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iOS Shooter Index

All the shmups, all the time

by Burkhart von Klitzing

Super Cyclone - iOS, Flash (2011)

Super Cyclone isn't light on uncommon ideas. It's the execution where it falters. For starters, the playing field is not rectangular as in most of its kind, it's circular, thus preventing the player from getting stuck in a corner. A neat idea, brought down by the fact that the borders are only visible when coming up close, which can make navigation a pain. Another interesting idea would have to be the stargate found in the center of each stage. You are asked to defend it from the enemies, as its destruction means game over. Unfortunately, though, enemies don't seem to care about the gate, instead always aiming straight for the player.

Possibly the best idea, meanwhile, is the overdrive attack. Double-tap and hold the weapon stick to make your craft spin madly, turning it into a buzz saw, which then would be able to tear any aliens and asteroids apart at mere contact, if the enemies weren't so darn annoying. No matter if they are being targeted by your standard weapon or the overdrive attack, they appear to randomly decide whether they try and ram you, or try to escape from you, and if they do the latter, they are frustratingly difficult to hit (with any weapon), causing you to explode from overheating if you don't cancel the overdrive attack in time. When it works, though, this spinning attack brings with it a nice change of pace.

Super Cyclone generally lacks balance and overall fine-tuning in almost every regard. Since your shields regenerate automatically after a few seconds of not getting hit (think modern FPS), it often proves best to simply stay in a place not doing anything until the remaining enemies have realized there is no need for them to escape, causing them to crash into your craft and thus successfully ending the wave. Also, why do all stages look and play basically the same? While there currently are 28 stages to be found here, you'll be repeating the same actions over and over, looking at a generic open space wallpaper. Another problem are the controls. Moving works well enough, but the shooting stick feels too lose, causing many a shot to miss, not only due to the annoying aliens. And on a final note, a shop where upgrades can be financed with hearts left behind by killed enemies is a tried and true idea in theory, but limiting your options to limited special weapons completely destroys any feeling of growing stronger as you progress. The standard weapon never changes and most special weapons are borderline useless anyways.

Super Cyclone

Super Cyclone


2079 Tilt! - iOS (2008)

Released as early as 2008, "2079 Tilt!" attempted to give dual-stick shooters an individual feel on the iPhone, rather than simply porting over the concept and substituting the former sticks for two virtual sticks. Shooting is mapped to a stick, as always, while your ship is moved via tilting the device, which in all honesty doesn't stray too far from utilizing a second stick. In fact, the whole device could be regarded as a huge second stick, which is why this game is still covered in the dual-stick section. Smart bombs are triggered by shaking the iPhone.

There is little to say about "2079 Tilt!", as it's mostly just a "me, too" kind of game in a sub-genre full of those. The whole point of the game is to steer your craft across a comparatively small square-shaped playing field, shooting unimaginative and small foes that spawn along with an annoying sound effect, and busting Mario Kart-esque question mark blocks to grab various powerups in order to achieve a high score in the end. Unfortunately, Eric Tong's creation completely lacks music thus missing out on a chance to draw attention away from the sound effects. Graphically, the game also lacks punch, with no explosions or special effects apart from a neat water-surface-like ripple effect for the smart bombs offering anything to the eyes.

Despite most items sticking to genre tropes, like score multipliers, invincibility or dual shots, at least one interesting new item has found its way into this app. The brick wall pickup causes your craft to drop stones behind it for about half a minute. These stones can't be passed by enemies, but by your craft, enabling you to create effective hideouts to take a deep breath in before the next close encounter. Another fun idea is only accessed by tapping the "Baby on Board" sign in the credits section: The secret cube setting projects the playing field onto the outer sides of a slowly spinning cube. All sides are the same, so it is possible to see your craft both on a side that is about to spin out of view and on a side that is currently fully coming into view, similar to Portal where you could see yourself multiple times when entering a portal close to the exit portal. This mode also allows for crossing the left or right border of the playing field to reappear at the other end, but otherwise it doesn't offer any differences in gameplay. Trying out the secret cube is a neat experience, but it can be argued whether it's worth the download of an otherwise wholly unremarkable shooter.

2079 Tilt!

2079 Tilt!


Star Blitz - iOS (2011)

Wanna know in a nutshell why this game ranks so low without having to tread through numerous paragraphs of text?

Here's a hint: It's not the Lieutenant Commander Tuvok look-alike. That's actually pretty cool to have in any game. The thing is, Star Blitz embodies a lot of things that many "seasoned" players feel to be off in this current generation of gaming, as is visible in the connectivity with facebook. Star Blitz is basically a social game dual-stick shooter crossbreed which in itself doesn't necessarily have to blow as badly as this game ends up doing due to some further bad decisions taken.

The overall design is frighteningly similar to just about any social game you'd find on facebook, like Mafia Wars which I personally was addicted to well over two years (go on, despise me for it. I already do so myself). There are two main ressources to gather, standard coins and space cash. While both can be obtained by fulfilling ingame tasks, only coins are abundant, making it especially tempting to buy space cash with real money. Another way to earn space cash is by watching sponsored videos, essentially boiling down to watching commercials. Coins are obtained by selling minerals after a mission and you are given different choices here. Either sell them immediately for a standard profit or choose an amount of time you are willing to wait for your money (up to 48 hours) for an increased income. Why the game would want to reward you for waiting and being unable to continue is way above my head.

Another wholly unnecessary feature is the aforementioned facebook connectivity. Some games can profit greatly from this, especially scoring based ones like Doodle Jump or user generated content ones like Smurf's Village, but Star Blitz doesn't even properly attempt to make any use out this. Your facebook friends merely serve as AI controlled, anonymous wingmen. Your friends don't interact with you, they just lend their name for display in some menus and they get a little bit of experience from you. Just like in Mafia Wars and other similar games you are also rewarded for consecutively playing seven days while being locked in to facebook. Why does this require facebook? Maybe the developer needs some more accounts? Who knows.

The game itself is awfully boring, although quite nice-looking. You have a fairly large rectangular arena available to speed through, filled with obstacles, aidful turrets and mineral stations where you can deploy collected goodies. Enemies appear in waves and the next wave kindly waits for the previous one to be fully destroyed. Despite enemies being quite varied, the shooting feels extremely repetetive as you mostly either stay in one place, taking down weak enemies a dime a dozen, or zip around the place all panicky, since later enemies endure a lot of punishment and dish out shots that are near impossible to avoid. To make things worse, the camera stays zoomed in WAY too far, pushing you into relying on the enemy indicating arrows all around you.

Possibly trying to even things out, Glu Games grants you a rather long life bar as well as powerups that can be purchased and later used at any time and first and foremost: Tons of upgrades for your weapons and other ship parts. Star Blitz isn't mainly about skilfully dodging enemy fire and retaliation (although it certainly also helps a lot), but about collecting money and experience, leveling up and craving for yet another upgrade, trying to lure you into an addiction similar to the one found in Diablo-esque action-RPGs.

In Farmville, Mafia Wars, Frontier Wars and so on this works out just fine, because they don't require much in the way of action and reflexes. They are meant to be relaxing and one can invest as much dedication and time into it as one wishes to. Star Blitz' attempt at combining social gaming with a more action-oriented gameplay is an interesting way to go, but it simply falls flat on the face due to poor execution. Plus, it takes AGES to see every area of the game. Every galaxy (of which about a dozen exist at the moment) is split up into various "encounters" which are further split up into dozens of waves. While it is possible to jump right in at any wave you have previously died at, you will still spend hours in the same stage before finally moving on, just to repeat ad nauseum. So in the end it's neither as relaxingly addictive as your typical social game nor a good shooter.

Star Blitz for the most part is a palette swap of an older Glu game, titled Gun Bros, just squeezed into a different setting. Gun Bros shares the same mechanics down to the smallest details, but it still ends up being both a vastly superior game and not really a shooter anymore. The main difference is the reduced speed, allowing for a higher degree of control over the action. This leads to the game not only being more skill-based and less frustrating, but also more relaxing, ultimately satisfying action game fans and social game fans alike. In addition, the surroundings are easier to fully perceive unlike the sometimes too sameish-looking areas in Star Blitz, where you sometimes can't tell if something is in the background or not. However, the reduced speed, the diferent weapon characteristics and the general setting shift it a bit further away from the shooter genre, tipping Gun Bros over to the realm of other dual-stick action games like iDracula and MiniGore, hence it doesn't get fully featured in this article.

Star Blitz

Star Blitz

Star Blitz

Gun Bros

Gun Bros


Alien Space - iOS (2010)

"The best space shooter in the AppStore has arrived!" the official description proclaims. "Not even close to even being the best dual-stick shooter." I say. Owens Rodriguez' Alien Space isn't necessarily a terrible game, but it does scratch the bottom of mediocrity.

The 30 allegedly "campaign" missions just repeat the same mechanics over and over, not being connected by any kind of story. A warp gate drops you into an asteroid field, you wait for enemies to appear and once you've disposed of them all, another warp gate suddenly opens up to suck you into the next stage, where these steps are repeated ad nauseam. Upon being shot, asteroids first shatter into smaller asteroids before finally leaving behind crystals that replenish your shields or weapon energy. Your standard laser shot has unlimited ammo, but if you use it too frequently, you'll need to either cease fire for some time, while your energy meter replenishes automatically or you switch over to your secondary weapon. You get to choose one of these powerful weapons for each stage, subsequently efficiently delivering justice to hostile aliens as long as your ammunition doesn't deplete. Luckily, enemies randomly drop secondary ammo for your photon torpedo launcher or tractor beam.

Sometimes they also leave behind bombs, which give the gameplay a much-needed tactical component. Where other shooters arm you with smart bombs, bombs in Alien Space are placed in open space, afterwards waiting for careless foes to cross their circular sensors. Bombs don't trigger when either you or an asteroid closes in too much, but they can still tear you apart if you are too close to a detonation, making clever placement crucial to survival. The weapons in Alien Space are its strongest point in general, as your fast-firing standard weapon already makes for some heated circling-and-shooting battles and some special weapons both look and sound like a Trekkie's wet dream.

The dual-stick controls work flawlessly and even the bomb and weapon swap buttons are responsive and easy to reach no matter how frantic the action gets. So why is Alien Space mediocre at best? For one thing, your view on the battlefield is panned, giving you a great disadvantage against targets in the front, as you can't see them from afar. Another thing is that stages remain empty for a while until enemies finally start appearing, though they frequently tend to spawn all over the place, including your current position, since it's hard to tell where they are going to appear. The final downside is the aforementione overall lack of variety. New enemies usually means nothing but recoloring previous enemies, making them more durable and giving them another one of your secondary weapons. As it is, Alien Space is without a doubt very playable, but not very recommendable with so many better options available on iTunes.

Alien Space

Alien Space


Alien Space Retro - iOS (2011)

Owens Rodriguez is in desperate need of money. How else could you explain that he has re-released his only game, swapping the space visuals for allegedly "retro" space visuals, and called it a day? The new visuals aren't even all that pretty, but rather just bland and uninspired. The asteroids now look like in, well, Asteroids, and the background consists of hundreds of honeycombs. If you're into this kind of reduced, cold visuals, preferring them over the more saturated visuals of the original, then go ahead by all means. It's still the same old (boring) game.

Well, there is one exception: Owens apparently is in dire need of money, as can be seen in the myriad of in-app purchases available. All kinds of weapons and game modes need to be bought for a buck each, which is simply insane after already charging money for the initial download of the app, when the original Alien Space can be had for the same price without "offering" any in-app purchases.

Alien Space Retro


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iOS Shooter Index

All the shmups, all the time

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