In the crowded genre of endless games, developers need to do more than ever to distinguish themselves. Some attempt to do it via heightened visuals and presentation while others do it by modifying core gameplay elements to try and differentiate themselves from the pack. Stay Alive [$0.99] falls more in the latter category, with the endless arcade shooter making some changes to what is otherwise a standard leaderboard oriented endless game. While these changes are interesting (and possibly controversial), Stay Alive doesn’t particularly separate itself from the pack as much as it may like.
Stay Alive has you piloting a starship through a perpetual asteroid field littered with enemy ships taking pot shots at you. In addition to avoiding all these hazards for as long as possible, your goal is also to pick up as many floating orbs as possible, which are currency for the upgrade store. Also littered throughout the playing field are power-ups that range from more ammo to a temporary laser weapon that lets you destroy everything in sight. OpenFeint leaderboard support (Game Center is not supported currently) keeps track of total kills across all games, as well as the longest distance traveled during one run. As is the case with most endless games, the primary goal is to beat your (and your friends) leaderboard scores.
From a presentation standpoint, Stay Alive is rather typical. The visuals are simplistic and lack the nostalgic personality that most games are looking to achieve with this art style. The same goes for its music, which has an 8-bit MIDI feel but isn’t as catchy as I’d like, especially considering that you’ll be hearing it time and time again with each run. There’s nothing particularly wrong with Stay Alive’s presentation; it’s just nothing out of the ordinary.
One area that Stay Alive succeeds in is with its controls. While decidedly simple (a quick swipe on the left side of the screen moves your ship up and down, while touching on the right side shoots your weapon in the direction you tapped), I thought the controls were very smooth and definitely responsive enough for the amount of close-knit navigating that this game requires. One minor complaint is with the location of your ship’s information (shields, ammo count, etc.), as it’s located right next to screen space for steering your ship and easily becomes partially concealed with your hands.
While endless shooters tend to reward players with cosmetic upgrades or items that provide limited gameplay advantages, Stay Alive’s reward system is a bit more significant and lasting. At the end of each run, players will have the opportunity to enter an in-game shop to spend those hard-earned orbs on ship upgrades. Upgrades range from increasing the inherent strength of your hull and shields to increasing the amount of starting ammunition and armor. These upgrades are permanent and allow your future runs to last just a bit longer.
While I’m a fan of the upgrade system and I think it improves replayability, it’s important to note that having a permanent upgrade system drastically changes the dynamic of Stay Alive in comparison to other endless shooters. Some of the appeal of other games in this genre is the fact that, when all is said and done, each player is competing on a somewhat level playing field, and the only main differentiators are skill and luck. While both of those variables still factor in Stay Alive, upgrades play a far more important role in the long run. In other words, you’ll going to have to play for quite a bit to get the upgrades needed to make a dent in the leaderboards.
There are a lot of gamers that may be inherently turned off by this change to the endless shooters formula, especially since it effectively turns leaderboard chasing into a grind. In that respect, Stay Alive does lose a lot of its appeal with fans of the core genre and may be passed over. On the other hand, folks that may not be the best at endless games might appreciate this change, as more playtime means more orbs and the greater chance of being able to easily go further in a run. Regardless, if being first on the leaderboard isn’t the end-all of your enjoyment, then Stay Alive does offer enough in terms of fast-paced gameplay and replayability to warrant checking out.