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JadeDragon's reviews and playing tips: Pocket PC games

Anthelion by PDAmill, Price: $ 19.95
Reviewed November 2003 by Tony Peak

Anthelion is definitely an action shooter if there ever was one. The 16 game missions focus mainly on blowing something or somebody up. There’s not much, if any, thinking required here... It’s basically “This is your target and here’s your weapon… have fun.” And fun it is, though you won’t be making any deep strategies or detailed plans.

95% of the game is dogfights with other fighters, and the vast majority of them boil down to three basic strategies: 1) Tail them and destroy. 2) Use a missile. 3) Both pilots fly head on, firing until one is shot down. The third popped up by far the most often for me, and unfortunately this is rather strange. Your shield and weapons will make short work of even three enemies at once on the normal difficulty setting, and not much harder on the higher settings. Heck, you have enough shields to just ram the enemy, destroy the ship, and keep on flying. The shield regenerates mighty quickly, so you’ll be at full power again before you even spot the next fighter. It’s not to say the game’s a cakewalk, it’s frustratingly difficult at times… but you certainly have the upper hand.

Between the missions comes a nice storyline told via email communications with your fellow pirates. The story isn’t exactly epic, but PDAmill did a very convincing job of creating a small window into the Anthelion universe. You pretty much start right smack in the middle of things, and the conclusion is more or less the end of the chapter, than the book. All in all, the email greatly enhances the storyline over simple scrolling text narration. Since there are no cut scenes, the entire story comes from radio chatter and these emails. The actual missions themselves range from quick 2-minute runs to 7-minute affairs that could desperately use a checkpoint.

If the emails have one flaw, it’s that they try to be overly trendy. One of your wingmen will frequently use terms such as ‘awesome’, ‘dude’, ‘skillz’, and various emoticons. Are these pirates, or kids on AOL? It’s just plain out of character with the game. Other times you’ll receive spam messages, as parodies of current real life, spam schemes to the tune of the Anthelion universe. What’s more, there’s absolutely no way to reply to any email you receive. Multiple choice responses could have done so much for player involvement in the story.

I truly feel both from playing the game and from comments made by the lead programmer, that this game was made for button control. The button-based control is quite nice if you have a decent key layout and d-pad on your device. It felt quite solid on my Axim X5. Throttle control may be a bit clumsy, but it’s manageable. Personally, I would have liked “target enemy” to have defaulted to “Target next enemy”. But it’s a minor complaint. Stylus control is included, but it honestly seemed very messy.

There’s a lot of good things to say about the graphics and sounds in Anthelion. The ships and bases are all rendered very convincingly, from great distances or right up close. The HUD does its job well, and does little to get in the way. You can truly feel the sense of motion and distance as you travel and circle, yet the radar makes it very hard to get lost.

Anthelion sounds very clear and high quality. From the buzz of the lasers to the explosions of the ships, it all sounds convincing. Jaybot’s music is back in force, and provides a pleasant and mood setting background to the fun. I wouldn’t say it’s quite as distinctive as past titles such as Snails or Gamebox Solitaire, but it’s definitely an entertaining space score to keep things flowing.

In the end, Anthelion boils down to an arcade shooter with wonderfully rendered 3D graphics in high frame rate supported by a powerful 3D gracphic engine. Even though the game has an above average story, the game play is fun, exciting and challenging at times. Anthelion does a great job of capturing the fun of the dogfight while avoiding the more dull and tedious missions of most space shooters. While there’s room for improvement, I truly feel PDAmill has given us a shooter that’s both entertaining and easy to enjoy.

 

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Playing Hints and Tips

When using guided missiles, be sure to lock onto your target. The crosshairs will turn yellow if you keep the enemy in your sights, then red to show you have a lock. Fire, and it will chase the enemy. The smaller rockets usually take 2 or 3 to destroy a ship, so keep tracking and firing. This works best when chasing an enemy from behind or the side.

It's good to get in the habit of locking on an enemy, even if you plan to use lasers. Not only is the targeting information on the HUD helpful, you'll also get a targeting box showing you which direction the target is currently in.

Don't forget to lead your shots when using lasers. If the enemy ship is moving, you must fire ahead of the ship to connect the shots.
When chasing an enemy that's close to your ship, slow down on the throttle to gain sharper turning.

Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):

Graphics There may be a few pixilation problems, but that’s to be expected considering the hardware. Frame rate was quite solid in the version I played, with the occasional hiccup if you got too close to an afterburner but otherwise smooth. The GUI in the between mission emails is exceptional.
Sound Sound is absolutely rich and clear, as one would expect from PDAmill and Jaybot. A good range of effects nicely mixed with the background music, and all very fitting with the game. I would have enjoyed a more distinctive tune though.
Fun Meter The only thing better than a dogfight in space, is a whole heck of a lot of them. If you agree with that statement, you’ll have a lot of fun with Anthelion. There’s never a shortage of things to shoot, and the story keeps one following along with the mind as well. It’s not the greatest variety, but it is indeed fun.
Addictivity Unfortunately, the entire game is 100% linear. There are no choices to make, no paths to take. This hurts replay quite a bit. It’s also very hard to play on the go, both because of the level of attention it requires. The difficulty of certain missions may make one retire from the pirate life early, but it’s worth seeing it through. The bright side is I believe multiplayer play may be planned for a future version.


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