The term “bullet hell” has always frustrated me, linguistically speaking. It technically denotes a place where bullets go when they die if they are wicked. The concept is patently unfair, since they are propelled out of guns without their consent, and so do not consciously choose to kill people or willfully destroy paper targets.
As a result, I am now adopting the Big Trouble in Little China method of description — Hell of a Thousand Bullets. It makes more sense grammatically and conceptually, and on top of that it just sounds more bad-ass in general.
Armed with this spiffy new nomenclature, I can now with a clear conscience discuss the recent porting of the highly lauded Cave shooter, Espgaluda II, to the iPhone. Now you too can visit the Hell of a Thousand Bullets from wherever you happen to be in your own personal hell.
Espgaluda II is a vertical shooter with three playable characters. Each character pilots a ship with different attributes, so multiple shmup play-styles can be accommodated. There is a thin plotline of some sort buried between waves of enemy fire and boss fights, but damned if I was able to make heads or tails of it. I’m judging this title solely by the gameplay and how well it translates to the iPhone platform.
I won’t beat around the bush here; I was impressed. Cave got a great many things right in the conversion to iPhone gaming. The biggest barrier to creating a successful title for iPhones is designing a control scheme which takes advantage of the native environment (i.e. touchscreen), and it’s a hurdle that the developers bounded over in this case.
The first smart thing they did was to provide an option for auto-fire. Some purists might scoff at this, but let’s be honest, a shmup is about dodging fire more than it is shooting back. Most of them either allow you to hold down the button for continuous fire already, or you end up button mashing. Neither scenario takes any skill or adds anything of note to the gameplay itself, so i was pleased to have the option to remove this vestigial tail of shmup mechanics.
The second smart move they made was to make any point on the screen a potential movement axis. Wherever you make contact with the screen becomes the center point, and you swipe to move from there; this allows you a great deal of freedom, as movement is no longer relegated to an awkward and unresponsive faux d-pad or analog dial like most iPhone ports. I found it to be more comfortable and even a little more precise.
The final thing they did control-wise that I feel the need to applaud was to be aware of wisely using screen space. A significant staging area is left at the bottom of the screen to allow the player plenty of room to use their hands for piloting without obscuring what is happening in the play area. This is important with so many objects on the screen. Options to customize the placement of buttons for shield mode and Awakenings makes for an intuitive and personal user interface.
My gripes with this game are few in number. The primary concern I had is with the size of the iPhone screen. As I mentioned above, The good folks at Cave did a great deal to mitigate this limitation, but even so, with so many projectiles being launched on the screen simultaneously I found myself having to really hunch over the device when things got hectic. For those unfamiliar with the title, things get hectic in Espgaluda II about every 20 seconds or so.
As much fun as I had with this shooter during my playthrough (a great deal), I can’t help but think that it would be even better suited for a touchscreen with more real estate. I could see this game truly shining on a larger device like the iPad. There are some hardware limitations: the game will only run correctly on the iPhone 3GS, iPad, and, after recent patches, the 3rd generation iPod Touch (both 32GB and 64GB).
If you have one of these systems, I highly recommend Espgaluda II. Vibrant visuals, great arcade sound, touchscreen native gameplay that’s smooth and enjoyable, and even achievement and leaderboard integration via OpenFeint all combine to make this a must grab for those with a shmup-ish itch to scratch on the go. You can find it in Apple’s App Store, or perhaps I should call it — the Hell of a Million Unsorted Apps?
Gamer Limit gives Espgaluda II a 9/10.