Geometry Wars, Smash TV, and Robotron were titles from the early days of the XBox Live Arcade. The main idea behind them was what we now call "twin-stick shooters," and they're everywhere on every system. The Xbox Live Indie games have brought many of those games to life- some good, some bad. You have to search for the good stuff, but if you need help finding that stuff, then simply look for this name: Radiangames. Almost every title is a twin stick shooter or variation of a twin stick, save two: Crossfire and Crossfire 2.
The games are good. In fact, they're damn good, and are only $1 per title. For $7 you can get all of the games from Radiangames and feel that maybe you should have paid more due to the quality of the games. Like all independent titles, there are no achievements or gamerscore. For some reason this is a problem to some gamers, and I suppose if they were included more people would be inclined to purchase indie titles. Those who do this are missing out on some seriously good stuff.
The first title we'll look at is:
Ironically it's the latest title from Radiangames, but in our alphabetical listings it's first on this page, but who cares about that? Remember those titles mentioned above? This one is a Geometry Wars clone at its most flattering. The graphics are simple, smooth, awesome. The music is simple, enjoyable, and fit very nice into the background (it won't get in the way or distract you.) Gameplay goes on forever, but I don't last longer than 10 minutes at a clip in these games, but I'm a masochist. I keep playing to move up the leaderboard.
A cool addition to the Geometry Wars gameplay is the selectable weapons: reflected shots, mega bombs, remote bombs, speed, double damage, rapid fire, seeker. My personal choice is reflected shots, double damage, and rapid fire. This adds to the confusion onscreen, but the destruction is impressive, and I like it. You can change your combinations of weapons every 5 waves, but it's easy to fall in love with one or two weapons, or have trouble deciding between weapons.
There's so much going on at once onscreen that you could get visually overwhelmed, and this can lead to deaths that make you go "But I moved!" or "Bullshit!" That's the sign of a good arcade title! The one thing that does seem to get in the way a little bit, almost every bit of information about the game is onscreen at once. I mean everything. Wave number. Wave progress. Destroyed enemies. Bombs remaining. Multiplier level. Bomb score. Weapons. Shots hit... shots blocked.. player name.. score... It's a bit much!
You will definitely get more than your dollars worth with Ballistic, and will whet your appetite for the rest of what Radiangames has to offer.
Crossfire & Crossfire 2
What do you get with Crossfire after spending your hard earned dollar? 50 levels of retro madness, that's what you get. Oh, it's not instant madness all at once. Crossfire will lull you in with a few easy stages. This is Space Invaders, you think. Well, sort of. Space Invaders with 2 planes of play, the top of the screen while shooting down, and the bottom of the screen while shooting up. This is cool, as it allows you to hop back and forth, dodging enemy fire as they fire downscreen, while your on the top of the screen, shooting down at them! Excellent! Starting the first round is simple enough, but it soon turns into a strategic shooter of saving super weapons, picking which enemies to shoot first, and when to crossover from the top off the screen to the bottom of the screen. And after you crossover, how quickly will you be destroyed by incoming fire? Twitch Strategy is necessary for this stuff.
Thankfully, as the game's difficulty ramps up, you will be able to collect purple gems that fall out of your enemies. The gems fall away from you to the opposite side of the screen. If you're on top, they will fall to the bottom of the screen, while if you're on the bottom- you got it! When your power bar beneath your ship is full, you hit the X button for some serious damage for a few seconds. If you can juggle your gems right, you can blow through some stages quickly and without dying, which will add to your score. Doing so will get you bonus scores for every level you do one, or the other, or both. Nice!
There is a good variety of enemies as well. Some will fire laser beams down at you (screen, below), some will fire shrapnel at you when they're destroyed, others will have shielded sides, and some are dependent on another enemy for keeping them alive. This adds to the strategy from the higher levels, I'm thinking Level 38 and Level 46-50. The movements of the ships demand skill, and also require a little luck. It's unclear which is needed more, but I'll take both with a chaser of Pepsi, please!
Above: Where should I be firing from, the Top or the Bottom of the screen!?
After clearing out Level 50, you unlock Megawave and Turbo modes. Megawave is, from what I can tell, an endless parade of enemy formations in some seriously difficult layouts. The reason I say "I can tell", is that I cannot for the life of me get past the 4th grouping of enemies. The press release says beating Megawave unlocks a Megawave Turbo, but I think I'd really suck at that one. When I get close, a nice bullet or 10 find their way into my ship. Then there's Turbo. I must admit I vomited in my mouth when I saw that mode, it conjured up feelings of the Atari XBLA games and the Throttle Monkey modes, where they ramp up the speed of the entire game to unplayable speeds. Thankfully, for my sake and my controller's sake, the Turbo is the speed of the shots. I can deal with that. I may die quick, I may die often, but I will not die cheap like the Throttle Monkey shit. This Turbo mode gets thumbs up, and the occasional middle finger.
The graphics in this game are great, vector style like the old Space Invaders, shiny colorful graphics like Geometry Wars, wrapped into a game all its own. The programmers made this game thinking like a gamer. It's enjoyable to play a game that is made with the loving hands of a gamer. So much death.. so much joy.. want more? Then there's Crossfire 2:
Crossfire 2 takes the style and gameplay of Crossfire, and ups the madness: bigger groupings of enemies with more challenging arrangements; more insane weapons; more strategy; more goodness. An interesting thing about the weapons upgrades is the ability to swap the upgrades to different weapons depending on what types of weapons you want or need on the next level. This is a welcome update, as well as the larger enemies with a slightly more varied pattern of attack. The screen has more going on and presents an awesome challenge, and if you don't think it's challenging enough, you can switch the difficulty level you're playing on.
You can blow through the game in one sitting, I think it took me around 1 1/2 hrs to do it. But like many classic arcade titles before it, you'll be coming back for just one more play and another run at the online leaderboards. Again, this is another no-brainer purchase from Radiangames.
Ok, put your guns down. Radiangames brings you Fluid, a game of time trial and avoidance levels. The object is to clear all of the spheres laid out in paths across the screen. It's sort of like those small mercury puzzle games that us old timers reminisce with morbid curiosity and fascination. Better yet, you are the piece of mercury, if you will, playing the roll of Pac-Man. The levels get increasingly more difficult as the game goes on, not to mention that each dot you eat turns into a jellyfish that chases you around and generally get in the way. As stated before, the two modes of play are Time Trial and Avoidance levels. The time trials has the time ticking down, so you have to hurry to get it clear before the time is up, and the speed you do it will determine you grade. The Avoidance levels start the clock at zero, and you rush through the levels avoiding the hatched jellyfish that will chase you, while trying to get your best time. Sounds easy enough, but it's definitely challenging.
On some levels, there are power-ups that turn your Mercury into Super Mercury that can eat the little jellyfish chasing you. Or squish. Whichever you think, either way the enemies disappear. Another power-up is the whirlwind, which sucks all the enemies into an area, clearing more space so you can get through it quicker. On the board, there are also worm hole warp tunnels, and super-speed arrows which, if you catch enough in a row, your speed will get you going faster than you can control. I know, it happened to me several times already. The screenshot below shows the placement of arrows that could lead to your untimely and speedy demise.
Graphically, the game looks great, much like the other games in Radiangames' stable. They look the same, but they are all pleasing, and of course easily trump some of the XBox Live Arcade titles out there. I guess you could call this a Single-Stick Non-Shooter. The music is Ok, but that's all it really needs to be. The game is 30 levels long, add another 5 extreme levels if you score well enough by rating high enough: “All 3+ Stars to Unlock Extreme Levels”. You can easily blow through the base game in under an hour, but you'll probably want to get better times to get a 5 Gold Medal rating, as well as unlock the extra extreme levels. $1 for this? Sold, even before a trial period.
The twin-stick shooter at one time was in danger of taking over the XBox Live Arcade as well as XBLIndie Games. Thankfully, they haven't, but some of those games you'll find on both services are pretty good titles. Another one of those is JoyJoy, a pastel-paletted twin-stick shooter. This is a straight-forward Geometry Wars clone that adds a few other things into the mix, and is much more pleasing to the eye. I love vector graphics and GeoWars, but JoyJoy just feels calm and happy, even though you are blowing away tons of enemy ships. Even the music makes me feel at peace with laying waste to all of these enemies. Hmm, that ship look like the Microsoft Points logo:
The available weapons in the game are the usual: gatling guns, spread fires, homing missiles, big bullets, etc., but so far my favorite weapon is the Reflex. Not just a cool Duran Duran song, this weapon hits the side of the arena and bounces around making for a dizzying pastel disco effect on the screen. These weapons can be charged by holding down the right trigger button, and when you release the button the screen is filled with bullets flying out to lay waste to onscreen enemies. There is a Vortex power up which will suck in enemies like a vacuum cleaner, and while they are stuck in the vortex you can pick them off with no worries. Another power up is the Burst. This will fire homing shots across the screen for a limited time, kind of like a second player onscreen helping your out.
Above: I'm lost, but I think I'm still alive!
JoyJoy is another low-price XBLIndie Game, but for some reason I think they could have charged more. I mean, Go!Go! Break Steady is $10, and it's totally worthless even just to demo it for free. Sign in to XBox Live and download JoyJoy. You know you want to. Which brings us to Inferno:
Hey! You got Geometry Wars in my Gauntlet! Inferno, from Radiangames, takes the dungeon crawling of Gauntlet, and mixes it with the nutty gameplay of Geometry Wars, and creates a game that is challenging and visually pleasing. Simply put, it's the Evolution of JoyJoy. You control your ship through a labyrinth of enemies, collecting points and gold (gold is used as currency to upgrade your ship's weapons, defenses, and drones) while blasting your way through a noticeably spherical contingent of enemies. First thing you'll notice when you start this one up, the graphics are really slick. The color palette is fairly simple, but the colors used are pleasing and don't deter from your task of blowing away dungeon after dungeon of enemies.
Below: Looks great, plays smooth
Through the maze, there are various corpulent enemies to attack and destroy. Much like Gauntlet, you've got your Grunts that are infinitely pumped out of Generators until you destroy those generators. The Purple Spikey Balls will take shots until they explode and fire shots in every direction. It's best to try and position yourself near a corner to destroy them without harming your ship. Not to be outdone, there are Pink Turrets that will track your movements and open fire on you. The good thing is they don't move around, the bad thing is their shots move pretty fast and they home in on you. Nice. There are Black Spheres of Death that will not fire or take damage from your fire. The purpose of those Black Spheres are to follow you through the maze and cause damage unless you take them out with a Smart Bomb. If you have no smart bombs, you could try and fly past them with your Shield activated. Your shield will lose its charge while you use it, and will re-charge when you're not.
Below: Careful! Destroying Purple Spikey Balls will shoot out lasers in all directions.
As you go through the game, you'll eventually have to start picking up Keys to unlock doors represented by barriers across hallways. So by now you've got Gold, Keys, PowerUps- thank God there will be nobody mocking you by saying: "Blue Wizard shot the food!" There are also stores on each level for you to purchase power ups like homing lasers, more bombs, more drones, shields, and spread shots.
For an independent game, and a fairly inexpensive one at $1 on XBLIndie Games, Inferno is an enjoyable melding of the dungeon crawler and the twin-stick shooter, and rivals higher-priced XBLA titles in terms of gameplay and quality. If you like those types of games, you won't be disappointed. Actually, go online and download JoyJoy and Inferno, and make a night of it.
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