From the weird and inventive Birth Order, to the equally-strange and nontraditional platformer X.S.E.E.D., Wide Pixel Games and Mikael Tillander have always succeeded in creating unique, infinitely-playable and fun games. Even others that I haven’t covered here, like Heavy Recoil and Twin Tiger Shark, have been quick favorites. The studio’s newest, Broken Pearl ($1.00), is no exception, taking the shooter genre onto a retro and vertically-scrolling path with a (potentially) hard-as-nails Bullet Hell.
If you’re even slightly-acquainted with shooters, Broken Pearl‘s setup is the typical stuff. You get two ships to choose from; a focused-fire variant that can plow through targets straight-ahead of it, and a spread-shot type that is better suited to damaging multiple enemies from multiple angles at once. You’re allocated a set number of lives and screen-clearing bombs (for emergencies, natch), then set loose to wreak havoc on a series of stages and their respective bosses. Oh, and probably a few thousand cannon fodder in-between.
Those foes aren’t likely to go gentle into that good night1, of course, littering the screen with plenty of bullets in a mesmerizing and ever-changing display of neon death. Thankfully, only the very center of your ship is vulnerable to their fire, (hopefully) resulting in some nimble maneuvering that will enable you to advance and aid in your high-score chasing2. You can also ‘rescue’ enslaved allies found in each stage, adding their guns and firepower to your ship for the duration of that current life.
Some of the heavier, bullet-sponge types will drop powerups that morph over time, which amounts to Broken Pearl‘s clever rewards payout. You can choose from a boost to your firepower (and any allies at your side), a score multiplier, or an additional bomb. Depending on your skill level and how much risk you’re willing to take on, it’s a simple but effective choice that helps newcomers as much as seasoned veterans. Both crowds will need the help.
While the phrases ‘a stiff challenge’ and ‘bullet hell’ tend to belong in the same sentence, it needs to be said that Broken Pearl IS difficult. The upside to that comment is that the game is only as hard as you make it, meaning as you practice and improve your own skills, the game’s inherent reward system— i.e., the bombs and weapon powerups— naturally decreases the challenge over time, with only yourself (and / or your ego) to blame upon death.
The game’s premise and mechanics may not be as bizarre as some of the studio’s previous titles, but Broken Pearl is still an easy recommendation to make. The game choreographs its version of a bullet ballet extremely-well, giving you ample challenge and that much more satisfaction when you eventually succeed and rage, rage against the dying of the light3.
- Yes, yes, the Dylan Thomas poem. Or villanelle, rather. Hey, they use poetry against us to sell jeans and wrestling these days, so what the hell. ↩
- You can upload your score to the game’s online leaderboard via your smartphone, where applicable. Always a clever work-around for the limitations of XBLIG. ↩
- Yup, back on the Thomas poem again. It got stuck in my head for some reason. ↩