. As the titular insect princess — the pink-haired hot-box, Reco — it is up to you, dear player, to put down the insect unrest using “seeds” (bombs). And while this may not be a politically sound method of quelling civil unrest in our current global climate, it certainly makes for good gaming!

Rather than spraying bullets as in most dual-stick shooters, the game’s right-stick is instead used to set trajectories for lobbing bombs at opponents. On paper, it sounds like an insignificant departure from the norm, but its effect on gameplay is huge and lends the game a feel all its own. By moving the targeting reticle onto foes, Reco may lock onto as many as three opponents at once, lobbing bombs when players release the attack button. The longer the player holds the attack button before releasing the bombs, the stronger the attack and the greater the blast. Releasing the attack quickly fires weak bombs with small explosions, while charging the attack gauge allows Reco to volley more powerful explosives — Cluster Seeds — capable of creating chain reaction blasts in additional foes nearby the target. Reco can also stock up to three Explosive Seeds, the blast from which can wipe out enemy bullets and do significant damage to enemies. To throw an Explosive Seed, simply charge the attack button even longer — while having seeds in stock — before releasing the attack.

Unable to spray bullets in a constant stream as most dual-stick protagonists, Reco must take into account the downtime between attacks, and attempt to maximize each strike by carefully lobbing her charges for greatest effect. Evasion becomes of paramount importance, as you simply cannot fire fast enough to wipe out your foes, and also because the game inherits much from its more traditional bullet-hell brethren. As a matter of habit, larger insects will spray a barrage of projectiles in your direction which must be avoided to have any hope of success.

Likes:

Presentation: Mushihimesama BUG PANIC draws upon games of the 16-bit era for presentation, and looks great doing it. While I might have preferred a cell-shaded approach to the visuals, the 16-bit sprites are well animated and detailed, and lend the game a certain mid-nineties charm reminiscent of some of the SNES’ best titles. The story is told via comic panels between stages, with excellent anime artwork.

Controls: The controls are smooth and responsive, and the bomb-lobbing mechanic works fantastically. Not only is it effective on its own, but it also allows Mushihimesama BUG PANIC to stand apart from the pack of dual-stick shooters already inhabiting the app store. Mushihimesama BUG PANIC is at once very familiar and very different, and feels just fresh enough to be exciting while not requiring your to wrap your head around obtuse, unfamiliar gameplay.

Style: Mushihimesama BUG PANIC piles on the anime appeal, being cute enough for children, but charming and attractive enough to rope in adults as well. The game has an excellent sense of style, and reminds me in many ways of Hayao Miyazaki’s classic Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, one of my all-time favorite animated films.

Game Center: Despite its retro digs, Mushihimesama BUG PANIC is clearly on the edge of iPhone gaming with leaderboards and achievements tied into Apple’s Game Center social gaming service.

Extras: Apart from the main story mode, Mushihimesama BUG PANIC includes unlockable timed and endless score trials, and a jigsaw puzzle mini-game for which pieces are unlocked by discovering hidden “kabutan” in the game’s story mode. If you can complete the puzzle, something special might happen …

Dislikes:

Aging Devices Need Not Apply: As with Cave’s other games, Mushihimesama BUG PANIC requires Apple’s newer hardward and will not run on older devices. According to Cave, the game will run on the iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, iPod touch 3rd Generation and up (iOS 4.1 and up), and iPad devices (iOS 4.2 and up). Gamers still relying on the iPhone 3G, 1st or 2nd Gen iPod touch are out of luck.

In the unlikely event that I’ve been unclear, I will just come out and say it: I’ve been really enjoying Mushihimesama BUG PANIC. In fact, I can’t think of a single thing to dislike about the game. In fact, I’ve not even touched upon the numerous hidden areas to be found in each stage of the story mode, nor the manual targeting option that allows you to lob bombs willy-nilly without having specific targets. You can easily switch between lock-on and direct attack modes by tapping your attack gauge.

Cave has seemingly considered all details and has delivered a unique, original experience for the iPhone that should not be missed. Mushihimesama BUG PANIC is an exceptional game, walking the fine line between depth and accessibility, hardcore and casual.

Despite my initial reservations stemming from my impressions of Cave’s previous games, I have no qualms standing behind Mushihimesama BUG PANIC. It is easily among my favorite new app store releases.

Mushihimesama BUG PANIC is developed by Cave Co., Ltd. and available for $4.99. Reviewed on an iPhone 4 at version 1.0.0.