By Eric Pankoke on Wed, 04/28/2010
It’s been a while since I’ve mentioned it (at least since the last time I reviewed a scrolling shooter), but I love scrolling shooters. They don’t even necessarily have to be very original, though it certainly doesn’t hurt. They just have to look good, sound good, and have solid play mechanics. Oh yeah, they have to be fun as well. I’d even be able to overlook the audio and visuals to an extent if the game played well. Fortunately, Above And Below plays pretty well indeed. It also looks sharp and sounds good. Unfortunately the controls need a bit of work. Surprisingly, I’m okay with that.
The game takes place during World War I, which is actually atypical for this style of game. Even the most famous ones such as 1942 and 1943 stuck to World War II or more recent times. Honestly, though, other than the fact that it means you’re dealing with slightly older equipment technologically, I don’t think the setting has much impact on the game. It’s just nice to not be inundated with full screen laser beams and crippling pulse waves for once (but don’t get me wrong – I like those things). What’s even more cool is that you actually play a German pilot, something you rarely see at all in any style of war game. Whether you consider it right or wrong, it’s always nice to be reminded that there is more than one side to a war.
Anyway, I’m not going to beat around the bush here. Above And Below is pretty typical when it comes to game play. You start with campaign mode, where you play through a series of missions that are mainly of the “you must survive” or “you must destroy X percentage of enemies” variety. Every time you beat a mission that mission is unlocked in Mission mode, which allows you to pick a single mission to play. Your basic job during each mission is to steer. The plane shoots automatically, and there’s no way to disable that feature. As you destroy enemies they’ll leave behind money and sometimes power ups.
The power ups range from tools to repair damage you’ve suffered to special ammunition that you can use in a pinch. You have three power ups that you can activate. Camo turns you into a “ghost” and gives you temporary invulnerability. Ammo allows you to use whatever special weapons you’ve collected. There are three types of special weapon, and pressing Ammo activates them all at once. This is a bit of a shame, as it would be nice to be able to select which one(s) you want to use. Finally there’s boost, which temporarily makes everything but you go slower. At the end of each mission, whether you succeed or fail, you’ll get the opportunity to visit the store. Anything you can pick up can also be purchased in the store. Additionally, you can upgrade the power of your basic gun as well as buy armor in the shop.
You move the plane using the accelerometer. The first thing you’ll need to do is go to the settings and calibrate, otherwise the game will be unplayable. Even when you do calibrate, I find the accelerometer control a little too fidgety for my tastes. I would much prefer the standard method of controlling the plane by dragging my finger on the screen. In addition to basic movement you have two special moves that can be executed once you pick up the corresponding icons. The barrel roll is performed by swiping left or right, and will destroy whatever’s in your path when you roll. The stronger move – the loop – is executed by swiping up on the screen. This move will destroy everything on the screen. The response on these moves is pretty good.
Besides touch control of the ship, the main improvement I’d like to see is in the difficulty level. The game is no walk in the park, but infinite continues and the ability to upgrade even when you lose a level means that you’re eventually going to beat the game even if you’re not very good. While this is great for someone like me, I think there should be a difficult setting where upgrades are only available after successfully beating a mission and continues are limited. As it stands right now the game is fun for one time through, but there’s no real replay value.
I love Above And Below’s visual style. First of all, everything is incredibly detailed and very well drawn. What I really like, though, is the game’s use of color. The planes and other foreground objects are brightly colored (relatively speaking), while the background is done up in shades of grey or possibly green at times, though the green could be just me misinterpreting grey. For some reason the backgrounds remind me of old postcards. This game has some pretty slick weather effects as well. I’m a sucker for weather effects anyway, but it’s not very often that a rain storm in this type of game is accompanied by lightening. The other thing – and I’m not sure if this is real or my brain playing tricks on me – is that it seems like the weather actually effects game play. If I’m noticing that right, then it’s about time!
The sound effects are decent, but for the most part pretty typical. I do like the progress meter, which looks and sounds like someone sending Morse code. The cracks of lightening sound pretty convincing as well. The noise I don’t like, though it’s a great indicator of state, is the warning alarm when you’re almost dead. At least it’s annoying enough to be incentive for you to try and get some repair kits! I’m a bit disappointed with the music. Typically Pastel Games products have fun and wacky music, and while I know that wouldn’t fit the context of this game, the music that is playing is too short and repetitive. It sounds good, but it really needs to have a few extra bars thrown in before looping back to the beginning.
In the end, Above And Below is a solid, fun vertical shooter. There’s nothing really that we haven’t seen before, but all the parts come together as an entertaining whole in this game. The art is well done, and the sound effects help bring the world to life. The game is structured in such a way that progression feels natural and appropriately paced. They do need to do some work on the controls, which of course will just make things better. If you’re in the mood for a decent World War I combat game, this is a good place to start. General shooter fans will probably want to give this a go as well.
Overall Score: 7/10
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