When done right, shoot 'em ups (shmups) can really shine on portables. One such example is Space Bits [$0.99], a shooter that combines basic twitch action and an RPG-like loot table, and is perfect for small gaming sessions.
Like most touch shmups, Space Bits is controlled with one finger, and utilizes a non-negotiable auto-fire mechanic. Bits employs a fairly minimal art style that evokes memories of the classic shooter Xevious, but with a bit less personality, and a focus on more boxy ship designs.
At first, your craft will feel fairly slow, weak, and helpless, with the pitiful ability to fire errant, sluggish shots. Like any RPG, this feeling is natural, and will pass in time as you pick up more powerful armor and weapons, and upgrade your power, defense, and dodge stats. Naturally, the difficulty will crescendo in turn, and introduce you to nastier enemies to deal with.
You can choose to min-max your ship, going for a pure glass-cannon build, a cautious turtle build, a risk-reward dodge setup, or anything in-between. For the most part, the statistical enhancements are noticeable, and it was fun to choose how I wanted my ship to evolve.
Equipment is randomly found throughout the game, and each ship you vanquish goes towards your experience bar, which in turn levels up your ship. At times earning XP can feel like a grind, but with careful planning and a fundamental understanding of how enemy ships work, you can whittle down their health bars without a massive amount of upgrades. Eventually, you'll start breaking your way into later levels, discovering new enemy concepts that do more than just predictably move from left to right.
But in terms of Space Bits' RPG elements, not everything is designed as seamless as it could have been. One issue I have with the equipment system is that it throws off the pacing of the game. Every time an item drops, you have to take your finger off the screen, pause the game, touch the item, inspect it, and decide whether or not it's worth keeping or trashing. It can get kind of frustrating to have to constantly inspect equipment while in the heat of a fight, only to find that all of them aren't satisfactory before returning to battle.
If the game was designed in such a way where a green plus sign or a red minus sign appeared on the item, you'd immediately know whether or not it's worth picking up without wasting precious time pausing the game and sifting through trash. The pause system also gets in the way slightly (Space Bits requires a finger on the device at all times) if you're trying to re-position your finger, or you slip off the screen for a moment, which can get kind of annoying.
Gripes and design issues aside, Space Bits is a simplistic little shoot 'em up that can be enjoyed in short spurts, as you attempt to garner "just one more" level up, and score yet another marginal upgrade for your ship. It would be better served with a few design upgrades and more pronounced visuals, but all in all, it's a great bite sized shooter to toil away an afternoon with.
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