Platypus: Squishy Shoot-em-up - Windows (2005) / Mac (2005) / PSP (2006) / Windows Phone (2008) / iOS (2008) / Blackberry (2009) / XBLIG (2009)
Much like Space Storm, Platypus is a beautiful port of a hori shooter, which also has previously been on PSP (though on UMD, in this case), and also akin to Space Storm, Platypus suffers mostly from its difficulty, although in a different way.
Platypus is one of those rare uses of claymation technology otherwise for example seen in Clay Fighter, Skull Monkeys and The Neverhood, and as in those cases, it looks quite stunning. The need for animations is comparatively low in a shooter, but the developers made up for this with several layers of parallax scrolling. Depending on which of the four worlds (broken up into 20 stages) you are currently traversing, you'll see dozens of clouds or hills and trees among other objects pass by. Enemies also greatly benefit from the clay-look, with even their explosions being made of clay. Bigger foes slowly start crumbling when under fire, which is as simple an idea as it is charming. Another strong point is the music, entirely fashioned after typical C64 music. Unless you can't stand these kinds of retro tunes in general, there is nothing not to like about Platypus's catchy soundtrack.
Controls are set to tilt by standard, but luckily there are also touch controls available, which need to be further modified if you want them to be relative, rather than direct. If you do, they work just fine, with shooting being set to auto-fire. While there is a button to cease fire, you'll rarely find a reason for its very existence, except for when a star appears. These work much like the bells in Twinbee and Parodius in that their color changes when being shot. Depending on the color, it grants you different (temporary) powerups such as rapid fire, quad-fire or a wave shot. Where this system could lead to some serious frustration in Twinbee, when aiming for a certain color, here it is a lot simpler to pull off, thanks to the color swap being more predictable.
Unfortunately, the whole game feels a bit too predictable for its own good. It looks great, sounds great, controls reasonably well, but like most claymation games, the end result still ends up decidedly average. Gameplay-wise, Platypus remains pretty shallow with only a couple of powerups and the occasional pieces of fruit (increase your score) dropping from enemies. There are no obstacles beyond the enemies themselves and their bullets, and ground targets are rare. So most stages have you shooting air targets, dodge a couple of bullets, rinse and repeat. They lack memorable moments or attack patterns, as you are taken on a somewhat no-thrills rollercoaster ride. Sure, there are a couple of boss encounters, and facing a new enemy type offers some degree of variety thanks to the cutesy visuals, but overall the game remains too easy and plays it too safely, bar a couple of instances where enemies coming in from behind are able to land some cheap hits.
Platypus can certainly be enjoyable. It's just hard to justify the three dollars asked for it. While this is a great price outside of the iOS realms, within them it's one of the higher priced games. Apart from the presentation, the only possible reason you might want to get Platypus over other competitors would be the multiplayer mode, allowing for two players to cooperatively play through the campaign locally. Although in this case, both would have to shell out the money.
Infiworks is back and this time they came up with not two and not three, but four amazingly generic names for a shooter. On the App Store you will find this as Cobra Strike, on your iPhone it turns into Cobra Killer, in another app they call this Apache Strike and within this game's description it suddenly becomes Super Cobra. What a refreshingly hilarious company this truly is.
At least it plays better this time around, mostly thanks to an increase in speed and a shift towards highscore fueled action instead of a failed attempt at designing levels. All you do is fly right and shoot down everything the developer could think of including tanks, flak cannons, choppers, jets, UFOs (!), huts and even soldiers that manage to pass you. There is always something onscreen waiting to get shot or returning the favor, powerups attached to parachutes descend from the sky like in Worms, granting different missiles or gun upgrades and it doesn't even look half as bad as xFighter. It seems like the objects used were either done by different people or simply nabbed from different sources. The UFOs have a rendered look to them, the jets look like something a (talented) ten year old would draw during class and the chopper you control actually has a slight Metal Slug-esque look to it. In the end, however, the action is so relentless that you will hardly realize any of these clashes. Instead it all blends together as a quite decent looking flash game and this is also the best description as of what you should expect gameplay-wise. Playing it for a few minutes hurts nobody and it is in fact a nice diversion from the more thoroughly designed stage based shooters like Death Smiles and Space Storm. Take off, blow up the desert and its inhabitants and afterwards look up to realize that your subway has arrived.
P-47: The Phantom Fighter - Arcade / Amiga / Atari ST / Amstrad / ZX Spectrum / C64 / iOS (1988 / 2011)
With Earth Defense Force DotEmu has already brought a fairly unknown shooter to i-devices, but the young publisher dug even deeper into Jaleco's software archives, eventually unearthing P-47. This one being even more obscure than EDF is quite a shame, although the iOS port probably won't do the game's recognition any favor.
The small enemy sprites, surface objects like trees and sand dunes and the pretty backgrounds featuring bright, red sunsets and menacing gray piles of clouds initially lend themselves to an eye-pleasing toy soldiers look far removed from the serious World War II scenario Jaleco opted for by sending you into battle over the Ardennes in Europe, against Rommel the desert fox in North Africa and into other real battlefields. Unfortunately you'll face the same types of tiny planes, choppers, ships and tanks far too often with only a few -also reused -bosses mixing things up, despite also not straying away from the realistic course, so don't expect any Strikers 1945-style mechs here.
Levels are either set high up in the skies or close to the ground, offering some well-needed variety as you dodge a constant stream of missiles fired up diagonally, gun mounted turrets or tall rock formations. Still, the sameish looks and the overall slight lack of truly differently behaving foes makes for a decidedly average experience. The secondary weapons, that are activated via a designated virtual button, don't add anything special, either. Bombs rain down destruction in a small arc, the tractor beam isn't so much a beam as it is a faster variety of the bomb dealing less damage, missiles fly straight ahead and explosive bombs are not only stupid in name, but also hard to aim, as they fly ahead before busting into several small pieces spreading out into eight direction. Picking up more of the same upgrades the weapons and dieing powers them down again. Your main weapon cannot be upgraded or changed at all, unfortunately, leaving you with a rather weak arsenal most of the time. The game's greatest strength lies in its big bosses. Forget about the big plane and the big tank since they require little more than repeating the same pattern over and over or lying down with only minimal movements respectively. The long train and especially the huge battleship are where it's at, thanks to numerous destructible parts, popcorn enemies desperately trying to distract you from the main target and the ability to have a good overview of all hazards, which the rest of the game lacks at times.
DotEmu ought to be applauded for the obscure games they've been releasing on the iPhone like Golvellius and Rod Land, but their work beyond acquiring licenses is kind of half-baked. Like most other DotEmu releases P-47 also makes good use of the GameCenter by offering leaderboards and achievements and it also lets you choose between two control methods. The latter, however, perfectly embodies DotEmu's (lack of) effort. Instead of changing control methods in the options menu, you need to switch back and forth between fullscreen display on and off, automatically switching from touch controls to virtual stick controls and back. It's not much of a relief to realize that you probably wouldn't want to choose the stick controls because of how difficult diagonal movements become using them.
Opening screens, end-of-stage screens and the continue screen as well as the name entry screen from the arcade original are still intact hidden somewhere in the game's data, only appearing for a brief moment before either being haphazardly skipped or overlapped by an ugly alternative screen created by the French at DotEmu. As if robbing the game of some of its charm for no apparent reason wasn't enough, sometimes after losing all lives you are stuck on the name entry screen unable to perform the eponymous task, forcing you to quit the app and boot it again.
The worst offender, though, would have to be the touch controls despite working better than the virtual stick. Where the added control bar at the far left in Earth Defense Forces port worked well enough due to the level design requiring only very little steering on the x-axis, the same control bar is pretty much wasted on P-47. Your small bullets in combination with small enemies means that most enemies will be able to fire a few bullets, often making it mandatory to dodge to the right and back again, so your finger will often get in the way of your view of the battlefield. Plus, you need to pummel on the secondary weapon button like a madman, often leading the game to believe that the finger you use for this would be your steering finger, whenever you lift the latter (even if only for a split-second) to reposition it. All of this leads to some cheap deaths which aren't helped by the strict - lives and no continues within a stage-rule of the port. At least the formerly four stages have been split up into eight stages, taking away some of the frustration stemming from starting a stage all over.
Make no mistake: The iOS port of P-47 basically remains an exercise in frustration ever past stage 4, no matter how good you get at the general gameplay. Yet, there is just something about the game that feels unique enough to still warrant a purchase for $1 during special sales.
This sequel to Pulstar (which as of this writing is not available on iOS) might have been ported by DotEmu which had already been responsible for other great ports of classics such as R-Type, P-47, EDF and Golvellius, and it might technically be another commendable port. It's just not the type of shooter suited all that well for a device such as the iPhone.
The one factor greatly benefiting from the device are the visuals. The seven stages' different locales such as lush meadows, mechanical space stations, asteroid fields and other shooter tropes have lost nothing of their original 2D beauty, thanks to lovely hand-drawn details. Many people however criticized the original Arcade and Neo Geo release for the use of pre-rendered enemies and player ships, allegedly clashing with the backgrounds. Given the iPhone's small screen, it has become a lot harder to even spot a difference in styles, thus lending the whole game a more cohesive look. Add in some stunning bosses such as the smoothly animated screen-filling walker right at the end of the first stage, or some neat effects like the background in a later stage constantly zooming in, giving the impression of flying into a long tunnel, and you've got a great-looking game. It's only unfortunate that dipping into the water doesn't trigger any sort of splash animation.
Sound is another strong point of Blazing Star, or at least up to a certain point. The music here always fits the current situation just perfectly, featuring a score consisting of both upbeat tracks pushing you forward, and more chilling, calm tracks, making you feel uneasy in boss battles. Then, however, we have a female announcer that might have been playing Zelda OoT a bit too much, thinking that repeating the same short phrase over and over would be a good idea. You'll find yourself constantly picking up powerups and crystals, always triggering the gal to shout either “Bonus!-or “Powerup!- Most people will find this to grow annoying real quick, while others might actually also grow a liking to this cheesiness. Less space for arguments is left by the awesome Engrish found in Blazing Star, upping the cheesiness by another few miles. Let a boss escape and you'll be told "you fail it!- or simply enjoy the individual messages popping up right before each boss battle.
Gameplay is a bit simple and relies mostly on the selection of six different ships. These offer some surprising variation, ranging from simpler constructions that just build up a neat spreading gun, over one with an R-Type-style pod at the front and two small options at the top and bottom firing in the opposite direction of where you are moving, to a ship not upgrading at all, thus being left with a basically useless standard shot for the whole game. This is where the charge shot comes into play. The more basic ships will only unleash a concentrated beam of doom upon pushing down the fire button for a few seconds, while the more interesting ones carry even more powerful, though extremely short-ranged shots or homing missiles.
As if all of this wasn't already enough, it is also possible to trigger an alternative charge attack by pressing the second button after letting go the shot button. By doing so you can detonate your charge shot in mid-air, leaving behind explosions that stay in place for a couple of seconds, or turn your short-ranged attack into a force field around your ship, and so on. These features not only offer some much-needed variability in a game otherwise void of any stand-out features or interesting level design (apart from stage 6 the corridors are even free of obstacles to dodge, unlike most other hori shooters), they also spice up the scoring system.
Grabbing crystals and simply defeating enemies or crushing bosses in time is only a minor part of scoring in Blazing Star. Certain enemies also drop the letters L U C K Y, when defeated. Piece them all together in a stage for a meaty bonus -although it appears there is no Y in stage 3. Furthermore, you'll regularly come across “event items- angel-winged colored balls with a halo. Upon grabbing one of these, it will stay with you for a while, doubling the score of each enemy downed. If you let an event item pass by, however, the next one appearing will be of a different color and granting you a x4 multiplier instead, and so on. Possibly the most important aspect of scoring, though, would be to put your ship's abilities to good use. Depending on the ship, you are given different methods of building up multipliers without event items. For example, a multiplier increases with each enemy defeated by a single explosion of your charge shot.
Blazing Star could be pretty enjoyable if a bit simple game, and it sure is so on the Neo Geo, but unfortunately the touch screen of the iPhone isn't up to the task. The virtual joystick controls are not reliable enough for such a shooter, especially when later bosses clutter the screen with bullets, similar to an early danmaku. And the touch controls also tend to get in the way -literally. Your finger is either sitting on the right, thus obscuring the view on enemies, or it's sitting on the left, thus often rendering it impossible to properly dodge enemy fire. You huge hitbox isn't particularly helping your cause here either. So in the end, Blazing Star ends up being too hectic and frustrating on the iPhone, leaving you with the better choice of playing it on a different platform. At least, the iOS port offers an exclusive training mode for all the levels already reached in the standard mode.
Released as early as 2008, Space Storm has stood the test of time a tad better than some other iOS shooters from that year, but not by all that much. The most glaring fault of this romp through space certainly are its controls. While user reviews of older versions of the game suggest it once featured touch controls, you are now limited to a virtual joystick, which never feels as tight as it should, resulting in somewhat slippery motions. Not necessarily to a a degree that would render every shooter unfair, but add in small enemies, small projectiles and weak weapons, and you've got many a situation where the lifebar keeps a player alive, rather than him effectively blasting enemy forces and asteroids. The buttons used for changing weapons being too small to hit them reliably when the action is picking up doesn't help either.
Graphically, Space Storm is about as interesting and imaginative as its title is. All of the stages reuse the same background, and enemy variety is also kept low. Spaceships, flying saucers, orbs and asteroids bring nothing new to the table with their serviceable appearance. Most stages even end as uneventful as they begin, completely lacking a boss encounter, which is only found after every third stage.
Despite its obvious shortcomings, Space Storm still is a fairly average game. The bullet-time mechanic for example is a neat, rarely-seen (in the genre) twist, allowing you to alleviate most frustrating passages by slowing down enemy and bullet movement with the press of a button. Difficulty generally isn't as much of an issue as the controls would suggest, so in the end, Space Storm is most definitely playable and even enjoyable if you've never experienced a shooter before. With so many alternatives having been released since 2008, though, there is little reason to settle for such a "yes, but-piece of software. At least the music still manages to stick out, mostly foregoing the standard rock or techno tunes, instead going for atmospheric, calm melodies during the normal stages and only using metal riffs to accentuate the boss fights.