By Eric Pankoke on Thu, 08/18/2011
I did a review of Space Ship Ion back when it was SSI:Zero, it was free, and it turned out to be only a two level preview of the full game (which wasn’t available at the time). Now that I’ve gotten my hands on the full version I’ve reached basically the same conclusion I had before – this game is a blast. I’m not quite ready to say it’s my favorite vertical shooter for the iOS, but it certainly ranks up at the top. Between cool enemy design, and neat upgrade system, and well balanced game play, there’s a lot to like in this war against the aliens.
There’s actually a bit of a story to this game, but for me that’s almost overkill in a vertical shooter unless it somehow affects the ending. Regardless, the main thing you need to know is that you’re an elite pilot and you need to destroy everything you’re up against. That should be easy enough to handle, right? You take command of the space ship Ion, and you must defeat several waves of hostile aliens in order to keep the invaders occupied while Earth can form a suitable defense. To pilot your ship you can use either tilt or touch controls, and they are both enabled at the same time so that you don’t have to change any settings to switch from one to the other. As usual I prefer the touch controls for this type of game, though the tilt control seems fairly responsive. Firing is automatic, but using bombs requires a double-tap on the screen, and this does seem a bit flaky to me. I often have to tap 3 or 4 times before a bomb is released.
Your ship has four weapons slots on the side, one on the front and rear, and shield slot. You start with a front weapon, and on the first level collect two side weapons. You also earn money which allows you to buy more weapons and a shield. You even have 4 cargo bay slots, so you can buy different weapons without necessarily returning your old ones. However, you can sell off weapons to earn some money back if you’d like. In addition to collecting credits on the field you can get power ups to level up your weapons, as well as a repair item to fix part of your hull. The latter is fairly rare, though, so if you can afford it I’d suggest the $100 fee to repair your hull between each level. You can also buy extra lives and bombs, neither of which can actually be picked up during game play.
The game has three difficulty levels, and I played on Normal, which is SSI’s version of easy. At first it almost feels like things are going to be a walk in the park, but once level three starts the opposition ramps up nicely. There are definitely times where plenty of bullets are flying, but it never falls to the cop-out level of “bullet hell”, where the only challenge is to survive long enough to get to a checkpoint or something. The critters come at you in formations, so if you’re one of those people that can memorize patterns you’ll master this game quickly. For those of us that rest somewhere in the middle, the game provides a nice challenge without ever getting frustrating.
The backgrounds in Space Ship Ion are kind of blah. It’s not that they are bad, but there’s nothing very memorable about them. The alien designs more than make up for that, however. They did a really good job of making each level feel unique in terms of what you are fighting, and some of the boss monsters are just crazy. I’d say this definitely has one of the best casts of bad guys in a scrolling shooter for the iOS. The characters for cut scenes have a cool anime style about them, and I like the fact that your weapons’ output visibly changes as they level up.
Like the backgrounds, the sound effects are nothing special. Given that you’re dealing with lots of nasty aliens I think there was some missed potential in the noise department. Several of the bosses make some distinct sounds, but it feels like it’s more integrated into the music than anything. Speaking of music, this game has some solid tunes. They have an epic quality that befits an intergalactic space battle, and I keep waiting for someone like Vin Diesel to pop up with a cameo.
If you’re a fan of scrolling shooters or have been waiting for the right opportunity to try one, Space Ship Ion is a good choice for you. It’s challenging without succumbing to “bullet hell” syndrome, the alien enemies are cool, and the upgrade system is quite nice. Three difficulty levels and several medals to unlock will keep you coming back for more, and if you enjoy the game the ending will get you really excited. Are you ready to become Earth’s best alien eliminator?
Overall Score: 9/10
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