Big Bang Mini

   10/12/2008 at 21:41       Richard Horne       0 COMMENTS.
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With developers now well and truly into the swing of making games for Nintendo's diminutive dual-screened hand-held, we're seeing less and less titles with touch screen controls shoe-horned into games just for the sake of it. And the number of unique titles being developed that are specifically tailored to the DS's exclusive features is fast increasing with a veritable smorgasbord of weird and wonderful titles now available. And Big Bang Mini, developed by Arkedo Studios and published by Southpeak Games, looks set to continue that trend in some style. It simply could not be played using the traditional d-pad and face buttons, it just wouldn't work and there are very few other games like it.

Big Bang Mini is quite a difficult title to pigeon hole or categorise. It takes its visual cues from Boom Boom Rocket. Its bullet hell gameplay mechanics owe a great debt to the Ikaruga school of shoot-em ups and it also somehow manages to follow hot in the footsteps of Space Invaders Extreme with its short level based objectives that are played out on a glittering playfield accompanied by a pumping electro soundtrack.

The main gameplay mechanics are relatively simple. You take control of a triangular shaped ship/fireworks launcher by dragging the stylus around the touch-screen to control its position. Stroking the stylus upwards quickly in a match striking motion launches fireworks that shoot from your ship up to the top screen. If these hit the enemy units that traverse the top screen, stars are released that float down to the bottom of the touch-screen. If you collect enough of these stars to fill your power bar you progress to the next level. But there is a key twist. Every firework you launch that doesn't hit an enemy object, explodes when it gets to the top of the top screen, and the resulting debris/bullets then fall to the bottom screen, which you then have to skilfully avoid with the stylus.

It becomes immediately apparent that success in the game relies on you delicately trying to strike a fine balance between firing off enough fireworks to dispose of the enemy units on the top screen while also trying to simultaneously minimise the amount of falling debris, triggered by your stray fireworks.

The game is broken up into various worlds with each set in a unique themed region. These worlds are then broken down further into 9 individual levels with a boss battle rounding off proceedings. During my time with the game I had access to the first 7 levels of the first world, which is set in Hong Kong. And each level in this particular world begins with you sat on a train looking out of the window at an impressively modelled (for the DS) 3d skyline. The camera then zooms in on the window and out into the night sky before the light show and action begins.

As each world is uniquely themed, the enemies you're required to shoot are a reflection of that theme, and so the Hong Kong level is populated by predictable but appropriate enemies such as pigs, monkeys, fans, lanterns, dragons and bizarre giant floating pandas. Graphically, it's pretty impressive for a DS title, with the 3-dimensional backgrounds and action whizzing by at a fair old pace. The lighting and explosion effects are also hugely effective and the Chemical Brothers-lite electro dance music helps increase the tempo and tension of the action while also providing some funky background music for you play along to.

Every completed level triggers a throwaway bonus round where you're required to drag your ship between numbered circles in order to join up a formation of stars, and successfully doing so reveals a constellation and marks that level as complete.

As is to be expected with the first introductory world of a game, and particularly with the DS's primary audience in mind, the first few levels are fairly easy to beat and the enemies relatively tame, but the game's difficulty is in part controlled by your own ability or lack thereof. Firing off fireworks left right and centre with no care or attention will quickly unleash a torrent of debris that has to be skilfully avoided in order to survive. Death is instant and sudden and controlling your ship while simultaneously launching multiple fireworks will take some practise at first, but failure generally feels like it's your own doing and not the game punshing you unfairly.

My first impressions then are extremely positive, with the game's attractive stylised graphics and infectious music in particular standing out. The core gameplay mechanics may prove to become somewhat repetitive over numerous levels of multiple worlds, but the promise of special power ups, multiple boss battles, varied levels and two player versus mode, plus an unlockable challenge mode, suggest that if things are mixed up suitably, Arkedo Studios could have the DS's next cult hit on its hands.
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