While the premise as stated has you leading a band of mercenaries on a hostile alien world, fulfilling the less-than-scrupulous orders of Earth’s military all in the name of cash, Planet Wars (80 MSP) is really the 2D side-scrolling shooter equivalent of Starship Troopers, without Casper Van Dien and a bevy of terrible to middling sequels as baggage.
With that campy but amusing (and don’t forget the Fascism!) pedigree to whet your curiosity, right about now you’d be guessing you’re going to be shooting some form of bug (four kinds, to be exact), facing down waves and waves of enemies that never seem to have an end… and you’d be entirely correct, with some RPG-style and Tower Defense elements to compliment the action. The game supports up to four players locally, with resources and specialty skills (air raids that hit randomly, health / ammo refills— both on timers) pooled within the group.
The campaign in Planet Wars consists of ten stages. Nicely done comic book-inspired cutscenes give you some pre-mission banter and fuel your reasons for being there, with liberal doses of government secrecy, betrayal, and terraforming (to explain the game’s desert, forest, and snowy environments). Levels are straightforward; either side-scrolling once you’ve defeated a screen’s worth of bugs / nests, or pausing to take on a Horde-like mob, with preset turrets and walls. In some instances (and in the game’s Survival mode), you’ll have the chance to place the defenses yourself.
Much as in real life, cash is king in Planet Wars, and having a good amount on hand opens the door to self-improvement, upping the potency of the previously-mentioned bombing runs, or to buy (terribly inept) AI squadmates. Weapons (assault rifles, shotguns, flamethrowers, etc.) and armor are also for sale. Purchasing attachments for your firearm will increase (or decrease— pay attention) the gun’s worth at a particular skill, granting you bonuses like a higher fire rate or more ammo (<— absolutely essential). It can even boost player stats, adding to your overall health or offering more mobility. While preference always needs to be accounted for, you can generally never go wrong with a harder, better, faster, stronger soldier. Especially here.
About the only fault I can find with the game is its sometimes uneven difficulty in single-player. It makes sense that you would be continually upgrading your skill set and weapons between each mission (tip: replay the TD stages to earn quick cash), though the game seems to scale as if you’re playing in a party of two or more players, hitting you with heavier and more diverse waves that will put a stop to your progress if you’re not rocking the latest equipment and upgrades. And don’t even try to boost the enemy count or strength bars to earn more experience solo; doing so is a death sentence. Even with the best armor (top stats and causing an electric shock on contact) and outfitted gun (in my opinion) in the game, I had to plan my moves carefully in each mission. Others’ mileage and loadouts will vary, but it’s worth noting.
Push those difficulty concerns to the edge of your mind, though, and you’ll find that Planet Wars goes above and beyond the call of duty, with plenty of options and room to grow. Add even one friend to the mix, and you can disavow that critique altogether. So go ahead, load up, throw caution to the wind, and vault over that wall; these bugs ain’t gonna squash themselves. Hooah!