Roswell Fighter, by Gamelab Innovation Center, is a stylish, hardcore arcade shoot’em up with a retro 1950’s vibe. In ways, the game hearkens back to old-school classics like 1942 and 1943: The Battle of Midway. As one might suppose from the title, though, the game draws more heavily upon War of the Worlds than on World War II. Aliens are invading the Earth, and it’s up to you to stop them.
In the game, players take on the role of a nameless female fighter pilot. She’s hot, and will occasionally make quips during game play, usually when you die. Otherwise, there’s no characterization to speak of. Preceding each level, a load screen will briefly lay down the story and set the scene, giving you a sense of location for the upcoming battle, but mostly amounting to “OMG! Aliens! Kill’em!” Fortunately, arcade shooters don’t require a great deal of narrative to be enjoyed.
Where Roswell Fighter really shines is in its presentation and game play. The pixel-drawn graphics look spectacular. Enemy fighters, turrets and other hazards are distinct and nicely designed; the stage backdrops are also quite excellent, the landscapes rolling by beneath your plane as you do battle. A lot of effort has clearly been put into the game’s visuals. The soundtrack is comprised of 1950’s era rock’n roll, lending the game a distinct sense of character and complementing the other elements of the presentation.
As in most arcade shooters, players pilot their fighter through each stage against overwhelming opposition, dodging enemies and enemy fire, maneuvering to avoid obstacles, fighting both mobile air units and stationary ground targets, collecting power-ups and accumulating points. Players may choose either tilt or touch controls, with the touch controls being the superior of the two options. Roswell Fighter occasionally mixes things up by throwing in touch-based challenges. In the first stage, for example, a large UFO swoops into view with two touch-points highlighted; players must quickly taps these spots to bring down the craft. Similar events take place throughout the game’s eleven stages, becoming more challenging as the game progresses.
Difficulty ramps up swiftly in Roswell Fighter even on the easiest difficulty level, so lightweights need not apply. There’s always a lot happening on-screen, with enemies, bullets and obstacles filling the sky. In a way it’s nice to see that, after decades of Earth attacks, video game aliens have finally learned how to mount a successful invasion. The alien forces are extremely formidable. On the other hand, it really sucks for Earth.
Visual Presentation: Roswell Fighter earns high marks for visuals. The pixel graphics are fantastic throughout the game. Enemies are distinct and ever every changing, the landscapes varied and attractive, and the set-pieces and bosses fill the touch-screen with impressive bulk. The stages are strewn with perils such as massive UFOs and drilling machines, immense gun turrets, falling meteors and more.
Audio: The 1950’s inspired rock’n roll helps the game to stand out from the pack of shooters on the app store, and lends unique atmosphere to Roswell Fighter. A much appreciated departure from the norm.
Enemies: Few iPhone games are able to boast such variety of opposition as Roswell Fighter. There are more than 40 types of enemies, each with their own attack and movement patterns. The game is constantly throwing new things at you, so that every stage feels fresh and new. The creators obviously understand that the best way to avoid monotony is simply not to be monotonous.
Bosses: Seven huge bosses await, and are both impressive and challenging. I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll just say the designs are very cool, and the bosses are worth the effort it takes to reach them.
Difficulty: In Roswell Fighter the action is fast and frantic, and very challenging. In fact, you’d better get used to dying, because Roswell Fighter is H-A-R-D. There are three difficulty levels, represented by icons on the stage selection screen: green, orange and a red skull-head. The game doesn’t give them text labels, but I would identify the difficulty levels as Hard, Extremely Hard and Friggin’ Impossible. That’s right, kids; even on the easiest difficult setting, the game will trounce you. While I’m all for a good challenge, Roswell Fighter’s punishing difficulty may make it inaccessible to more casual gamers.
Performance: Throughout the game, my iPhone 3G suffered performance hits when the screen become crowded with enemies. It wasn’t enough to break the game, but it was definitely a nuisance. Gamers on older devices should definitely take the lite version for a test drive before committing to buy the full game, if only to ensure that it runs tolerably well for you.
Roswell Fighter offers a unique interpretation of the classic arcade shooter, with several twists, lots of atmosphere, a ton of impressive content, a bit of touch-screen flare, and a heaping spoonful of the hard stuff. Those gamers willing to endure its punishing difficulty will find a gem in Roswell Fighter, and their $0.99 well spent.
At the same time, the game’s difficulty is also its downfall, as it renders the game inaccessible to casual gamers and difficult to widely recommend. Those looking for challenge should step right up, while more tender gamers ought to make a beeline for the lite version. Like a steaming cup of tea, it’s better to test the water temperature before gulping it down. I’d like to rate Roswell Fighter a Buy, but the difficulty being what it is and serving the larger audience, my gut advises it’s Worth a Look.