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Espgaluda II (iPhone Application)

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1 Review

Manufacturer: Cave Co., Ltd / Type: iPhone Game

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      24.06.2010 17:37
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      A stunning technical achievement but a disappointing game

      Note: before reading this review, it's important to note that the game will only run on third generation iPods and the iPhone 3GS (NOT 3G). There is a free version of the game, so if you're not sure if it will work on your device, try downloading this before you fork out for the full version.

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      When creators Cave announced they were going to convert their frenetic shooter Espgaluda to the iPhone, many people assumed it was a joke, that Apple's little machine would never be able to cope with the fast-paced game play. It turns out it wasn't a prank; and neither will the game be laughed at by the bigger boy consoles.

      Like most shoot-em-ups, the spell-checker bothering Espgaluda II boils down to one thing: if it moves, shoot it, although in an attempt to add an extra dimension other game play elements also introduce a degree of strategy to proceedings (more on these later). An unashamed score attack game, there is no real point to the game, other than to amass as many points as possible.

      The first thing that will strike you about the game is the amount of care and attention which has gone in to the visuals. The game's presentation is superb and jumps off the screen at you. Background graphics are beautifully detailed, as are the enemy ships. There is a real variety amongst the graphics and they ooze imaginative design. Both Background graphics and alien attackers change fairly frequently throughout the game, so you get a genuine sense that you are making progress, rather than everything looking the same.

      What is truly stunning is the amount of on-screen activity at any one time. Espgaluda II falls firmly into the "bullet hell" category of game, where hazards, enemy ships and bullets are everywhere in unrelenting waves. On my first few games, I was genuinely staggered at the amount happening on screen at any one time. I thought there was no way the (relatively) humble iPhone could handle all that activity and fully expected the game to slow down to snail's pace or be reduced to juddery, jerky scrolling as the action got too much for it. Yet, contrary to all expectations, this has never happened. Cave has managed to produce a game which contains beautifully detailed graphics with frantically paced game play, without any frustrating screen lag. There's no doubt about it, Espgaluda II is a stunning technical achievement.

      The downside is that things can get so frantic that it can be difficult to work out what to separate harmless background graphics from enemies which need killing before they cause you damage. Such is the level of graphical detail that things can merge into each other, which sometimes reduces the game play to your simply sweeping your character from side to side whilst shooting, to see what explodes.

      The game also inevitably suffers from being squeezed onto the iPhone's small screen. Whilst Cave have done a genuinely impressive job in fitting this massive, full priced game onto the iPhone, compromises were inevitable. Everything looks a little squashed and cramped; there is sometimes so many bullets and enemies filling the screen that there is little room to manoeuvre and it can be all to easy to get trapped. Bullet hell games are all well and good on big screens where you have more room to move around. On the iPhone, the lack of space can be more than a little frustrating.

      Controls have also been smartly implemented. By far the easiest way to control the game is using the slider which lurks at the bottom of the screen. This is cleverly positioned outside the play area, so that it doesn't get in your actual game. I've experienced sliders as a method of control before and never been impressed, but this works incredibly well. It's highly responsive and gives you fast and easy control over your ship. Considering you are sometimes operating in a very limited play area, these controls make the game far more playable and at least give you a fighting chance of making getting out of tight spots. Unfortunately, the decision to include the slider controls outside the game play area, does further reduce the screen size for the actual game and so exacerbates the issues outlined above.

      There are two game modes: iPhone and Arcade which play genuinely differently. In iPhone mode, your ship is equipped with auto fire, meaning that all you have to do is concentrate on moving it into the correct position to destroy enemies. There's also a special Awaken button, which freezes your ship temporarily, but turns all enemy bullets currently on screen into "life force". This is used to build up massive points and obtain weapons upgrades. It also adds an element of strategy to the otherwise frantic blasting, as you need to judge carefully when to use the Awaken option for maximum benefit.

      Arcade mode is more traditional. It removes the auto fire option, so you have to both steer the ship and fire the lasers. In this mode, the Awaken button slows everything right down, matrix style, giving you more time to react and pick off the enemies which pose you the greatest threat.

      Unfortunately, there are problems with both modes. In iPhone mode, with auto-fire on, I found the game too easy. I'm not the greatest gamer in the world, but found myself breezing through the levels. The game is disappointingly short, with a relatively small number of levels. I accept that the real point of the game is to get a massive score, but even so I was disappointed with the lack of any real long-term challenge the game offers in this mode.

      Arcade mode, on the other hand, I found frustratingly difficult. With so much happening on-screen, the lack of the auto-fire makes the game pretty hard and I found myself dying time and time again because I was unable to dodge the mass of bullets or shoot the enemies quickly enough. This mode will appeal to real hard-core shooters, but it's where more casual gamers will notice the limitations imposed by the small screen. To be truly appealing for the mass market, a third mode is needed; with the difficulty level pitched somewhere in between the two existing ones.

      At £5.49, this is easily one of the more expensive iPhone games, and I'm not at all sure it's worth it. I would imagine all but the keenest shoot-em-up fans are going to be put off that price.

      Cave should certainly be applauded for their ambition in trying to convert a full-priced, full-scale X-Box game to the iPhone, and from a technical viewpoint, they have done am outstanding job. Inevitably, the downgrade in the available processing power means that the game suffers. Espgaluda II on the iPhone may cost seven or eight times less than its big brother, but I would find it hard to recommend to anyone but the most ardent shoot-em-up fan.

      © Copyright SWSt 2010

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