When it comes to videogames and explaining one’s passion for them, the majority of gamers tend to invoke the familiar mascots and titles. I owe a debt to Mario the same as the rest of you, though one of my earliest game accomplishments to cement that love involves an unlikely duo— Time Pilot (on the ColecoVision console, no less!), is probably the game and system responsible for you reading this. I was so proud of the ending screen in that instant that I asked my mother to take a photo of me standing next to the TV (couldn’t find it for the review, but I know the picture still exists). It was, as some say at a defining point in time, a watershed moment, a word I was aware of but hadn’t considered usable vernacular or of significance until after reading Stephen King’s latest, a time-traveling (how very fitting) jaunt to prevent the Kennedy assassination. Only tangentially-related, I know, but I needed an opening.
MiG Madness (80 MSP) tries to reestablish that link to my childhood, pulling off a lot of the same moves (with equally well-done controls) and nostalgia I expected, while donning a prettier exterior and adding four-player co-op, locally. For the uninitiated, you steer your aircraft around the screen, taking down waves of enemy planes and picking up the health and limited upgrades (wider / heavier shots, homing missiles, invincibility) they drop upon annihilation. Differing from the Time Pilot approach, there is no time travel or Zeppelins to be had, sadly, just day & night cycles and differently-hued planes.
Also missing are ‘levels’ and any sense of progression. Using the format of ‘waves’ would substitute well, if those waves lasted longer. Too much stop and go. Even as you climb the ranks into double-digits, each enemy formation can be dealt with in twenty seconds. With four players, it’s even less. And with the added planes on-screen, bullet detection (both yours and the enemy’s) is almost impossible. Many times I waded into a group of fighters at full health, mingling in the impressive-looking clouds, only to emerge a second later depleted and in flames, without ever knowing my attacker. Another recent XBLIG, Spitfire, had the same problem with shot visibility. Devs, you have to playtest these things. There’s also the issue of difficulty. As in there is none. Even accounting for the familiar arcade gameplay and aesthetics, I shouldn’t be able to mow through 35 waves in my very first playthrough, solo.
There’s not much depth or variety save for endless waves and jousting for round wins in co-op. The lack of other game modes or online leaderboards sap that replayability further, but the co-op is fun if you have willing friends / extra controllers. Gripes aside, MiG Madness is a solid effort that’s capable of reminding some of us of its classic arcade sensibilities; it’s enough, though I wish it could have done a little more.