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‘Kyotokei: Polarity Shooter’ Review – An Inspired Horizontal Shoot’em-Up

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Kyotokei: Polarity shooter [$1.99] is a bullet-hell horizontal shoot’em-up which appears to be quite heavily inspired by Ikaruga, which hit the arcades in 2001 and was deployed on the Xbox 360 in 2008. Kyotokei was released on the Wii earlier this year, with two player co-op mode, but this iOS version delivers just the single player mode.

This side-scrolling game has five levels to beat, with three difficulty levels (Easy, Normal or Hard). You’re given the traditional three lives to play with, but also receive two credits to avoid the “game-over" message and continue your game a little longer.

Your spaceship (err, I mean boy-on-a-colored-bird) is always surrounded by a “protection aura", which looks like a bubble shield. Your bird and aura are either red or blue and there’s a button for alternating between these two colors. Your aura absorbs any bullets from enemies of a like-color. So, if your aura is blue, it will absorb any blue bullets, but red bullets will still harm you. Surprisingly, your hair also changes color for some reason!? Or perhaps you become the female character – I just can’t tell.

When the screen fills up with red bullets, that’s a good time to turn your aura red. But if the screen is filled with a mixture of both red and blue bullet patterns, you’ll have to either dodge them or change colors in quick succession. Dodging bullets and lasers is a recurring activity. You can shoot down enemies of either color, but avoid colliding with any enemies or you’ll die. This type of color-based game-play was used ten years ago by Ikaruga, and the missile attacks look like that game too.

Absorbing like-colored bullets also charges up your power bar. Once 10 shots are absorbed, a homing missile button appears, giving you a more powerful new weapon. To increase your score, you can shoot multiple enemies of one color in sequence – but this higher scoring chain is broken when you die, switch color, or destroy a different colored enemy. Same color chains and a similar power-up bar were both features of Ikaruga.

The backgrounds in this bullet-laden scroller are nicely varied, including grassy landscapes as you speed over the plains and forest scenes as you fly through the swamp at differing speeds, with rain effects. You also fly alongside a mountain range and enter some caves. The backgrounds scroll automatically and occasionally transition, such as lifting from the plains into the clouds above, which is a cool effect. Actually, similar transition effects were seen in …you guessed it, Ikaruga.

Two control options are provided. The recommended control system is “TOUCH", which involves sliding your finger anywhere on the left side of the screen to move your boy-on-a-bird, which automatically fires rapidly unless you lift your finger. This works reasonable well, although your fingers often obscure the action or run out of space. The alternate control system is named “ARCADE" and uses a virtual pad, fixed at the bottom left, for moving. This felt floaty, slightly laggy, and not responsive enough to maneuver through a screen full of bullets, so the TOUCH controls were preferable.

The enemies are an interesting bunch. Evil creatures with continuous lazers shooting out of their eyes need to be shot down, I can understand that. And blasting the flesh off a nasty snake-like dragon thing so it becomes a skeleton – I get that too. But I’m not sure what the airborne manga-style teenage girls in swimsuits or cute little flying fairies ever did to deserve our wrath (…but I took them out regardless).

If the screen announces “Warning! warning! warning!" and a siren sounds, it’s never good news! Here, it means a boss-fight is approaching. Some of the earlier enemies don’t have health bars, so it’s not obvious if you’re hurting them. So it was pleasing too see health bars displayed for the boss battles, which occur at the end of the level.

When your three lives are used up, the screen counts down from 10, during which you can continue using one of your two allocated credits.  Once your credits are depleted, it’s “Game Over". You can enter your three initials into the high score table, just like the old arcade days. The local leaderboard has 10 pre-programmed scores to beat. And you’re given a rank letter for your performance. I just scored an “E" on easy mode, which is probably a bad rating, but I like to think it stands for “Excellent!"

You can start a new game from any of the levels you’ve previously reached and unlocked, without returning to the very beginning each time, making the later levels more accessible for less experienced players. The iTunes description focuses on some characters, a storyline, and a mission, but there’s no mention of any storyline or characters or mission in the game so far (with just one level left to unlock).

Kyotokei: Polarity Shooter doesn’t deliver many levels, but the ones provided have varied backgrounds, a decent range of enemies of various sizes, boss battles, and entertaining full-screen bullet-and-lazer-hell action. It may be criticized for borrowing too much from Ikaruga, but it’s certainly fun to play.

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