Despite being a battle hardened elite soldier from the future, Arc exhibits many of the same innate flaws of most men. One in particular is the allure of the shortcut! That drive that all men have to prove to that we know best. Sure, it may not be on the map, but we know this area like the back of our hand, and besides, this will shave off precious time from the trip.
In most cases of course, the shortcut is scuppered in some way, be it a dead-end, a flock of sheep blocking the road, or a miss-turn down a one-way street. In Arc’s case the future seems less forgiving of mistaken shortcut knowledge, and he is captured by crazed robots, hell bent on making him their bitch (and yes this game’s story really does revolve around a shortcut scenario).
Luckily for Arc he is a battle hardened elite soldier from the future, and not – for example – like Mr Jenkins, a plumber from Slough who’s very own shortcut to avoid the M25 ended with him being lost in the Berkshire countryside where he had to resort to drinking his own urine. But I digress. Arc soon escapes his shackles and sets off to escape his robot captors, and as the title suggests he’s packing serious heat.
Star Marine is a throwback to the 16bit era of action platformers. It is strewn with inspiration from games such as Contra, Metal Slug and Bionic Commando. And while it does not feature deep exploration or puzzles, many elements reminded me of the Metroid series, particularly Metroid Fusion and its approach to environment designs, enemies and boss encounters.
As with most action-platformers you are tasked with getting from one end of the level to the other, all the while taking out the onslaught of the robot horde. Be it the cold and metallic robot lair or the lush jungles of the planets’ surface many levels feature platforms and perilous pits. I alluded to similarities to Bionic Commando, and while Arc does not exhibit a retractable arm, he does have great upper body strength and can swing from vines and traverse support bars, all the while unloading a hail bullets like a yippee-ki-yaying Bruce Willis.
Other platformers on iOS, such as 1Bit Ninja and Mos Speedrun, have successfully pulled-off virtual controls thanks to their simple run and jump mechanics. However, it’s not so easy when shooting is added into the mix. Thankfully, GlitchSoft have created a solid twin stick solution. I say twin stick, but its more like a one-and-three-quarter stick. While the right stick allows for eight way weapon control, the left stick omits the up action, limiting instead to a left, right and crouch layout. Most games of this ilk would implement fiddly virtual buttons for these actions, but Star Marine melds them together for more focussed control. The jump button is separate and placed to the left of the right stick, allowing you to pull off jumps and double jumps while moving left or right.
With a sub-title like Infinite Ammo, you’d be right in thinking that weapons feature heavily in the gameplay. The infinite ammo itself refers to your trusty and default Assault Rifle, which rather handily never runs out of bullets. There are of course a plethora of other weapons too, which can be unlocked with credits earned in the game (or of course purchased) these include: a grenade launcher; flame thrower; three-way shotgun and an energy rifle. See this article for more detail on each weapon type. Each weapon can be upgraded with faster rates of fire and increased spread, giving Star Marine a pretty deep weapon cache not often seen in such games.
Of course, having all these weapons is no fun if there is nothing to shoot, and thankfully Space Marine does not disappoint in this regard either. Enemies come in all shapes and sizes and include various drones; rotating turrets; Metroid-like Space Pirate grunts with wolverine claws; rocket launcher wielding elites; various fauna from the planet surface; and zombie-like cyborgs, humans that were no doubt enslaved after going for that damn shortcut! The AI is primitive at best, which is to be expected in this kind of throwback game. Attacks are pattern, or wave based, and so the challenge comes from not the intelligence of foes, but surviving their numbers and the barrage of their weapons.
Things get far trickier though with the boss battles. There is good variation here too, each with their own unique attack patterns and weaknesses to exploit. Some boss encounters are not always at the end of a level either, and you’ll occasionally have to fend off a boss at various points in a particular level, only for them to return stronger and smarter than before. It’s these battles where the game really shines and you fear for Arc’s life… or more likely your injured pride should you fail.
Star Marine features 11 levels in all, each more gung-ho than the last. Overall you should get a few hours of shooter action out of the campaign. However, once the campaign is over the action doesn’t stop there. As you complete levels you unlock arena-style survival versions to play through. Here, various enemies spawn in waves, with the sole exercise being to stay alive and earn as many points as possible. The real highlight though is on completion of the campaign you unlock a bonus ‘boss-rush’ mode. This chucks all the boss encounters at you across one sprawling level, getting harder and harder as you go. It’s almost as good as the campaign in its own right.
Star Marine’s 16bit style graphics don’t exactly push the iDevices to their limits, but of course that’s not the point. What it does do is create an authentic old-school feel with both its art-style and music that really takes you back to more simpler – but no less enjoyable – gaming days of yore. What is perhaps more impressive though, is the excellent menu design, which is both stylish and intuitive, making navigating the various game modes and weapon upgrade options a cinch.
It’s not all sweetness and light however. I do have a gripe with the credit system. Particularly how it affects the balance of gameplay. I understand that some people do not have the patience to build up their credits by shooting for higher points or replaying levels for more kills, and would rather plop down the cash and pick up a shotgun right away. That’s now a part of the mobile gaming experience and I can live with that.
What gripes me are the special items which you can purchase before each level. There are three of these: Nukes, which take out all enemies on screen at once; Icarus wings, which save you from pit falls; and finally Stimpacks which grant you a do-over should you lose all your energy and die (it places you exactly where you died). These are cool little add-ons, but the way they are priced make them too readily available.
Essentially these offer cheat-like abilities, and so should be high-ticket items. Instead, they cost only one credit each, and so make it far too easy for the player to purchase them in multiples and blitz through even the toughest of boss battles without seeing the dreaded game-over screen. You can of course simply not purchase these items and enjoy the challenge as intended, but I fear the allure of ultimate power will prove too great, and many gamers won’t enjoy the full potential challenge Star Marine has to offer.
Despite this gripe, Star Marine: Infinite Ammo offers up a fun and action packed ride. It’s a worthy addition to any iOS gamers’ library, particularly if you yearn for those 16bit action-platformers from the Super Nintendo and SEGA MegaDrive days.
Star Marine: Infinite Ammo is out now for iPhone and iPod Touch for $1.99. Get it on the