Tag Archives: Vertical Shooter

Sky Combat Review: Polished and Action-packed

Sky Combat is a misleading title for Chillingo’s latest shooter, only a part of which actually takes place in the sky. Your time in Sky Combat will be split between piloting an AH-64 Apache helicopter in the air, maneuvering an armored Humvee on the land, and steering a speedy gunboat at sea. Despite its inaccurate name, however, Sky Combat is a challenging and polished vertical shooter.

Sky Combat is a visually stunning game. All three protagonist crafts look great, as do the 30+ enemies you will face. Explosions are satisfying, and water effects look particularly good. The presentation is capped by a slick and responsive menu system.

Action is the order of the day in Sky Combat. Enemy waves come in droves and fill the sky with ordinance. Victorious pilots will quickly realize the importance of evasive maneuvers in dodging bullets, collisions and hard-hitting rockets.

Each mission has its own associated vehicle, and players will constantly be forced to switch between piloting the Apache, Humvee and gunboat. While this provides plenty of variety, it can also be frustrating. The Apache is by far the most maneuverable and the only vehicle capable of moving in reverse. The Humvee is curmudgeonly slow, making it difficult to avoid taking damage. In land-based stages, a good offense is the best defense, and players must learn to react quickly to incoming threats using whatever special weapons they may have at their disposal. Stages at sea play similarly to land stages, only much faster; the gunboat is fast, but has limited mobility same as the tank.

Power-ups are also available, including rockets, rocket countermeasures, gun upgrades, wingmen and airstrikes.

Likes:

Visual Presentation: Sky Combat has got the looks and the performance to go with them. The terrain, visual effects and combatants are superbly detailed. And even with the water moving, and the screen full of enemies, ordinance and explosions, the game maintains a solid framerate throughout.

Options: Sky Combat offers four control methods and three button arrangements for using special weapons and defenses, as well as gesture-based triggers for defensive abilities. Most players should be able to find a scheme that works for them. I found myself favoring the tilt controls, which is unusual for me as I tend to favor touch controls in shooters; the tilt controls are calibrated very nicely, though.

My only gripe is that the game lacks a Relative Touch control option.

Challenge: Sky Combat is big on action and a joy to play. Three difficulty options cater to players of all skill-levels, with the game being challenging but fair on Normal difficulty.

Endless Mode: Sky Combat doesn’t lose its value once you’ve completed its campaign. An Endless Mode unlocks after the fourth campaign mission, allowing you to pilot the Apache for survival and highscores! It would be nice, however, if there were also endless modes for the tank and gunboat, though …

Dislikes:

Hand-holding: Sky Combat likes to hold your hand, and will usually tell you when best to use your airstrikes and rockets by flashing prompts on-screen. While it’s ultimately the player’s decision whether to follow this advice, it is nonetheless disappointing that the game doesn’t allow the player to call their own shots, and doesn’t offer an option to disable these messages.

Likewise, the game uses power-ups to foreshadow upcoming encounters. If you pick up an airstrike, good odds you will momentarily be facing a battery of fortified turrets and calling that airstrike in to deal with them. If the game gives you countermeasures, expect to have rockets launched at you by the next wave of enemies. And if the game gives you rockets, you will likely be using them just ahead. Honestly, I would have preferred to begin the stage with a loadout of special weaponry to be strategically deployed at my own discretion, rather than having the game hand-hold me through combat by giving me exactly what I need, exactly when I need it.

Crystal, but no Game Center: Baffling, but Sky Combat supports Chillingo’s Crystal social gaming network and it does not support Game Center. I have never liked Crystal for the same reason I never liked Plus+, in that it is proprietary to games published by Chillingo (while Plus+ is proprietary to ngmoco). I’ve always favored OpenFeint in its being an open social gaming network usable by any publisher, and naturally support Game Center for the same reason. OpenFeint and Game Center play together nicely, and so I continue to support both. Now that Apple has provided a universal social gaming system in Game Center, publisher propriety services such as Crystal and Plus+ really just need to go away.

Sky Combat is easily one of my new favorite vertical shooters on the iPhone, falling behind Space Invaders Infinity Gene — which remains the app store’s definitive shooter — but ahead of titles like Assault Squadron, Icarus-X and Espgaluda 2. Not everyone is likely to agree with that assessment, but it works for me. And if we remove space shooters from the equation, I think Sky Combat is hands-down the best military-themed shooter I have played.

Great action, diverse gameplay and a superbly polished presentation make Sky Combat a winner. And the $0.99 price point makes it a steal.

Sky Combat [$0.99] is published by Chillingo. Reviewed at version 1.0 on an iPhone 4.


Air Attack Review: It’s Da Bomb

The app store has recently suffered no lack of top-down shooters. Unfortunately, most of them have sent my running back to Space Invaders Infinity Gene like a hurt child to his mum. Happily, Art In Games‘ Air Attack ( iPhone / iPad ) is not one of those games. Instead, it’s a genuinely good top-down shooter — good without any need for qualifiers — and the game that 1942: First Strike probably should have been, but wasn’t.

Air Attack takes place in fictionalized World War II era setting. Players pilot a fighter through a series of stages combatting enemy fighters, tanks, boats and other combat machinations including Nazi-esque UFOs. Wha?! Yeah. Bonuses and cash can also be earned by bombing ground targets such as towns, bridges and installations during combat.

At mid-level checkpoints, cash can be spent upgrading your fighter with enhanced cannons and bombs, wingmen, an auto-targeting turret, a lightning attack and more. Most upgrades are locked at first, but become unlocked by scoring in-game achievements, and remain unlocked thereafter for subsequent games.

Likes

Presentation: Air Attack is built on Unity’s 3D engine, and sports excellent visuals. The planes and other crafts look great, as do the landscapes, bosses and visual effects. The sound also is appropriately epic for the setting and serves to enhance the experience.

Action: Air Attack is an engaging shooter and gets rather hairy in later stages. Enemies attack in diverse formations and patterns, enter the field of view from all directions, and generally provide a good variety of opposition. The air is ever full of bullets, and there’s no downtime during play; you’re pretty much always gunning.

Upgrades: The shop offers an excellent array of upgrades for your plane, and plays fair in its handling of power-ups. When killed, your cannon will be downgraded one point and you will lose your wingmen, turret, missiles, etc. But they don’t knock you back to point zero; power-ups are priced fairly, so you can usually build up again within one or two checkpoints.

Life-bar: While most top-down shooters are one-hit kills, Air Attack isn’t so cruel. Your plane has a health bar and you are able to take a few hits before going down. To wit, one stupid mistake isn’t going to cost you all the power-ups you’ve accumulated.

Control Options: Air Attack includes several control options including tilt, touch and relative touch. Dropping bombs is as simple as double-tapping the screen, and — however you choose to steer — the motion controls are tight.

The Little Things: The way the water looks and the fact that you can see sunken ships beneath the water’s surface. The way your plane rolls when you flick backward quickly. When shot down, the way that some planes will explode in mid-air, while others will plummet to the ground in an uncontrolled dive. How the camera shifts every so often to give the impression of changing altitude. Air Attack features lots of cool little touches that take the game that extra mile.

Dislikes

Blatant Disregard for Physics: Aerodynamics? Gravity? Momentum? Phooey! Hoo-ha! Throughout the game, occasions will arise when your plane with stop flying forward, and will begin to strafe in circle around a large enemy as if it were instead a helicopter. In several battles against larger airplanes, you will blow off both wings and the tail section of the enemy plane, and yet they will remain airborne and keep fighting. Just how does an airplane continue to fly without wings, I’d like to know?! And how does a World War II fighter plane maneuver like a helicopter?! It’s utterly ridiculous, of course, but doesn’t really stop the game being fun.

Bombing is More or Less Optional: Bombing ground targets it entirely optional, and bombs don’t really play any key role in progressing through the game. Your fighter’s cannons are capable of striking opposition both in the air and on the ground at range, and so bombs are relatively pointless in combat. Bombs can be used to damage enemies on the ground, but they will usually be blown away before you’re closing enough to make a bombing run. I would have liked for the bombs to have been tied into combat in a more significant way.

Vague Narrative: Like a Bruckheimer film, Air Attack is high on action, grand in scale, but shallow when it comes to the plot. The stages are all given operational names — Green Fox, White Storm, etc. — but there’s no narrative to set the stage for these operations. Likewise, it’s never clear just who you’re fighting. The setting is reminiscent of World War II era and many of the enemy craft bear swastika-like markings, but then you also find yourself battling flying saucers, lighting turrets, and laser-wielding fighters unlike any plane I’ve ever seen. So, are the bad guys technologically advanced Nazis, or are they fascist alien invaders with a taste for Germanic fashion? Does Mars belong to the Axis of Evil, or did the Fascists find spaceships buried beneath the Egyptian pyramids? And when the hell did World War II spread to the Egyptian Front?! Just what is going on here?!

Another odd point, as careful as the game is to not to portray the actual Nazi swastika, it seemingly has no qualms displaying the Japanese flag on enemies later in the game. Hm.

Overlooking the fact that the game doesn’t make any sense and is, at times, utterly ridiculous, Air Attack is a superb shooter. It’s definitely one of my new genre favorites, and a game I see myself returning to play down the road, either at higher difficulty levels, or simply for the sake of enjoying it again. With both the standard iPhone version and an HD iPad version going for just $0.99 each, picking this one up is really a no-brainer.

Air Attack is developed by Art In Games; both HD and iPhone versions reviewed on an iPad. App Store link: $0.99 / HD $0.99.


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.

Icarus-X Review: High on polish, short on personality

The vertical shooter is becoming a well-worn staple of the app store and for every worthy entry to the genre, a multitude of disposable titles conspire to bury them. One of the newer and more notable vertical shooters is The Quadsphere‘s Icarus-X.

While many vertical shooters choose to be retro, Icarus-X embraces modern presentation with fluid 3D graphics and vivid colors. And despite packing such visual muscle, the game plays well even on older devices like my iPhone 3G, even when the screen is full of bullets and enemy ships.

Anyone who ever frequented arcades may remember looking over the older kids’ shoulders, in awe of their score amassing powers, studying their techniques, hoping that just some small amount of their skill might rub off on you when your turn came to play. The days of cabinet gaming may be in decline, but Icarus-X features downloadable replays, making it possible to watch other players’ games, much as we used to do in those arcades. So, if you’re in awe of n0name0 and want to see how he managed to achieve his massive score, you can download his game and do just that. Icarus-X also features a Slow-Motion Practice mode, where stages may be played at 100%, 75%, 50% or 25% their usual speed, allowing players to learn attack patterns and counter maneuvers at their own pace, and to hone their skills for the main game. With the vertical shooter genre largely catering to hardcore shooter fans, accessibility features such as these may make the game more appealing to the uninitiated.

Five stages of bullet hell await, in which wave upon wave of enemy ships will pelt your fighter with metal rain. Your ship — the Icarus-X — can be controls using either Direct or Relative touch controls. Direct will keep the ship positioned just above your finger, while Relative controls allow you to touch and swipe anywhere on the screen to move your ship. The Icarus-X will fire automatically whenever your finger is on the screen. Defeating every enemy will allow you to amass score multipliers and also build your combo gauge. Let even a single ship slip past you, however, and your score multiplier will reset. When the combo gauge is full, you can double-tap anywhere on screen to unleash a barrage of missiles against on-screen opponents. Stages are relatively short, but the game encourages you to replay, to perfect your skills and to constantly improve your score.

Likes:

Polish: Icarus-X is extremely well-polished. Controls are tight, the game performs well even on aging devices, and the graphics are crisp and clean. It’s a good looking game, and it feels right to play. The backgrounds get a little repetitive by the end of each stage, but they’re good-looking and never distracting. The accessibility features are well-thought out and implemented. Polish in every facet.

Bosses: The Icarus-X is a good looking ship and the enemy fighters are pretty nice looking as well, but it’s the boss ships that steal the show. They’re big, deadly looking and awesome, and they spew bullets and laser beams with reckless abandon.

Achievements: The game includes a list of achievements, most of which are pretty difficult to achieve. Players going for full completion will have a long and difficult trek ahead of them.

Dislikes:

Generic Feeling: Despite the polish, accessibility features and massive boss ships, Icarus-X still feels a little bit hollow. The soundtrack of generic techno beats doesn’t help matters at all, and there’s no common thread to tie the stages together. A scrap of a story might help, but the game lacks even that. The landscapes for each stage are attractive, but they give no sense of discernible location, and one does not necessarily lead into the next. As an end result, the game feels like a loose amalgam of disparate levels and enemy ships, each having no connection to the others and the fight being waged for ambiguous reasons. You’re doing it for the high scores, I guess. But when you’re ranked so low that you can’t even find yourself on the leaderboards, and harbor no delusions or ambitions about cracking the top 100, who really gives a damn about leaderboards? Hey Game, you’d better find another bone to throw. You’re losing me.

No Local Scoreboards: Once again, I harbor no grand delusions of cracking the top 100 on the global boards. So how about keeping track of just my local scores, just so that I can continually attempt to best myself?

Icarus-X ranks among the better quality vertical shooters on the app store, though it’s not my favorite. For me, the game falls a bit flat in not having a great deal of personality, and in its emphasis on global high scores (which leaves the casual player kind of out in the cold). A little more variety in opposition wouldn’t be a bad thing either. The boss fights can be pretty epic, though, and the game is well-made, with great attention paid to details and accessibility features. The developer has said that the next big update is still being designed, but may include a major alternative way of playing, perhaps with power-ups, and completely reworked background graphics.

Icarus-X is developed by The Quadsphere, and sells for $1.99. Reviewed at version 1.0.1 on an iPhone 3G.

Roswell Fighter Review: A Stylish, Challenging Shooter

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.

Likes:

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.

Dislikes:

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.

Roswell Figher ( $0.99 / free ) is developed by Gamelab Innovation Center. Reviewed on an iPhone 3G at version 1.2.