How many games does it take before you can call a developer a sure bet? Radiangames has been bringing its games to iOS like clockwork lately, and we've been impressed. Super Crossfire HD [$2.99] and Fireball SE [$1.99] are both excellent games that iterate on arcade classics, and the newest entry, Ballistic SE [$1.99], also returns to a popular well: the twin-stick shooter. Like its predecessors, though, it's a thoughtful take on the semi-stale genre. It makes up for familiarity with a heck of a lot of fun.
Ballistic SE has two big things going for it. It has a system of enhancements that let you customize your game every time you play (not unlike the Jetpack Joyride update that just landed), and it has ballistic mode, which is pretty much bullet time. Every time you fill up your ballistic meter, a button is primed. Everything slows down when you hit it: your ship, enemy orbs, even the music. As panic buttons go, it's impressive and stylish.
The game also has a lot of amber. The color is everywhere: menus, interface elements, your ship, explosions, you name it. At the risk of dating myself, I used to play games on a monitor that looked like that; I don't miss it. But there's a method to this monochromatic madness. The amber is safe, your eyes drift over it. Every other color stands out, and those colors universally identify your enemies.
The enemy color coding is important enough that colorblind players might be at a disadvantage. The enemies are just orbs—some come in different sizes, but they all have the same general shape. But if you know what a given color does, you know whether an enemy is flying toward you or moving at random, whether it will dissolve before your guns or stand up to all fire. A firm grasp of the enemy colors is a good shortcut to survival.
Whether you're playing Waves or Challenges, you've gotta survive. Waves pits you against ever-increasing waves of enemies, grinding you down over time. Challenges are a more vicious sort of play, with your choice of five pre-set combos of enemy types designed to take you out in short order. The one thing that can help stave off the inevitable? Your selection of enhancements.
Enhancements pretty much make the game. That's not to say it isn't good otherwise, but throw in enhancements and you essentially have a leveling mechanic that opens up a huge variety of play styles. You can speed up your ship, drop bombs in your wake, alter your shots, or speed up your ballistic meter. You can even pump points into your score multiplier if your confident that you don't need any other boost more. It's a fantastic little system.
Both modes give you access to enhancements, but they differ in how they present them. When playing a challenge you can pick ten enhancements right off the bat, and you'll live or die by your choices from then on. In Waves mode you're given a single enhancement point each time you hit a new level milestone. You power up over time based on your picks.
In practice, Ballistic SE plays out pretty simply. You have two sticks (with customizable positioning). One aims your guns, the other aims your ship. Standard twin-stick stuff. Aside from your ship there are three things on the field: enemies, of course, that come at you in waves, immovable bombs that destroy enemies when you hit them, and starbursts that increase your score multiplier. Deciding when it's best to fly through the bombs is almost as important as learning to avoid and shoot down the enemy orbs. Knowing when to trigger your ballistic meter is another vital skill for long-term survival.
Long-term survival is, in fact, the name of the game. You get extra lives for hitting score milestones, so playing better means living longer and longer. The waves get ridiculous pretty quickly, but there's salvation to be had with checkpoints that unlock after ever-increasing numbers of waves. You can restart from these checkpoints, but there's a catch: the further in you start, the more your score will suffer. If you want to remain competitive on the Game Center leaderboards, you've gotta start from scratch.
None of these things are revolutionary; Ballistic SE doesn't rewrite the twin stick shooter or bring us a brand new perspective on the genre. Instead, it's an incredibly solid, well-balanced game that makes up in entertainment for what it skips in flash. Radiangames is carving out quite the niche on the App Store, and Ballistic SE does it proud.
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