iPhone Game Review: Fast Striker
Reviewed by Tim Harvey
Fast Striker by NG:DEV.TEAM is, surprisingly, the latest game for the Neo Geo, an arcade and home console that made a splash as a 24-bit gaming machine during the 16-bit era as well as one of the latest bullet hell shooters for the iOS. Bullet hells, or danmakus as they are known as in Japan, emphasize quick reflexes, high scores, and lots of brightly colored projectiles flying across the screen.
As a big danmaku fan, I had high hopes for Fast Striker, and there are moments where you begin to feel yourself entering bullet hell zen--an exhilarating state in which your rising heart rate normalizes and you feel totally as one with the action on the screen--and I have no doubt that if I were playing this game on a console or in an arcade those moments would stretch across entire levels, credits, and feverish multiple playthroughs of the 6 frantically-paced levels. This port, however, frequently pulls me out of the gaming experience due to a clunky interface and controls that just don?t do the game justice.
As mentioned, you'll need to dodge and weave through 6 levels of intensifying waves of enemies and bullet patterns to capture the holy grail of bullet hell heaven: the high score. This can be done in four different modes: novice, the easiest; original, a step up that sees you collecting additional items for points (in novice you collect gold stars and in original you collect little metallic things that I really have no word for and gold nuggets); maniac, which ups the ante considerably and adds a chaining mechanic that increases your multiplier as well as a proximity mechanic that allows you to increase your score by shooting enemies from a lesser distance, and finally omake, which is Japanese for "bonus." Omake seems to be a much more difficult version of maniac mode, but it's tough to say for certain, because Fast Striker's tutorial is extremely basic and doesn't even cover omake mode, or several other powerups or aspects of the game, such as a ghostly, Muppet-looking character that appears at times and changes the enemy drops, although I have not been able to ascertain exactly what effect this has on the game.
Another area where Fast Striker falls short is in the proprietary leaderboards it uses. If you want to check out your scores you'll have to let the app kick you over to a web page where you'll only be able to see your ranking if you rate in the top?actually I'm not sure?maybe 50? It's actually not a problem at the moment since none of the leaderboards even have enough participants to show the limit, (original has the most with a measly 30 scores uploaded), but I'm sure there is one, and assuming more people start to play the game it could be an annoying problem in the future. One of the joys of playing arcade titles on iOS is that, when a game uses Game Center or Openfeint you can easily compare your scores to players around the world and your social network of friends. In fact, until the first update to the game, NG:DEV.TEAM didn't include any leaderboards at all, which was frankly a terrible omission for a danmaku. If you can't play competitively for a high score in a game like this, there's very little replay value since you'll beat each mode in around 20 minutes if you use continues. Of course, if you don't use continues, which is what's required to upload a high score, it'll take most players several, or on the higher difficulty levels, dozens of attempts to beat each mode without using a continue.
Finally, the biggest issue Fast Striker has is its controls. There is just no real comfortable way of playing the game, particularly if you're already accustomed to some of the precedents that have been set by other bullet hell shooters for iOS. Part of this has to do with the original game's aspect ratio--as a port of the arcade title, the game simple doesn't fit the screen size of an iPhone or iPod Touch. This wouldn't be a big problem, but for the way the gameplay demands you must move your ship all around the screen, dodging shots that come from behind as well as from the front. Due to the lack of customization in the image aspect ratio, the most obvious solution to covering a screen with your hand or finger when playing a game that demands you see the entire screen at once--making a dead spot at the bottom where your finger movement would determine your ship's movement--is impossible without shrinking the visible play area to less than half of the screen's real estate. Unfortunately, this is currently the best option for play, meaning you'll be squinting to see what's going on onscreen.
If the game implemented a multi-touch movement scheme that allowed you to seamlessly swap thumbs to control your ship while playing in the larger, landscape orientation mode, or if the movement sensitivity were greater then it wouldn't be necessary to play in the tiny portrait mode. Hopefully NG:DEV.TEAM will look at some further control options as well as implementing Game Center in a future update.
For all my complaints, the game does run smoothly and for brief moments it plays very well, even if boss fights often seem to end before they really get started.
Apart from the need to choose to play using either a tiny image in portrait mode or the larger landscape image with less than ideal controls, the presentation is very good, and this is due to the graphics. Partially because it does retain its original image aspect ratio, the graphics are quite clear for an arcade port and the ship sprites and enemies have a cool sort of sheen to them and are more nicely animated than you'd expect from a game that mostly depicts spaceships shooting at each other. Backgrounds look very good also, with some cool parallax scrolling that adds depth, however they get very bland after a few stages and you're liable to stop noticing them.
Do you like thumping techno beats? I hope so, because that's what you're getting with Fast Striker, and lots of it. I think the music works well with the game, and I quite enjoy it. Unfortunately, if you're not one for the pounding techno, you'll have no recourse but to turn the sound completely off as the game does not support iPod library play, nor are there any sound control options that allow you to play with sound effects and no music.
Speaking of the sound effects, they're good enough. There are explosion sounds, laser fire sounds, the female computer voice that tells you when you've collected a shield power up or lost a chain, and a weird sound that the enemy that gives you the shield power up makes when you shoot it. That's pretty much it, but the total soundtrack does a workmanlike job of filling up the game so you don't really notice much beside the music.
What could have been one of the best shoot 'em ups on the app store is, as of this writing, still a very frustrating experience overall due to a lack of polish and features. I am hopeful that NG:DEV.TEAM keep at improving Fast Striker, as I see a ton of potential in the title, but in its current state I can't recommend it to anyone but the most hardcore of bullet hell fans.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Graphics: - 4 - Cool and glossy space shooting visuals are really the highlight of this game at the moment, even with some repetitive background art.
Sound: - 3.5 - A very good soundtrack and competent sound effects do well for the game, but the lack of options and absence of iPod music support leave something to be desired.
Controls: - 2 - There is really no way to enjoy the game as it was meant to be with the controls as they currently are. The controls just don't work the way they should, and as a result the gameplay also suffers greatly.
Gameplay: - 3 - Brief moments of excellence are marred by niggling issues with the way the game works. Fortunately there is some variety in gameplay modes, but poorly implemented leaderboards and a lack of gameplay options drags the whole experience down.
Overall: - 3 - If you love your danmakus, pick this up, but if you have no idea what I just said, approach with caution.
If you like this game, check out:
rRootage Online HD
Space Invaders Infinity Gene
Updated: April 21, 2011
Buy App: Fast Striker
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