“ Type: iPhone Game / Requirements: iPhoneOS „
Regular readers of my reviews will probably have picked up on the fact that I am a big fan of retro games, particularly what I consider the "Golden Age" of 8 and 16 bit computing. Radiant is an iPhone game that takes me back to that era and the games of my youth.
Everything about Radiant - the graphics, the sound and the plot - is unapologetically retro. Your mission is that traditional 80s one where you and your one man spaceship stand between Earth and an alien invasion. Only you can save mankind!
In keeping with this, Radiant's game play is that staple of the 80s: the vertically scrolling shooter. Your ship sits at the bottom of the screen and the alien hordes come down from the top. Before you can progress to the next level, you need to clear the current waves of aliens.
In a clever twist, Radiant pays tribute to a number of different classic 80s titles (and never mind the copyright implications!). This adds to the retro appeal and gives the game more variety than your average 80s shooter. Some levels are relatively straightforward Space Invader clones; others mimic Galaxians, where the aliens swoop down on you. Still others take the basic gameplay of Asteroids, where you need to dodge (or shoot) incoming lumps of rock, which then break up into smaller chunks. This adds interest to the game, as you are never quite sure what is coming next.
Like the game play, the graphics are also defiantly retro. Blocky, dodgily animated sprites (often made of just a single colour) move against a black background with a few white blobs indicating stars. Younger gamers will complain they are rubbish, but older gamers will find themselves riding a wave of nostalgia. Even the enemy sprites are familiar and fun - most are distinctly Space Invader shaped, but other 80s icons like Pacman's ghosts also put in an appearance.
There are even a few retro "cut-scenes" - a far cry from the beautifully animated ones we are not used to - in which a very basic, static graphic box pops up on screen with some text dialogue between different characters. If your first experience of gaming came in the early to mid 80s, you will be in serious danger of nostalgia overload. If you are of the X-Box/PS3 generation, you will instantly dismiss the game as the programming project of a not very talented 12 year old.
Controls are very straightforward and brilliantly responsive. Your ship automatically fires the currently selected weapon (you can buy upgrades and new weapons as part of the game) and movement is limited to left and right. The controls are well-implemented, simply requiring you to press the bottom left or right corner of the screen to move in that direction. Some games that use such a mechanism suffer from "dead spots" where if you press too far into the corner, your command is not registered and processed. This is not a problem with Radiant and I can honestly say that I have only ever lost a life as the result of my own ineptitude, never as a direct result of the controls.
A nice little touch is that when you lose a life your ship doesn't explode into hundreds of fragments... at least not the first couple of times. Instead, your lives indicator simply flashes and one of your lives icons disappears. This means the action carries out without a pause, which makes it feel like a far more seamless and flowing experience. Only when you finally lose your third life does the ship explode and the dreaded Game Over message appear. Even then, your next game continues from the last stage reached, rather than forcing you to re-do all the levels you've already completed - always a bonus.
So far, so full of retro loveliness. Sadly, there is a serious flaw which prevents it from living up to its promising premise: it is soooo slow. To quote Blackadder, it is slower than an asthmatic ant with some heavy shopping. The controls might be responsive, but moving from the far left to the far right of the screen seems to take forever and can be very frustrating. I suppose in fairness, your enemies move at a similar pace. So you are not at a serious disadvantage, but the downside is that the game becomes rather too easy. Even with the relatively sedate pace of your ship, it's quite simple to dodge bullets and pick off enemies.
It's in the gameplay that the 80s retro feel is lost. 80s shooters were often rock hard, incredibly unfair and relied on your memorising attack patterns and dying a lot to make progress. This might have been a little unfair, but at least you knew you had accomplished something when you beat a level. As a pretty experienced gamer, I found Radiant just a little too easy to make progress with - and I'm not an especially accomplished gamer.
It's also let down by some pretty ropey collision detection, which only serves to make the game even easier. Bumping into an alien seems to have no effect, whilst there were occasions when an enemy bullet clearly hit me, but I did not lose of life.
The sluggish action is the game's biggest let-down, though. Had the speed matched the lovely retro-style presentation, we'd have been looking at 4 stars at least. As it is, I had an internal debate over whether it should have 2 or 3. In the end, I erred on the side of generosity because, despite the frustrations with the game's pace, it remains quite good fun to play.
© Copyright SWSt 2011