iPhone Game Review: Underground
Underground is a side-scrolling shooter full of gritty atmosphere set in a graffiti-filled subway journey. You travel from station to station as the game's story unfolds around a mysterious "Mr. Frames".
All of the game's elements including your ship, enemies, and terrain obstacles consist of graffiti artwork that seems to come to life. Your ship transforms from a simple paint can into a sleek fighter and various, sometimes bizarre, looking enemies come at you from all directions.
The entire game is presented in discrete levels and there are no checkpoints, so if your game is interrupted or you must quit and return later, you'll start at the beginning of the last level you have reached.
At its most basic, Underground is a side-scrolling shooter. You must guide your ship through various obstacles while avoiding a myriad of enemies and their bullets. There are a lot of different enemy types, over 60 in number, and each of them behave differently from one another. Some actively chase your ship, others follow predetermined paths, some bounce or do somersaults. In addition, the enemies can fire in different patterns or upon death let loose a spray of bullets you'll have to dodge.
There are also various powerups to collect including different bullet types for your ship, extra lives, shields, and time slow downs. These are also cleverly represented as different items like a digital watch for the slowdown powerup or an ID card for an extra life. If at all possible, you need to make every effort to collect these powerups, as they are vital for your survival.
The game includes two different control schemes: touch or tilt. The tilt scheme includes a calibration screen so that you can set the angle of your device and the tilt sensitivity. I had the sensitivity turned all the way up, but I found the ship, even then, to move too sluggishly to dodge effectively. The touch option allows you to place your finger relative to the ship so that you do not obscure your view of your it. Unfortunately, I found that if you did not put your finger directly or almost directly on top of the ship this would prevent you from fully moving from edge to edge on the screen and because of the nature of the game, you need to be able to move all over the screen freely. Both control schemes utilize multi touch; either touch or tilt with your left hand and use your right to focus the direction of your ship's fire.
One thing that is neat, is that during the course of the game, you'll be faced with choices where you can choose to stay on your train or get off ride another line giving the game a branching storyline.
Underground's graphics are really nice and polished. I like the different touches like your ship evolving from a paint can and the enemies all being different pieces of graffiti art. In between levels you'll find yourself at nicely rendered subway stops, before heading off to do battle during another subway ride which will take place on the side of a graffiti covered subway train.
The game's sound effects are pretty basic with basic sounds for your ship shooting and the sound of pressurized paint being sprayed when you die.
However, the background music is a nice edgy hip hop beat that fits in nicely with the overall theme of the game and really just complements it perfectly.
-Game presentation - the subway journey theme combined with the graffiti artwork and hip-hop music make an overall very polished package.
-Infinite retries - if you die in a level, you can keep trying until you pass it and you'll definitely be doing that a lot.
-Storyline - it is neat to see a shooter integrate a storyline into the game including having the player making plot decisions that affect what level you'll be playing next.
-Control schemes - neither one of these worked for me. The tilt scheme was too sluggish while the touch scheme had me obscuring my view and restricting my movement.
-No achievements or global high scores
Overall, I really liked the theme and presentation of the game. The graffiti artwork was really neat to see superbly integrated into the game. Everything was very nicely polished and lent itself to the overall game experience.
Unfortunately, the one thing that really frustrated me were the controls. The tilt option would not allow you to move nimbly enough while the touch option made you obscure your vision. In Underground the enemies can literally come from all directions including directly behind you, and it is imperative you be able to see what you're doing. I really think the game needs a virtual stick control for the ship where small movements of your left thumb can let you fly freely all over the screen while you direct your fire using your right hand.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Graphics: -5- Graffiti graphics and the subway theme provided a great backdrop.
Sound: -4- Background music was nice, but the sound effects are somewhat bland.
Controls: -3.5- Tilt and touch control schemes both left me highly frustrated
Gameplay: -4.5- A branching storyline combined with a compelling theme.
Playing Hints and Tips:
-Make every effort to pick up all powerups as they will save your life.
-Watch your back. Enemies can come from all directions including from behind your ship.
Developer: Kinelco Limited
Release Date: September 15, 2009
Genre: Sidescrolling Shooter
Buy Game: iTunes App Store
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