Category Archives: Shooter


Despite an occasionally anxious nature, I’m hardly a hypochondriac; in fact, I’m more likely to avoid a reason to go the doctor than worry over every tiny pain or glitch in the system. That said, I wouldn’t mind the premise of Bacto ($1.00) taking place in my body, doing the grunt work of a cleanup and battling infections for me. Of course, I’d have to be sick for this, and… you know what, let’s not talk about that.

Bacto - Screen

Bacto is an Eat-Em-Up, starring a white blood cell1 on perpetual night watch, rooting out infections and killing off harmful bacteria. Lucky for him… er… it, that noble work takes the form of a very colorful game, complete with global high scores, powerups, and some ugly-looking beasties that are no doubt hell-bent on wrecking whatever body they inhabit. Levels task you with eliminating a preset number of enemies, with subsequent stages adding new, bigger bacteria, and roaming, impervious antibiotics you must avoid.

Said white blood cell attacks those enemies by expanding outward, swallowing and destroying foes within its reach. Oddly, those same enemies are deadly to the touch, depleting your life bar quickly should you make contact2. To counteract that serious deficiency, there are a few powerups to take advantage of. These include a shield item that allows you to plow through incoming threats without taking damage for a short time, and a ‘spread shot’ weapon type that will clear out some of the surrounding enemies, bailing you out of a potentially inescapable position.

Bacto - Screen2

Of course, you’ll have to work at it to get yourself boxed in; stages scroll endlessly in all directions, giving you plenty of space to work with. You can bank those powerups, too, opening up some strategic opportunities during the later, more crowded rounds. The problem is, it’s all just old hat. And a little boring.

You see, despite the generally bright visuals and simple setup, there’s nothing going on in Bacto that you haven’t seen done in other pseudo-shooters. Even the idea of fighting infections inside the body isn’t new, and the slight adjustments and modifiers here and there don’t do enough to make Bacto interesting over the long term. So there’s no rush in getting sick. Healthy is more fun.

  1. Possibly called ‘Bacto’, maybe? Which is kind of ironic? 
  2. It’s odd, but think of it like a bullet-hell shooter. You have to make contact with the bacteria to kill it, but so long as you are in your attack animation, and the enemy doesn’t touch the middle core of the cell, you seem to be okay. 


If Air War ($1.00) and its block-styled confines look familiar to you, you’re not alone / crazy1. A lot of its designs and assets owe their origin to Block King, developer Chris Antoni’s previous… um… block-styled confines. Much the same as in that game, Air War is an online shooter for up to eight players2, best enjoyed with friends and an unhealthy amount of trash talk.

Air War - Screen

And by shooter, I mean ship-based dogfighting in the first-person sense, with aerial battles taking place in three different arenas. Despite the visual similarities, each stage does an adequate job of varying the architecture, leading you through narrow gaps and around other obstacles, avoiding fire (and walls!) and trying to get the drop on your opponents.

The perspective can be a little jarring at first, yet the controls and the flying itself is pretty straightforward. The game allows you to tweak your ship and play style mid-flight, adding or subtracting points to laser power, shield strength, and speed. Your starting craft is similar to Star Wars‘ TIE fighters, but you can spend your banked points from kills on bigger, stronger ships that will last the duration of your next life. This applies a welcome layer of strategy and ‘risk vs. reward’ to the fighting, as you can morph from a lumbering fortress to a nimble jet in just a few seconds, adjusting to match the situation.

While Air War is doubtlessly intended as a multiplayer game, there is a single-player option that pits you against AI drones (with both air and ground targets). This functions more like a so-so ‘waiting room’ than a standalone mode. In a novel workaround to XBLIG’s notoriously-vacant online community, the game can change from that single-player mode to multiplayer on the fly, courtesy of a drop-in, drop-out option that will let players ‘invade’ your game.

Air War - Screen2

That multiplayer isn’t perfect, though. There’s some noticeable lag between the on-screen action and what’s actually happening, as well an issue that prevents you from having more than four players in a lobby3. There’s also the aforementioned lack of an online community to consider, as the single-player offering here doesn’t provide much of a reason to play, beyond being a distraction as you wait for friends / randoms to join.

Ultimately, Air War isn’t as fast and fun as Block King, nor does it offer much depth or replayability. At times, it can feel like an add-on or an elaborate test of working parts that might eventually comprise a bigger game. However, if you’re in the mood for some basic-looking air-to-air combat— and have friends willing to play with you— Air War fills a niche.

  1. I mean, you still might be. I have no way of knowing, and I’m not exactly a good judge of sanity anyway. 
  2. Although consider yourself forewarned; in my time with the game, Air War would never allow more than four players in one match. Oh, and much thanks to ‘ImTheMetalLord’, ‘andregurov’, and Chris Antoni for their help in testing the game’s multiplayer. 
  3. See #2 above. 

REVIEW: Disastr_Blastr

In a lot of ways (and not just in videogame form), Disastr_Blastr ($1.00) fits modern society’s chaotic pace, evolving sense of style, and constant need for gratification. There’s the truncated title words, for starters, ready-made for texting shorthand, and the twin-stick shooter genre it belongs to is about as close as you can get to mainstream consumption, combining arcade-style high-scoring and that maddening, ‘one more try’ flavoring that keeps you hooked despite your many disappointing deaths.

Then there’s the abstract visuals (cubes, cubes all the way through1) to consider, or the new age rule sets that pop up in each stage to keep things busy and upturned (the word ’emergent’ makes an appearance in the description). Gameplay is all at once fast, interesting, confusing, precise, and nuanced. Oh, and evil. This game can be so very difficult2, too. But more on that later.

At its core, Disastr_Blastr is a straightforward shooter; you’re a cube destroying other cubes, some bigger and more complicated than others, sure, but cubes nonetheless. The game’s stages are laid out in grid format, with you completing them in any order that you choose. Adjacent levels are unlocked when you complete a stage, opening up new paths and / or challenges. Scoring, too, works as you’d expect, as chaining kills together will increase your combo, completing a map quickly will add any remaining time to your total, etc.

Where Disastr_Blastr differs is in its stage design and objectives. Levels can alternate between scrolling and free-range, between claustrophobic and open, branching and linear. You may be asked to fight to the exit in one, destroy a certain color cube in another, or seek out items hidden in breakable blocks. There’s some tough boss encounters, and hidden special stages, all of it set to a timer that likes to remind you that everything has an expiration date3.

Even the powerups you pick up have to be carefully considered. Find a spread shot to cover more ground, but you’ll lessen your overall firepower. A laser beam will do focused damage, yet you’ll be screwed once the bigger cubes break apart and create dozens of smaller cubes, backing you into a corner. How and what you choose to attack is just as important. Enemies bounce off each other and ricochet off walls, leading to unpredictable results. And sometimes, impossible odds.

Disastr_Blastr - Screen

And that can be a problem. Disastr_Blastr is not for the meek or the casual crowds. There is no health bar. The game’s one-hit-means-death mechanic is no joke, mercilessly killing you over and over until you’ve learned a lesson or lucked into a narrow completion. Even in the first ‘world’ set of levels, death is a constant companion. On some of the tougher, longer stage assignments, one simple mistake can reset your progress and really prove disheartening. You can retry a stage as many times as you like, but failing to finish one level may wall you off from accessing other levels, or force you to chart a different route.

Mileage will vary with each player’s skill and patience, and because of that, I’m left with an uneasy recommendation. On the one hand, the game looks great, plays great, and smartly considers the limitations of the genre to create a satisfying, evolving shooter. On the other, it’s immensely challenging and potentially exclusionary, which might rightly turn some players away from it. One thing is certain; Disastr_Blastr is dangerous cubes.

  1. Hell, even the numbers in your score are cubed. Cubes within cubes. Cube-ception. 
  2. But there’s cheat codes for that, ya know. Look here
  3. Especially You. And milk. Cheese. A lot of dairy, really. 

REVIEW: Broken Pearl

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.

Broken Pearl - Screen

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.

  1. 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. 
  2. 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. 
  3. Yup, back on the Thomas poem again. It got stuck in my head for some reason. 

REVIEW: Cromo Dynamix

Time waits for no man, or for XBLIG, for that matter. When I previewed Cromo Dynamix ($1.00) almost a year ago, I thought it held definite promise as an online-focused, twin-stick shooter. Back then, there were still people gravitating towards multiplayer offerings on the service, and the game seemed like a natural fit. A busy schedule and unforeseen circumstances prevented developer ElvishJumpSuit from releasing it sooner, but, as they say, better late than never1.

To a certain degree. Since that initial preview, XBLIG has seen its community shrink with each passing month, and with it, most of those that would even semi-regularly use the online component of any given indie game have departed as well. And as Cromo Dynamix is primarily billed as an online shooter for up to ten players, you’d be hard-pressed to find even one person in the game’s online lobby2.

It’s a hurdle, to be sure, but as recent shooters have shown, if you build it, they will may come. Cromo Dynamix concerns an interstellar battle for the fate of the planet, happening right under our noses. You take control of miniature ships, fighting this invasion against enemy drones at a microscopic level3. In reality, it’s just twin-stick ship combat, with powerups thrown in. There’s not much in the way of a heavy tutorial, but you do get a very lengthy intro movie to help explain the story if you’d like (which is ironic, considering the ‘story’ never really shows its face throughout the single-player campaign).

You don’t need much of a primer to get into the fray, however, so that’s less of an problem and more of a dressing to be poured over the simple setup. Fighting takes place over six arenas and with ten different ships, all of which are unlocked as you progress in the single-player (30 missions) and reach certain milestones. The ships are more than a cosmetic choice, as each has their own rating, shields, etc. Powerups too, have an obvious effect on the game and your steed, as missiles and double lasers will swing things in your favor. Hitting the lettered bubbles opposite your team color will boost your weapon power, and function as hazards at higher speeds.

Cromo Dynamix - Screen

There’s a handful of tricks and strategy to it, but it’s relatively easy to grasp and pick up. Sadly, any depth is lost on the game’s AI. While online battles would certainly play out a little differently, the single-player’s enemies rely on brute strength and numbers to take you out. As later missions increase the odds (and reduce your spare lives in reserve), this becomes more of an issue. Respawns can place you in harm’s way, too, with foes crowding your ship and souring the mood before you have much time to act.

Moreover, there’s a sense of familiarity and nagging repetition to it. There’s nothing in Cromo Dynamix that hasn’t been seen and done elsewhere in twin-stick shooters, and that hurts its bottom line. The game works (mostly) as advertised, but without a community of players to liven things up, the pedestrian design, shooting, and bland powerups all fall flat pretty quickly.

  1. That doesn’t mean it’s bug-free, however. I ran into a few ‘Code 4s’ in the game’s trial period, waiting around too long in the menu after a stage had loaded. The trouble mysteriously disappeared once I had purchased the game, but it’s worth a mention / warning. The developer is already aware of a number of other bugs, too. 
  2. I literally did find one person to play a game, and he / she promptly left mid-battle. Or maybe they were booted. Not sure. Either way, my online career consisted of two kills, one death. 
  3. Sounds a bit like Innerspace, really, minus the wacky Martin Short hijinks.