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iOS Shooter Index

All the shmups, all the time

by Burkhart von Klitzing

Earth Defense Force - Arcade / SNES / iOS (1991 / 2011)

EA, being the major big player they are, got the rights to release cult-classic X3000 on the iPhone, so it's only natural that following the intercept theorem DotEmu got their hands on the not-quite-classic Jaleco shooter Earth Defense Force, previously appearing in the Arcades and on the SNES.

Graphically, EDF rarely attempts anything even halfway special. The six lengthy stages take you through decent-looking yet ultimately visually overly tame lava-filled caves, cloudy skies, the unavoidable space station and a rainy seaside. Well-developed enemy design could go a long way of spicing things up, but alas, you'll mostly fight utterly boring spaceships, spiky mines and vanilla mechs. At least bosses like a submarine that turns out to be a mechanical crab or a huge, immobile dragon-robot manage to infuse some optical diversity. The bass-heavy music is equally uninspired, yet completely functional just like the graphics as a whole are.

Unlike X3000, the levels play very similar to each other, since obstacles apart from enemies are scarce as are other level-specific features. One level has some destructible debris floating across the screen during the first half and nearly indestructible orbs emitting hazardous lightning beams in the latter half, but other than this it's mostly just you and the foes. Despite focusing on the use of an option, the weapon system in EDF also differs quite a bit from the one found in Irem's classic. Once you've chosen one out of the four weapons (vulcan, laser, bombs and homing), you're stuck with it for the entirety of the playthrough, severely restricting (read: eliminating) experimentation. In an attempt to make up for this, you are given the ability to switch between four different fire modes on the fly, either concentrating your fire in a single, powerful shot at the cost of rate of fire, splitting up your fire across two options circling around your ship, have the options stay above and below your craft, or let the options home in on enemies. What promises to offer an initiative for experimentation is rather redundant in the end, as you'll probably just stick with the fixed options, as they offer the most reliable protection in combination with good offensive stats.

The one thing EDF has going for it in comparison to X3000 is how well it made the jump to i-devices. The lack of level interior to dodge in favor of a reliance on enemies and the fact that enemies rarely enter the screen from the left – if they do, it's mostly at the top or bottom – mean that you can simply use your left thumb to steer without having to worry about placing it somewhere you need to have a clear view at. Movement on the x-axis is also less crucial than in most other horizontal shooters, so you'll rarely have to change your grasp to switch over to using the right index finger or any other finger. Slight swipes with your left thumb suffice for most situations. A simple, yet highly welcome idea is the inclusion of a control bar at the far left. Instead of running the game completely full-screen, the left end of the screen is reserved for your thumb, further preventing control issues. Issues like autofire occasionally inexplicably turning off before boss fights and weapon modes changing as you steer into the lower right corner are just minor bumps on the road. If this article would cover the original versions of games, EDF couldn't hold a candle to X3000, but as an iOS shooter it's decent enough and well worth the download to go hunt down highscores and achievements over Game Center.

Earth Defense Force

Earth Defense Force


X3000 - iOS (2011)

Overall, X3000 would be wholly unremarkable if it wasn't for one incredibly simple, yet extremely appreciated idea. Possibly the biggest issue all hori shooters on i-devices share is that righties – and thus most people – can't properly use touch controls without having their hand obscure view of a considerable part of the playing field. In X3000, however, you can simply flip the entire game along the y-axis, making your ship fly to the left and keeping your hand away from where most of the action happens.

Aside from this, BluSped's only shooter is a competent, if fairly generic journey through space. Your arsenal is quickly maxed out with two options circling around your ship and protecting it from bullets, and your weapons taking down most standard enemies with ease. Your long life bar is only at danger during the boss fights, and even if you happen to lose a life, your weapons still pack quite a punch, as opposed to games like Gradius, where the loss of a single life often requires you to start all over.

There is hardly anything to focus on, as you simply pick up all the score-increasing gems and any item you encounter. Picking up a weapon different from your current one doesn't make much of a difference as the laser, spreader and machine gun all tear apart standard enemies and also cover enough of the screen to make them worthwhile. Powerful smart bombs further lower the game's difficulty, resulting in a pretty relaxing experience, which isn't to say that it's necessarily a bad game. The action is fast, and despite lacking animations (sprites are merely bent like in Rayman Origins) the enemies and especially the huge bosses have a nice, slightly amateurish look to them. So anybody looking for a relaxing hori-shooter could do a lot worse, and seasoned fans of the genre might still want to give it a shot, if only for the impressive boss encounters.

X3000

X3000


Blazing Arc: Magical Shooting Game - iOS (2010)

Unless Konami in a surprise-move decides to stop tea-bagging Hudson's rotting carcass for a second, potentially enabling them to further supply their PC-Engine collection with new games, Blazing Arc remains the closest you'll ever get to play Cotton on your iPhone, albeit spiced up with some sprinkles of Deathsmiles and Kiki's Delivery Service.

You're in control of a young witch, out to search for her mother who's apparently living 400 years in the past. So hop onto your trusty broom and fly to the right in currently three stages, with three more being promised for further (free) updates. Your hitbox is reduced to a relatively small lantern dangling below your cleaning tool, playing host to a young, male ghost. It might just be me, but I couldn't help but to feel reminded of Studio Ghibli's witch-themed movie with the ever present duo of a young, female witch and an equally young, male non-human companion in addition to the whole stuff-dangling-from-the-broom design.

Apart from this, the visuals heavily draw inspiration from Deathsmiles (bullet design, general light-hearted horror theme, train stage) and Cotton (enemies leave behind crystals, the witch's design is similar as are some backdrops), adding up to a style that's generally pleasant on the eyes, as long as you are able to look past the obvious clash between backgrounds on one hand and sprites and character drawings on the other. While the backdrops are beautifully (computer) drawn, featuring lush forests during different times of day and finely animated trains accompanied by railroad crossing signs quickly passing by in the foreground, enemies certainly have some goofy appeal to them, thy tend to look too cartoony and rather amateurishly drawn. What's more, most enemy types are already introduced in the first stage and all enemies also appear in two different sizes, keeping variety a bit low. It's most definitely far from being an ugly game, but it cert...ok, well, the close-up drawings of the characters are downright ugly, aside from the grim reaper conductor in stage 2. The music is a high point, always fitting the onscreen action appropriately with its eery melodies.

Gameplay-wise there isn't a whole lot to say. Downed enemies lose red crystals that yield bonus points and also a slight weapon upgrade for every few dozens of them being picked up. Otherwise there is nothing else for you to pick up, you don't have any special manoeuvers at your disposal (not even bombs) and obstacles are mere background decoration, so it only boils down to shooting and dodging with the occasional gem-grabbing. During boss fights you'd wish to be given some additional more powerful means of destruction, as they take entirely too long. The same can be said about the story tidbits delivered through dialogue popping in during the stages, obscuring your view on a sizable part of the playing field. In the first stage you'll even have to endure a short explanatory section void of any enemy encounters. Every time you play, mind you! Deathsmiles showed how to properly convey a story by separating it from gameplay and by allowing for skipping any and all dialogue sections.

Still, the story is rather nice by shooter standards despite being a bit clichéd. The second stage's train is said to carry ghosts of recently deceased, not knowing where to go, a higher evil is unveiled in the middle of the game and stage three has you travel back in time in some kind of alternate dimension, while a year-counter is ticking down in the lower right corner. It's these kinds of neat details in the visual and story department that makes the game shine, especially considering it's a single man's piece of work. Plus, the game might have a simple foundation, but it's nonetheless fun to weave through the increasing amounts of enemy bullets and to milk a couple of enemies like the big ghosts, which convert all bullets on-screen into gems upon destruction.

The controls are off-putting, given you cannot choose any control method except for direct touch controls, hence your little witch always moves in on your finger's position. This proves to be excrutiatingly frustrating at first, because you'll rarely be able to gain a clear overview of everything relevant to survival. You either can't properly see your own hitbox or enemies approaching from the right, longing for alternative indirect touch controls. Eventually, though, you'll get used to it, finding a comfortable finger position, thus allowing for a good overview. An unsolved problem that will probably affect next to nobody except for me is that taking screenshots crashes the game in most cases, requiring you to start all over. So you better appreciate all of these pics!

Blazing Arc

Blazing Arc

Blazing Arc


EnbornX - iOS / Android (2011)

At some point in the distant future, earth is being invaded by the “Endless Reborn Machine”, a fierce red crystal, that infinitely spawns new giant machines to hide in and wreak havoc. As to be expected, humankind's only hope is a scantily-clad pink-haired girl in a mech suit called EnbornX. Pink hair- Moe- Stupid names- EnbornX obviously is an Asian product, that, despite its cliches, manages to carve itself a fairly unique niche in the App Store.

EnbornX essentially is an endless run for survival (scoring is done pretty much automatically along the way), as you defeat a boss and the next one spawns right after a short breather. No popcorn enemies, no true stages, only you and randomly created biggies. There are a couple of base boss types, ranging from center orbs with satellite arms attached to huge chunks of different parts. While none of them looks particularly interesting, they still impress due to their sheer size, and they all have various parts attached to them, ready to be destroyed bit by bit. Homing missiles, standard missiles, red bullets, blue bullets that can be canceled, big lasers, the intertwining red and blue lasers from R-Type...the screen can get quite busy in later stages, so it's always a good idea to focus on specific parts and take them out as soon as possible.

Your avatar always has three weapons at her disposal. The standard vulcan gun fires fast and in three directions at a time. The blade obviously is a melee weapon, making it rather dangerous to use. It partly makes up for that, though, by quickly tearing apart the bosses, and with the cute animation of your gal swinging the blade. Lastly, the laser can be charged up for a bigger blast, but it's mostly useless, as you need to keep a steady stream of attacks what with all the missiles and bullets that can be canceled by merely hitting them.

By default, controls are set to a floaty virtual joystick. Switching over to relative controls should be your first action as in many other iOS shooters, and once done, the game actually controls well. Not perfect, though, just well. Given the huge sprites of your avatar and the bosses, you'll have to swipe quite a bit to actually get somewhere. The three weapon buttons are easy to hit, which comes as a bit of a surprise, given how small they appear to be. But why on (future) earth is there no way to pause the game- Maybe there is, but the game doesn't bother telling you, and even after tapping everywhere on the screen, tapping twice and thrice, and tapping with any amount of fingers, I still couldn't find any way. The biggest gripe however is the unclear hitbox of your mech suit. There is no indication as to what can be hit and what not, and you'll regularly feel like you should have died a second ago, while in other instances you'll feel cheated.

EnbornX is a pretty game. Pretty in its visuals, and pretty shallow as well. It's good for some quick, uncomplicated action, if you enjoy (who doesn't-) crippling big bosses gun by gun, turret by turret, and arm by arm.

EnbornX

EnbornX


Flying Hamster - PSP (2010) / iOS (2011)

Beginning life as a PSP Mini title, Flying Hamster has landed on i-devices the year after its initial release. The eponymous rodent's girlfriend stumbles upon some kind of food pellet or crystal during a trip to the beach and she instantly gets kidnapped by a huge eagle (huge by hamster standards at least) the second she cheerfully lifts it above her head, Link-style. What follows is a five (six on hard difficulty) stages long rescue mission taking you through varied and often imaginative locations, occasionaly reminding you of the good old days in a time when Konami made Parodius-games instead of the epitomy of mediocrity that is Otomedius.

Deserts are inhabited by umbrella-grasping penguins and the pyramids they've built allow for Gradius-style upwards and downwards scrolling taking you through different paths. A forest plays host to a bar with lots of drunk cats lying around, guarded by ninja-squirrels. Bipedal cows shoot up milk from their udder amidst vegetable fields. A Japanese city (that really isn't all too far from reality) is full of male host clubs, skinny school girls and equally skinny dudes with elaborated hairdos. The various (special) weapons add to the crazy charme, as you pick up crates of boomerang bananas in the sandy valleys of the desert, deprive once smiling sunflowers of their seeds, launch homing bees (admittedly, Mega Man 9 already kinda did this), eat takoyaki off a girl's hands only to subsequently spit it on enemies, and so on.

So far, so good, but unfortunately the gameplay doesn't quite keep up with the visual design. For starters, it quickly becomes obvious that Flying Hamster had been created with standard control methods in mind. Enemies can appear both in the back and in the front, all different shots can be charged by pressing a digital button, there's usually an abundance of threats on-screen, your hitbox is quite large and most shots require precise aim. None of the four control methods manages to completely bypass all of these problems, be it relative or direct touch controls, motion controls or digital stick controls. You always either have a hard time hitting the charge button, precisely lining up your shots or not obstructing your view on all hazards.

What's more, certain areas tend to be on the bland side of things. The second stage's pyramid is a prime example for this, as there's simply hardly anything happening. Areas that gave you more mobility and freedom in Gradius and Parodius were littered with items, enemies, destructible objects like sand and pillars, but in Flying Hamster the trip can only be described as uneventful with a drab, black background, few enemies, low speed and just a couple of unstable columns. The weapon system also doesn't quite deliver. Some weapons (especially the standard spit projectiles) are difficult to aim and all special weapons come in highly limited quantities, thus never truly giving you a feeling of power, but rather making you feel seriously underpowered. The size of roughly 107 MB is also kinda hard to swallow, considering most better shooters on the App Store are a slot smaller in size, bar the Cave titles. Flying Hamster isn't necessarily a bad game, but you'd be best advised to get it on the PSP and look for better suited alternatives on the iPhone.

Flying Hamster

Flying Hamster

Flying Hamster


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iOS Shooter Index

All the shmups, all the time

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