Sunday, May 24, 2009

Defending the not-so-friendly skies

It's review time again! One thing the iPhone/iPod Touch, with its touch controls and accelerometer, would seem to be the perfect platform for the classic vertical overhead scrolling shooters, such as the 19xx or Raiden series. Apparently developers feel the same way, and have come out with a multitude of these types of game. Today I'm going to focus on two, though an honorable mention goes to "Siberian Strike" ($0.99), which was highly reviewed over at the Touch of Gaming podcast. A horrible mention goes to Sky Thunder, which I'm not going to link to. It's too hard and not fun.

iFighter, $0.99
Anyway, first up today is iFighter. You pilot a WWII-style plane that has autofire enabled, so your job is simply to maneuver your plane to shoot enemies and avoid their fire. There is also a Bomb button to press to deal extra devastation to everything on the screen. Defeating certain enemies reveals medals and stars, which you collect to increase your score.

Some scrolling shooters are such that when you touch an enemy you immediately lose a life. iFighter is not such a game. With each life you have a certain amount of "health", which goes down by some number when you get hit. Take enough damage and you lose a life.

iFighter's creators provided three different control schemes to match your play style. First is "Joypad" mode, where a virtual joystick is superimposed on the screen and you "move" it around with your thumb. This is the control scheme being used in my screenshots. Since the joypad shown is very small, the smallest thumb movement can make your plane move farther than you wanted it to. It takes some getting used to in this regard. On the plus side, as opposed to Swipe mode (see below), Joypad mode doesn't cover up areas where your enemies might show up and surprise you.

The second control scheme is "Swipe." Here you keep your finger on the screen and your plane will go to where your finger is. Normally this would be my control scheme of choice, but the plane tends to lag behind the speed of your finger so it's a bit inaccurate to me. Still, this method is best for putting the plane exactly where you want it to be. The downside here, as mentioned above, is that putting your finger on the screen can cover up things that you'd want to see for survival's sake.

Finally the "Motion" scheme allows you to use the accelerometer to tilt your device to make the plane move. Motion is pretty responsive and probably my control scheme of choice, though the plane still doesn't move as fast as enemies do, even with sensitivity set all the way up. The other problem with Motion is that it doesn't work too well if you're playing the game in a moving vehicle.

All in all, if you like this genre of games, iFighter is good, but the controls can be a problem. Enemy planes move really fast and you start out with a pathetically weak weapon. The variety of control schemes is nice, but all have their upsides and downsides. At its current $0.99 price, it's hard not to recommend it.




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Sentry Alpha, $0.99
The other scrolling shooter I'm reviewing today is Sentry Alpha. Unlike iFighter, Sentry Alpha is set in a more futuristic setting, and your enemies are alien ships. You start out with a standard dual blaster, but you quickly earn lots of weapon upgrades just by defeating a bunch of early enemies at the beginning. You have unlimited homing missiles, of which you can shoot more at a time when you get them upgraded. Bombs in Alpha do not span the whole screen, but rather are designed to hit the otherwise-inaccessible ground-based targets.

Like iFighter, Sentry Alpha features a multiple lives + energy system, so getting hit once doesn't really kill you. The game does, however, count how many times you got hit in each level, along with the number of enemies killed and number of medals collected.

Sentry Alpha only features one control scheme, accelerometer controlled. This is definitely a problem if you're in a moving vehicle, but when you're not, it seems to work very well. Autofire for your blasters is enabled, but if you hold your finger down on the screen your ship will fire faster. Bombs are activated by a sideways shake, while missiles can be fired by an up-down shake. Alternatively, there is a missile button on the lower right and a bomb button on the lower left of the screen.

I found Sentry Alpha to be slower-paced and easier than iFighter. I keep waiting for it to get more challenging, but there's no lack of fun to be had here due to the ever-increasing number of weapon upgrades I keep getting. Enemies come at you slower and you normally have ample time to get into position to hit them or get out of the way. The heat seeking missiles sure help too.

At $0.99, it's bargain. Interestingly, the app description on the app store says Sentry Alpha is on sale for $0.99 'til May 1. Here it is, May 24, and it's still on sale. Get it while it lasts!

Heck, might as well get both iFighter and Sentry Alpha while you're at it.








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