One of the best games of 2015 was Downwell [$2.99], the roguelike action game of descending down a well with rocket boots. Missileman [$2.99] turns that formula upside down, literally. Here, you play as a fellow riding a rocket upward, trying to blast all the enemies in their way, while countless other missiles become available? Oh, and the game is colorful as opposed to monochrome, so it's trying to flip just about everything. Missileman is a game with some clever ideas, but some issues with playing it keep it from being a masterpiece. Still, it's worth checking out.

Missileman challenges you with 16 levels where you start fresh each time with just your basic missile attack. You have three hearts of health, and death means you start freshly from the beginning. Collecting experience from downed enemies helps you level up and upgrade your stats, with additional traits available for leveling a stat up multiple times. The game does give you a way to unlock some new traits by completing achievements, but that's about it for progression from game to game. Here, it's all about surviving very, very fast action.

You control Missileman in a clever way, where you move with the first thumb you lay down, and fire by tapping with the other. This immediately means that the game works perfectly whether you prefer lefty or righty controls...or feel like switching it up. You can move quite fast around the screen, which is handy because the enemies come at you with quickness. It's not exactly like a shoot 'em up, but it has a ton of similarities worth keeping in mind. Part of the key to success? Dodging projectiles and staying alive.

The other part is trying to keep your combo going. Combos are good, but here they're rewarded with experience bonuses that go toward upgrades you can unlock. Especially as extended combos can make this multiplier increase by 2 or 3, or even further, it's a good idea to keep your combo going if you can. The upgrades include making your shot more powerful, unlocking the backup missiles that augment your shots as they fall, and the shield. The shield upgrade also heals you, so there's a bit of a dilemma involved with the shield: even when you unlock it the first time, you may be wasting a heal that could help you later on down the road. The shield recharges over time, but you can get an upgrade for it that recharges instantly whenever you take damage. In fact, that's a big part of the experience, is figuring out which upgrades to get, as certain upgrade levels unlock a secondary trait like piercing missiles.

These two aspects come together quite well. You're always trying to stay alive, but then keeping the combo is always a big part of the action. You're balancing both of these things out; perhaps staying alive is priority number one, especially early on, but getting more upgrades always helps out. This does differ a bit from Downwell or other action roguelikes because procedural generation of levels plays a smaller role because of the vertical scrolling action. You're reacting to enemies when they pop up in your way. This could be seen as a roguelike shmup at its core. You don't have any limit to the rockets such as ammo, you're just firing as necessary.

One issue I have with the combat is that you often run into impenetrable enemies and hazards. These can be frustrating to deal with, and it throws an annoying wrench into the equation when a fireball overrules your missile, especially when it comes out of nowhere. And the shielded enemies, without having some kind of way to defeat the shield, feel like less fun to deal with. Perhaps the game plays better with some things that can't be destroyed, but it feels suboptimal how it currently shakes out.

The big issue I have with Missileman is that the game is both very fast, and features a heavily-detailed background. This leads to a tricky combination where it can be difficult to tell hazards out form the background; when the game ramps up in world 2, it's often where I start to falter because the difficulty just ramps up so much. That, and this game makes me feel a bit queasy when I play it. IF the background was a bit simpler, I wonder if it would feel better to play. I get that simple backgrounds could feel a bit spartan, but something a bit less intense than what there is right now would make for a more playable and enjoyable experience. Also, dealing with having to move a great distance laterally when a big horizontal wall juts out can be problematic considering everything else that's out to get you.

The issues I have with Missileman preclude it from being an exceptional must-have in my eyes in the way that I'd say Downwell is a game you have to play. But, I love the core idea, and keep coming back to Missileman in order to keep trying to do better at it. The queasiness of the backgrounds is a huge turn-off, and I suggest watching some video of the game in order to see if it might be for you or not. If you can stomach it, give Missileman a shot, as it's a cool indie gem from Japan with a lot going for it.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • skylined87

    Spot on review. I thought it was a pretty cool game, maybe a little hard. But practice makes perfect!

  • Eric Zinke

    I'm getting a little bit of a River Raid vibe from the trailer. Might have to check this out.

Missileman Reviewed by Carter Dotson on . Rating: 4